“Unseen Is Unsold:” VR & Analytics Study What and Why Shoppers Buy

Humans are great about saying a lot of things. We’re not that good about actually following through. See: New Year’s diet resolutions or election polls.

That tendency affects retailers as well. Big stores and brands spend millions in market research to figure out what shoppers want and then model production and creative teams to create those items.

“What people say and what people do is different,” says Anne Stephenson, a partner with Explorer Research, which works with retailers and brands. “So, we immerse people in these environments and measure their behaviors.”

Last month, the Toronto-based research marketing firm launched its Behavioral Science lab, which uses technologies such as virtual reality, eye-tracking, and facial coding to study and measure shopper behavior. The 7,500 square-foot lab can be formatted to resemble grocery, department, drug, and other stores, Stephenson says.

Explorer Research, which was founded in 2006, typically works with clients in the consumer goods, retail, technology, food service, consumer electronics and appliances, financial, automotive, and media industries.

I recently spoke with Stephenson about the Behavioral lab, which is based in Chicago, and how retailers are turning to technology to better understand their customers. Here is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation:

Xconomy: Tell me about Explorer Research. How did you come to found it? What are its goals?

Anne Stephenson: We are a research company. Clients hire us to answer a question that they would have. What we do that’s different is that we’re really focused on the behavioral aspect. That’s why we have an actual lab facility set up to test behavior. That’s different than traditional market research where you ask people a series of questions and then they would rate it on a five-point scale. What people say and what people do is different. We know that; we all say we’re going to go on that diet and it never kind of happens. We immerse people in these environments and measure their behaviors. We arrange different tools to help better understand of some of their subconscious, use a lot of eye-tracking and facial-coding, to measure the more emotional or subconscious aspect.

Really, most of our behaviors are driven by that part of our brain—versus thinking and analyzing. For most products, it’s these emotions that influences you to make a purchase.

X: What sorts of environments do you create for your customers?

AS: We either physically set up an aisle or a section where we’re testing influences of signage or a new way to set up a shelf, planogramming, new packaging. We do life-size virtual reality with eye-tracking. A person puts on a headset and they’re fully immersed; they are not looking at a computer screen. They pick products up off the shelf, … Next Page »

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