Nielsen has introduced a high-tech tool that’s designed to improve how retailers and the CPG industry conduct shopper research. SmartStore, launched at the end of September in Canada, uses immersive virtual reality technology to test out how consumers react while shopping—what they “see, think and do” while strolling the aisles.
By putting on the SmartStore headset and holding a handheld device, test shoppers are immersed in a virtual replica of a retail environment. For the user, they may just be standing in an empty room but it feels like they’re actually in a store—it’s a 3D, 360-degree environment—and as they move, they’re moving around in the virtual store and can “click” on certain sections of the store to move there. They can walk around and click on items to pick them up, look at them, decide if they want to buy them and then put them in their basket if they choose to buy them.
The shopper’s virtual experience can be tracked to create comprehensive analytics (for instance it can track their head, eye and feet movements, 3D heat maps, etc.). And after conducting the virtual shopping experience, researchers can then choose to ask the test shoppers questions such as, “Why did you pick up that particular product, look at it, but then not buy it?” This could give retailers and manufacturers better insights into elements such as pricing, merchandising, ingredients, marketing and promotions.
“Our promise is that we’re going to radically transform shopper research,” says Mario Caceres, business manager, consumer insights at Nielsen. He notes that unlike in-store research, SmartStore doesn’t create any actual store disruption and offers a research methodology that’s consistent.
“It also brings the smart integration of store planning, merchandising and shopper research all together. We hear from our clients about how activating research (actually taking what looks like great insights on paper, implementing them in store and then seeing those transpire the way that they were supposed to) is one of their key frustrations,” adds Erin Feeney, global consumer insights client solutions leader at Nielsen.
“[So] we have this better approach now, by which you can actually put the shopper in the future state, have them shop the future state, and compare your potential future state scenarios against what’s in store today so you can make really solid, practical decisions about what you want to do.”
Feeney adds that this is not only a less expensive and faster way to test out new marketing or merchandising ideas, but it’s also a research method that appeals to millennials, who aren’t always keen to participate in questionnaires or lengthy interviews. “SmartStore is fun, it’s fast, it’s flexible, and it’s inclusive in this way where people actually want to participate—they want to be involved.”
SmartStore launched in parts of the world earlier this year, including the U.K., South Africa, United Arab Emirates and Singapore, and Nielsen will continue to roll it out in other markets globally in the coming months.