A new group of malls created by a Louisville, Ky., company lacks what many people love/hate about malls: the smell of fried stuff wafting from food courts, the packs of teenagers buying lotion, the parking garages that would drive even Mother Teresa to impatience.
That's because the company's malls are virtual and you can get to them only through your computer.
VirtualEShopping.com has created 250 3-D shopping malls, complete with sales bots and mall kiosks shilling goods. There are malls for women, malls for men, malls for teens and malls for people who live in Los Angeles.
Shoppers can wander the somewhat dismal, gray-carpeted mall and pass stores such as Macy's, Starbucks and Wal-Mart. Shoppers can't actually go in the stores, though -- at least not yet. The mall has only storefronts, and if shoppers click on a storefront, they'll be transported to the company's website.
An advertiser that puts up a storefront pays 10 cents every time someone clicks on the store, said Chief Executive Mark Stein. That's much cheaper than paying for a store in a real mall.
Savvy Web surfers familiar with virtual worlds such as Second Life might be a bit disappointed with VirtualEShopping's malls. They're a bit grainier than Second Life, and the avatars are grayish and lacking necks -- though maybe that's not so different from what some people in malls look like anyway.
Which raises the question: Why would someone want to wander through a virtual mall that is basically a collection of advertisements?
Stein acknowledges that the malls haven't gone "gangbusters" yet, but he's confident VirtualEShopping's time will come.
"If you know exactly what you want, there's no reason to go to our malls," he said.
"But if you don't know what you want, you might see things you weren't thinking about."