Thomas Novak, co-director of the Sloan Center for Internet Retailing at University of California Riverside, gave a presentation entitled "Consumer Behavior Research in Second Life: Issues and Approaches" during last Association for Consumer Research Annual Conference in Memphis. Professor Novak described the current state of research on consumers in virtual worlds and delineates the future persepectives for this highly promising area of marketing research. Research in Second Life is suitable to analyze a wide variety of marketing related topic, such as product choice, branding, decision making, merchandising, virtual consumption, peer and social influence, relationships, time distortion, flow experiences, group behavior, word of mouth, avatar vs. self personality, impact of Second Life on real life, and many others. According to Novak, many research approaches can be easily adapted to a Second Life setting, among which he lists qualitative interviews and focus groups, ethnography, surveys, experiments, clickstream and other unobtrusive behavioral data, content analysis, social network analysis, and even fMRI.
The Sloan Center has begun the development of eLab City, a sim in Second Life created for the purpose of studying consumer behavior in virtual worlds.
Very intersting material for marketers!