The power of the virtual shopping trip

Published on: 2015-02-05

Valla Roth and Matt Draper at MediaPost's Marketing Daily note the following:

A MarketTools study revealed that consumers are willing to veer from the brand they originally intended to buy--among those buying packaged cookies the last time they shopped, only 52% bought the brand they planned to buy. Reasons for this change ranged from a desire to try something new to the other brand was on sale, the other brand looked more appealing, the other brand was healthier and the original brand choice was unavailable. So what does this all mean? Marketing activities at the point-of-purchase--such as packaging design, display timing and location, in-aisle messaging, self talkers and shelf layout--all have a profound effect on what ends up in consumers' shopping carts.

Recognizing the difficulty of accurately testing marketing activities in-store, MarketTools integrated sophisticated 3D graphics into its survey engine to create a virtual shopping experience that survey panelists can use on their personal computers. The virtual shopping experience first shows panelists a "fly through" of the front of the store and then takes them down the aisle(s) being tested. Respondents are then able to "shop" using a realistic depiction of the aisles complete with high-resolution package graphics, shelf talkers, coupon machines, signage and other marketing tactics. Tests show that the virtual method provides a very "real" experience with results that accurately predict the results from in-store testing. In all four experiments undertaken, virtual research supported the same business decisions as controlled in-store tests, but at a fraction of the cost, in much less time and with total environmental control over testing conditions.

Our take:

WireSpring's Bill Gerba has participated in several virtual reality behavior tracking experiments, and comments that while the experience is certainly nothing like actually shopping or going about day-to-day activities, it does encourage the subject to go through the motions of whatever activity is being simulated.  That might mean looking at shelves, navigating the maze-like arrangement of aisles and POP displays in the typical retail store, compare  different packages, etc.  It isn't a perfect proxy for the experience, but as the article notes, does provide some valuable insight into the processes that people subconsciously work through while doing any of these seemingly-mundane tasks.  We certainly appreciate that the new technology provides an even lower-cost method for trying out various shopper marketing experiments, and hope to see similar tests developed for newer in-store marketing strategies like integrating POP campaigns with digital signage systems.

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