These days, more and more of us are doing our shopping on line. The Resident Geek buys computer components that way. I just bought new towels for our bathrooms on line. We both shop for books at Amazon. It's convenient, saves gas, saves time, and saves money.
As more and more people adopt this way of shopping, traditional "brick and mortar" stores are feeling the pinch. Some retaliate by opening their own shopping websites. Some, like Borders, fold up their tents and vanish. Either way, the shopping landscape is in the midst of some very profound changes, as "real" stores find it harder and harder to stay in business in the face of the new on line competition.
What does this have to do with Second Life? Well, guess what? The same thing is happening in our virtual world. Shopping in world has many of the same characteristics as Real Life shopping...you have to find the store, travel to the store (well, teleporting is faster than taking the family SUV, but still.) You have to browse around the store, and finally buy the item. Or you have to visit three or four stores until you find the thing you want. It's fun, and a lot easier than shopping in Real Life...but searching a website catalog is still easier and quicker.
More and more merchants are finding that the place shoppers are going isn't their in world store...it's their web site store on the Second Life Marketplace. And they're responding by closing their stores. Last night, a friend announced that he was doing just that, and I've been to three other "going out of business" sales in the last three weeks.
Now, Linden Lab makes a lot of money from in world stores, in the form of monthly tier payments. They make some money from Marketplace listings too, but not nearly so much. And so LL has, by promoting the Marketplace so heavily, once again shot themselves in the financial foot.
I've been an occasional user of the Marketplace almost since I first came to Second Life, back when it was an independent third party web site (SLExchange). I'll be the first to admit it's often an easier way to find something than flitting from one in world store to another.
But SL is "a nation of shopkeepers". In world merchants are THE major users of land, THE major source of LL's tier revenue. If merchants leave SL, it will diminish the virtual world experience enormously.
It would make things less convenient, but if I were whispering in LL's ear, I'd tell them to keep the Marketplace as a way to display goods, but remove the purchase function and require all shoppers to visit the merchant's in world store to buy the item. They won't do that, of course...but at least you and I can do our part by doing our shopping in world. Support your in world merchants! They are the foundation of our virtual world.