Virtual experience and other technology-dependent methods of describing products online are frequently touted as the way of the future in e-commerce. However, despite the hyperbole, these claims have actually not been tested rigorously on systems used by major online retailers. This paper reports the results of an experiment that assesses user perceptions of the informativeness and ultimate usefulness of systems that use personalization and rich media to enhance the online product evaluation process. Our results challenge the commonly held view that the “high-tech” approach is, in its own right, beneficial to either the customer or the vendor. Key results are (i) the highest levels of informativeness about anticipated (future) experiences were achieved when no personalization systems were used; and (ii) the system that provided the most personalized support was perceived to be least informative about future experience, and least useful overall. Overall, our results indicate that although these systems can improve awareness of some important product attributes, with this enhanced awareness comes a reduced awareness of other product characteristics. At worst, these systems actually appear to make the customer less informed, and result in negative assessments of the retailer.
Smith, Stephen P.; Johnston, Robert; and Howard, Steve, "Virtual models in online shopping: do they help or hinder customers?" (2006). ECIS 2006 Proceedings. 4.