How does virtual reality help retailers and CPGs compete and get ahead?
There are different elements for both retailers and manufacturers. For retailers, it helps to envisage a new paradigm for retail shopping. Our system, unique in the field, interacts with floor plans and planograms and shopper marketing activation and allows us to create these new types of store environments to meet the challenges of the changing consumer. Where the consumer is now looking for more engaging shopping experiences or personalized solutions and better clarity, better options in the store itself – VR enables us to be able to create these environments and to be able to see and understand the shopper behavior.
Of course, VR makes life much easier for the retailer. In Making Category Management Relevant In The Age of the Informed Customer by Brian Kilcourse of RSR Research, he says “Using next-generation analytics and virtualization technologies as an integral part of category management enables retailers to avoid the arduous, time consuming, and expensive task of rolling a plan out to test stores, observing the results, making adjustments to the plan…and repeating the process as necessary.” So, it’s not just a time-saver, it really should be part of the standard category management process.
What about on the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) side?
Of course, CPGs focus less on the entire store and more on the departments that they’re in, the aisles, the shelving elements, so there’s a very strong focus on shopper marketing. Their focus is very much more on lifting the vision, the promotions through the presentations, that they are engaging with their retailer partners to be able to make their visions come alive.
They want to enhance their customer collaborations, be able to prove that they’re thought leaders, both in terms of the technology and store vision. They can do that with our VR technology. They want to gain validation and quantify the impact of their new planograms, a new point of sale, the new store options that they’re creating and this is where the research element comes in. Obviously, what we’re seeing is the linking together with immersive eye tracking but also, the more traditional online 3D testing. To net it out, CPGs want to:
- Make the most of space
- Connect space issues to optimization applications
- Generate better configuration in the category, aisle etc.
- See all this in relation to shopper activation– this is key
Can you give readers an example of how a retailer might put Virtual Reality to good use?
Sure, so for example: A retailer wants to refine and enhance the messaging in its store. We can create a replica store environment and they can layout the messaging for that season across the entire store. Because our system is so closely tied to our planogramming and our floor planning applications, every single planogram would be an interactive planogram taken from a planogram system. This is a key differentiator from other competitors in the field. They can use planograms but not across the entire store that we’ve seen. The retailer can then find every single planogram in the store, they can show the visualization of the messaging for a given season, a particular event, evaluate it and create the right messaging. They can roll that out to all their regional and country managers, so that they can then use this to be able to create localized versions of the centrally approved messaging. If they want it in different languages, if they want to only do some of the messaging, they can do that.
You mention one big differentiator above, why is Symphony RetailAI’s VR approach different to other vendors?
The key thing from our side is that connection with the information, the data behind the application, not just planograms but we bring together everything from our next-generation category planning solutions, we can then start to implement the output from our solution and be able to use these to create new store concepts. Other vendors in the field are just partially connected. Equally, the design and feel of what we have created is designed to be used by non-technical experts, so people who have strategy knowledge, knowledge of the marketplace but aren’t necessarily 3D experts.
And to finish, what’s the buzz about eye tracking? How is this being used in retail?
With the advent of the consumer generation of headsets, HTC Vive and Oculus, etc. the ability to eye track within an immersive headset has taken a massive leap.
Eye tracking allows us to quantify results taking a rapid prototyping approach. In the past, research would be time-consuming. Even virtual research often would take days, even weeks, to be able to process the results of what we’re seeing. Whereas in the past eye tracking was done against a big screen, it may be a life-sized screen, you were always conscious that you were looking at a screen. With immersive eye tracking, that barrier between what you’re seeing and the sense of presence in the immersive space, presence is a key VR term, you can feel at one with the environment that you’re in, allowing us to be able to get a very high level of understanding about shopper behavior.
This technology is truly a game changer.