RESEARCH
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Five Ways Virtual Reality Disrupts Market Research 

By Rich Scamehorn

Market research isn’t usually the first thing that jumps to mind when you think about technology
and innovation. Sure, the internet has taken shopper insights leagues beyond mailed questionnaires and telephone surveys. But these days, innovation doesn’t have to stop there. In fact, it shouldn’t.

Disruptive technologies in the retail space are proving to be key differentiators for innovating market research processes. And virtual reality (VR) solutions, in particular, are already being used by forward-thinking manufacturers and retailers to gain a competitive edge in the saturated market of consumer packaged goods (CPG).

By bringing data and insights to the forefront of product and retail management, CPG marketers and manufacturers can uncover valuable insights that will help increase bottom line. From discovering how new packaging impacts sales or evaluating how shelf placement impacts product purchase, VR enables brands and retailers to gain insight into not only what shoppers buy, but why.

Here’s a look at five ways virtual reality is revolutionizing shopper insights and market research:

It’s Fast
Virtual reality is quickly becoming a go-to tool in many areas of business because it eliminates real-world time-sucks like travel, mock concepts, excess paperwork, and miscommunication. For retail, VR creates an alternative universe where multiple concepts can be tested with real shoppers, without having to leave their desks. Through cloud-based virtual simulations, it’s possible to analyze shopper behavior on-the-spot and adjust concepts based on those results. That saves valuable time that’s traditionally eaten up by jumping hoops to gain retailer permission for in-store tests and waiting for survey results from far and wide.

It’s Budget-Friendly
Time is money, right? But on top of that, VR testing reduces the real-world expenses associated with facilitating focus groups, sending out surveys, creating prototypes, and building mock stores. It also mitigates risk. Before launching a concept based on purchase intent or historic data that may fall flat, testing in VR helps insights, sales, and marketing teams learn which concept resonate with shoppers – saving thousands of dollars, or more. Not to mention, it helps minimize the risk of dollars spent on advertising or shelf layouts that might not increase sales or turnout anticipated results.

It Keeps Ideas under Wraps
Traditionally, testing a new concept in-store involved rolling out said concept to a select few locations and gathering shopper data. This makes your concept easily transparent to competitors. By testing in virtual, concepts can be tested with shoppers in a virtual store that mimics real life, giving you insights into how it will perform before taking it public. Privacy is important in the retail space, and VR allows you to work under the radar until you’re completely ready to launch.

Sample Size Has Global Reach
Testing with real shoppers is an integral part of analyzing how well a new concept will be received by the public. For years, shoppers either had to physically go to a store near them to participate in a shopping exercise, or participate in focus groups or mock store tests at central location facilities. This meant that samples were small, and only from select areas.

Through VR, testers shop in a simulated environment right from their desktop – which means they can literally live anywhere in the world.
Not only does this give more diverse samples, but virtual testers can provide more accurate information on specific stores across the entire country. Additionally, researchers can gain valuable geographic-specific insights. Shoppers in Florida, for example, will certainly react differently to product advertising or shelf layout than shoppers in New York City. Understanding the variation in shopping habits across various states, cities, and countries, will help brands better market their wide-spread customer base – and drive greater profitability.

Gain Insights Not Possible in the Real World
Traditional research methods don’t provide sales data at an individual shopper level with quantitative sample sizes and attitudinal data attached. This potent combination of data allows for much deeper insight into how behavior is changed by what is being tested, and then explains why that is happening.

With VR, a concept test of shopper marketing efforts such as changes to a planogram, packaging or signage can be analyzed to understand which groups of respondents started buying more of a brand, sub-category or SKU. VR allows retailers to probe shopper’s motivations to develop the insights that can drive action in-store.

For instance, testing in VR could show you that moving a Sub-Category to the front of the aisle increases sales among 18- to 45-year-old women. But those results may also include complaints of difficulty in finding the products they are looking for. To make this change successfully, retailers can test virtual signage around the relocated products to see which visuals will provide the greatest help to shoppers.

For the researchers and shopper insights professionals of the world, VR is proving to be a game-changer. As VR technology continues to improve with time, it will be exciting to see market research continue to become more granular and produce faster, more insightful data. With these types of innovative business methods and solutions, VR is certainly here to stay.


Rich Scamehorn is the Chief Research Officer of InContext Solutions, which creates cloud-based virtual reality shopping and retail solutions for manufacturers and retailers. For more information: www.incontextsolutions.com.

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