Chapter 5: Emotional Interaction

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The early virtual sales assistants that fronted online stores were often static cartoon characters, such as Miss Boo (see http://www.smartinsights.com/digital-marketing-strategy/online-marketing-mix/boo-com-case-study-a-classic-example-of-failed-ebusiness-strategy/ that provides a case study and why the interface was ahead of its time). Nowadays, the cartoon characters (often based on real world people) have a limited form of animation added to them to mimic aspects of human behavior. For example, Anna at Ikea moves her cartoon head, smiles and blinks her eyes a lot. She will also speak to you if you select that option. Such animated versions can seem more believable than the static ones. They certainly draw your attention first time you interact with them. However, their appeal may wear off after a while. In contrast, Jenn at Alaskaair presents a static real world face but talks to you instead.

What do virtual agents, like Anna or Jenn, do for you when first encountering them? Do they make you laugh, feel cynical or believe you are having an engaging interaction with the site? Do they help you find what you want more easily? When considering what the effect of an agent's screen presence is on a user think about how its context influences you. For example, real sales assistants can often be charming and entice you to buy clothes, because they say they look good on you. This ability to flatter and persuade is much more difficult to emulate online. Fluttering digital eyelids does not quite match the real thing. Do you think it would be possible to design a flattering kind of agent which uses other interactive techniques to nudge users into making purchases?

Sites that do not use virtual agents may appear less personal. However, they often use other techniques such as personalized greetings that can make the shopper feel they are getting special attention, e.g. "Hello Susan. Welcome back. We have some special deals and recommendations for you."