Virtual Shopping Shows Advances
By Tom Ryan
Vision reality shopping
research is increasingly being adopted by CPG companies and retailers as
an efficient way to test new products and store layouts. According to an
article in Brandweek, the acceptance is being driven by better technology;
lower prices; expanded use of brainwave and EKG measurements on consumers
to improve results; more emphasis on shopper marketing; and the growth
For instance, a simulation
program from Information Resources Inc. (IRI), which uses software from
Vision Critical, creates an approximation of the interior of a Wal-Mart,
a prepared foods aisle of a supermarket, and other store environments.
"We instruct respondents
to shop as they normally would and ask them which displays capture the
most attention," said Staci Covkin, IRI’s vice president of consumer
and shopper insights, recently at ARF’s Re:think conference in New York. "Because
it’s virtual, you can change things on the fly."
She said the technology
is particularly beneficial in testing new products.
"In the perfect
world, we’d be testing everything in a real store environment. However,
due to the time it takes to implement an effective test and get compliance
with retailers, the cost is enormous," Ms. Staci said.
Raymond Burke, a marketing
professor at Indiana University, predicted that vision reality shopping
technology will one day redefine shopper marketing and purchasing drivers
at the store level.
"We could better
learn how to turn demand into purchase, which is the whole point," he
Virtual shopping has
some limitations, according to Prof. Burke. For instance, measuring demand
would be difficult for any product that "relies on a tactile experience," such
as its weight. But the quality of shopping simulations has improved significantly
over the last few years.
"The quality is
getting so close that you couldn’t tell [the difference] between it and
a photograph, except when they put people in – they can’t do them that well
What are the merits as well as the limitations of virtual shopping research
methods versus in-store research? When will virtual shopping drive product
testing and store layout decisions in the future? For what purposes will
in-store testing still be required?