Optimising the in-store experience: What we have learned from virtual reality in market research

Optimizing the in-store experience: What we have learned from virtual reality in market research

Market research has been guiding business decisions for decades. The launch of the first UK Virtual Reality research panel offers a different perspective.

You might be sitting at your desk, or in a café, or on a crowded train at the moment. But in an instant, you could be virtually transported to a luxury hotel room, a five-star restaurant or even Brighton Beach. All you need is your smartphone and a Google Cardboard headset. Increasingly, brands are adopting this technology to gain insight into consumer behaviour.

Virtual reality is the latest technology everyone’s talking about. Demand is high and growing, with 2.3m virtual reality devices sold in the first quarter of this year.

Virtual reality and market research are a complementary coupling: one shows us the world, the other seeks to understand it. Most current market research methods ask people to recall events or imagine scenarios whether in person, over the phone or online. Virtual reality removes this demand entirely, providing market researchers with the opportunity to more closely emulate real-world experiences.

When retail goes virtual

The retail sector in particular could benefit from this innovative area of market research.

Asking people to accurately recall or predict how they’d behave in a real shop is tricky. Testing a point of sale in a crowded retail environment is difficult; mocking up the physical retail space is too costly, time-consuming and problematic to test at a large scale. Conducting large-scale market research that genuinely replicates real-world experiences is even harder.

With virtual reality, anything from product positioning, messaging and branding to in-store layout could be researched en masse and on budget.

Populus, a research and strategy agency, andGorilla In The Room, a specialist VR/AR company, combined to create the UK’s first Virtual Reality panel, powered by Google Cardboard technology, with virtual 360 content to do just that. It was put to the test when O2 approached Populus with an in-store point-of-sale challenge.

There were a number of challenges to overcome first, however.

Respondents had to be recruited and given Google Cardboard headsets. They had to pass a standard Populus survey screening, and needed to have phones compatible with Google Cardboard. As two-thirds had never experienced virtual reality before, they had to be given clear and simple instructions on how to use Google Cardboard.

Creating the virtual store itself came with its own unique set of challenges. The camera position had to be carefully chosen due to the fixed 360 perspective. In-store permissions had to be arranged and a consistent environment including music and lighting used had to be maintained.

CGI was then used in post-production to create different versions for comparison. The overall design of the study was based on an online survey and the virtual reality survey experience was tested alongside traditional 2D in-survey mock-ups.

So, what have we learned?

According to Populus research, there was a 17% point increase in survey enjoyment among respondents, compared with the benchmark online survey*. Survey engagement was also improved. Of those who responded, 88% would be interested in doing a virtual reality survey again. That’s good news, because all respondents have their Google Cardboard headsets in their homes, primed and ready.

75% said it was more fun to do a survey with virtual reality and 68% found Google Cardboard easy to use. Of course, there were major learnings for the client too. It gained insight into the optimum messaging and set-up to increase cut-through and understanding of its new product.

A virtual reality survey won’t be appropriate for all topics or all audiences, but early evidence is that the approach ‘brings to life’ adverts, displays and in-store environments in a richer way than a traditional survey with static images.

Ian Bramley, head of quantitative research, Populus and Dr Alastair Goode, cognitive scientist, Gorilla In The Room.

* Source: PopulusLive Online panel May 2017

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