The advancement of technology imposes an inevitable pressure on companies to introduce new products and services into the marketplace, to stay competitive or survive. One product category that is growing increasingly within the marketplace is Really New Products (RNPs), which refers to very innovative products. Businesses therefore need to be aware of the ways they can promote RNPs in order for consumer to efficiently understand RNPs and form a positive attitude and intention towards these products.
Consumers learn about RNPs at the time of product evaluation. The information consumers receive at the time of evaluation is crucial in influencing their behaviour towards RNPs. According to persuasion theorists, the consumer’s comprehension of the RNP is a precondition in the formation of their attitudes, intentions and behaviours (e.g. Ratneshwar and Chaiken, 1991). As more learning is required to understand RNPs in comparison to other product types (Hoeffler, 2003), facilitating the process of RNP comprehension is likely to lead to greater RNP adoption. As a result, RNP information should be promoted in the most effective way to enable consumers’ learning.
The Internet is used as a promotion channel in creating new product awareness (Bickart and Schindler, 2001) and increasing the new product adoption rate (Prince and Simon, 2009); it is therefore employed in this study as a medium to present RNP related information. The information needs to be presented in a way to attract consumers (Reiman, 2001; Cunningham et al., 2007) and meet their high expectations (Palmer and Griffith, 1998; Chevalier and Ivory, 2003). Therefore through employing various online technologies, information can be offered in an attractive, convincing, and clear format. One such technology is that of Virtual Reality (VR), which is emerging as being significant in competitive advantage (Lee and Chung, 2008; Bruno and Muzzupappa, 2010). VR technology is one which generates a virtual environment that appears as a more realistic environment to users, and where they can interact with this environment easily through watching, hearing and touching (Teresa, 2008; Qi, 1999). In the communication literature, VR has been defined as “a real or simulated environment in which a perceiver experiences telepresence” (Steuer, 1992, p.7). Telepresence is described as a sense of ‘being there’ in a CME, which creates the feeling of the direct product experience, where direct experience is the optimal method for a consumer to learn about a product (Klein, 2003). There are two media characteristics, which enable telepresence in a CME: user control (interactivity) and vividness (media richness).
Another attribute is anthropomorphism, that is proved to facilitate consumer’s learning and increase information credibility (Holzwarth, Janiszewski, and Neumann 2006) (e.g. Franceschi et al., 2009; Guttentag, 2010; Keeling et al., 2010). Within a CME, anthropomorphism is defined as the extent to which a virtual object behaves or looks like a human (Koda, 1996; Nowak and Biocca, 2003; Nowak, 2004). Anthropomorphic attributes can include concepts such as Artificial Intelligence (McCarthy, 1955) and anthropomorphized interface representations like faces (Sproull et al., 1996; Gong and Nass, 2007) and voices (Gong and Lai, 2003; Nass and Brave, 2005). Anthropomorphic attributes can be represented via a simple tool such as a human image (static avatar), to a talking, interactive virtual agent (human-like avatar).