In this guest blog, Jeremy Peters, Category Controller at British food supplier Premier Foods, shares the role a virtual reality merchandising lab plays in accelerating product and placement testing with shoppers, as well as collaboration with retail partners.
The discounter encounter
For suppliers and retailers, times have changed. Discounters have entered the market, bringing lower prices, streamlined management structures, and lower supply chain costs. In the end, one definite thing has happened, shoppers have become more demanding and, at the same time, savvy. They want the best prices, selection—in short—they want it all. So how do retailers respond to discounters and the need to cut costs, yet remain relevant to customers? One of the responses has been they cut the range of products on their shelves. This has significant supplier and shopper impact.
Time for change, time for agility
As Category Controller for Premier Foods, a major British food supplier, my job has changed radically over the last few years. In the past, I would have been much more involved in our retailers’ range changes. What became more common was retailers making these changes on their own, occasionally asking for inputs and comments based on our relationship. Often these changes were done on paper, leading to a disconnect when it came to the reality of execution in stores.
We realized that it was time for a big change—and fast.
A new (virtual) reality
We cleared out a small storage room (about the size of an average hotel room) and turned it into a merchandising facility we call Prism. It’s a hybrid of store reality—with typical shelving (about 1.33 meters wide), retail lighting—and virtual reality, with a projection screen that allows us to see three full-size bays at full as if you were standing in front of them in a retail location. We used software from Symphony RetailAI to enable this amazing transformation. One that was an enabler for internal and external execution tactics.
Our virtual reality enabled merchandising facility (Prism) is used as:
- A shopper research and learning centre – we bring in customers to do focus groups and review packaging and placement
- A retailer test lab – where retailers can come to get assistance on how to best position their products.
Prism takes out the disruption of trying to set up actual shelving in retail spaces, can be set up in a fraction of the time of setting up a “real” on-prem range test would take, and it enables easy shifting of products in just seconds.
What does this all mean for our business?
It’s easy to get swept away by technology. The latest and greatest shiny new gizmo, a cool new interface with a software product. But, the Prism project, which has virtual reality at its heart, illustrates for me and our customers that technology enables great things, particularly when you begin to think in innovative ways. This project brought this to light in a most significant number of ways:
- Helps us form better relationship with our retailers – Our virtual reality enabled merchandising facility helps us stand out from other CPGs, as we extend the power of our relationship through this very powerful tool.
- Advantage for our retailers – Enabling our retailer accounts to use Premier Foods as an extension of their organization. Specifically, helping with planning around space constraints for new categories. In addition, with guidance from customer data generated during Merchandising lab customer sessions, our retailers become more shopper relevant and store ready… and more competitive.
- A leg up for our business – The lab helps our retailers clearly see how our products work on shelves and support arguments for maintaining or extending Premier Food’s products, without having to go through the paper-planning process, which all too often results in issues around physical execution in store.
Suffice to say, the Symphony RetailAI-enabled Prism merchandising lab is a game changer for our Customers and Premier Foods.