Ilan Tochner, CEO of Kitely, dropped me an e-mail on Friday August 30th to let me know the Kitely Marketplace is now open for business. There’s also an official announcement from the Kitely team on their blog as well, which is recommended reading for those interested in the Marketplace.
First announced at the start of the year, the Kitely Marketplace has taken eight months to reach the point of launch – and with good reason. The Kitely team have been working to develop an online experience which is initially available within Kitely, but which can be expanded in time to support other OpenSim grids.
The Market combines features familiar to those used to using the SL Marketplace or markets such as the (now defunct) Apez and Metaverse Exchange: items can be browsed on-line, then purchased (using Kitely Credits (KCs) or US dollars), prior to being delivered directly to the purchaser’s in-world inventory in a similar manner to SL’s Direct Delivery mechanism. Additionally, the Market functions more like e-commerce sites such as Amazon, where items can be searched for using attributes as well as a category hierarchy, making the search process and drill-down easier and more flexible for both merchants and consumers.
In addition, the Kitely Marketplace allows for multiple versions of a product to be listed as a single item, thus simplifying the listing, viewing and reviewing of products. So rather than having five individual listings for an outfit which is available in five different colours, a merchant can create a single listing for the outfit, which includes the 5 different colours, allowing consumers to buy any of the five from the one product listing.
A further aspect of the Marketplace is that demo items can be “built-in” in the main product listing, eliminating the need for additional, separate listings to deal with product demos. Where a merchant offers a demo (indicated in the product listing), the potential buyers can try it by adding the item to their Shopping Cart, where they’ll get a link called “Try demo”. When they click this link, the demo version is immediately added to their inventory.
There are other subtle touches as well, some of which may be familiar to users of virtual world marketplaces – such as the ability to click on a store name either in a list of multiple products or within an individual product listing, in order to display and browse the contents of that store. Other touches aren’t so obvious, but are nevertheless pleasing to find – such as rolling the mouse cursor over the thumbnails of any variations of an item to see each of their full-sized images displayed in the product listing.
In developing the Marketplace, Kitely have focused not only on the usability / functionality aspects of the system, but also on optimising the servers and putting in place strong automated capabilities and additional safeguards.
“We spent a lot of time optimizing the backend so it will be able to provide a snappy user experience even thou each page returns multiple dynamic counters (the number of results given the existing filters in each category and attribute that contains relevant search results),” Ilan informed me in announcing the launch. “Kitely Market remained fast even when we tested it on databases of more than 1 million different products and many concurrent bots (and this is without starting to scale up the hardware we use for the marketplace or distributing it to multiple servers).”
On the Merchant side of the equation, Kitely Marketplace offers similar ease-of-use. The Marketplace actually opened to merchants in May 2013, and I provided an in-depth look at that side of the Marketplace then. However, it’s worth pointing out some of the key aspects here as well:
- Objects and assets are added to product listings using a web-based interface that provides a live tree view of the merchant’s inventory. Items are added to a product from the same page where the listing is defined, avoiding the need to publish a listing first and then manage items
- As mentioned above, multiple variations and also demo versions of a product can be easily handled, eliminating the need for multiple listings for each version of the same product
- Merchants can choose to sell their products for Kitely Credits, US Dollars, or both
- When a product is bought using KC, the amount, less Kitely’s fee, is immediately transferred to the merchant
- When merchants sell their items for US Dollars, there is initial delay prior to the merchant receiving the payment (less Kitely’s fee) in their PayPal account. The delay in transfer is to get past PayPal’s 45-day transaction dispute window
- Items can have the usual permissions set against them and can in addition set an Export permission flag which allows the merchant to define whether or not those items can be exported from the grid or not (such as by being saved in an OAR file, where only those items which have the Export flag set will actually be saved – anything which does not have the flag set will be ignored). By default, Export is disabled.
In addition, Ilan informs me that the Export option provides a further capability. “Our Export permission connects each bought object and asset to a Kitely Market transaction, enabling us to reclaim objects (in inventories and even rezzed ones) that have been refunded by the merchant or for which payment has been disputed. The option for automatic reclaiming isn’t implemented yet but the backend is already there.”
Overall, a considerable amount of time and effort has gone into developing the Kitely Marketplace, which has included consultations with merchants and consumers alike to determine what works and what doesn’t in other similar marketplaces, allowing the Kitely team to better shape their own ideas and views on how the Marketplace should work. and the team is still seeking feedback and considered opinion from those making use of it.
Currently, the Marketplace is only available within Kitely, but as indicated, the aim is to make it available to other suitable OpenSim grids, providing a single point-of sale for merchants wishing to reach as broad a market as possible, which Ilan Tochner sees as major game-changer, saying, “This marketplace will soon be used to unify the many separate OpenSim grids into a single addressable market that can attract professional content creators who’ve never found a business justification to have a presence outside Second Life.”