What goes on the top shelf? What is the best price point? What packaging will be easier to find on the shelf?
These are the sorts of questions that retailers, marketers and producers of fast-moving consumer goods obsess over. They can mean the difference between products flying out the door or gathering dust on the shelf.
The importance of understanding how shoppers make their in-store buying decisions led dairy co-operative and exporter Fonterra to set up its boutique research agency, the Behavioural Hub, in 2018. Its team of researchers tap into the psychology of shopping to better understand customer behaviour, with the virtual store allowing the team to predict with over 80 per cent accuracy.
But Fonterra wanted to go a step further, recreating in-store experiences to allow numerous products, store layouts and sales tactics to be tested with real-world users quickly and relatively cheaply.
It chose Datacom to develop ‘Virtual Store’, an application that’s available for use with VR headsets, Windows computers, and iOS and Android devices. With Virtual Store, shoppers get to virtually walk the aisles while their browsing and buying behaviour is analysed.
Over 15,000 shoppers have used the app, testing over 2,000 products since its creation. As a customer research measurement tool, Virtual Store passed Fonterra’s proof of value assessment with flying colours and is so effective at simulating the shopping experience, Fonterra plans to commercialise the app for use by other companies and industries.
The success of the app lies in a development process that saw one team of experts formed from across Datacom and Fonterra. Together, the team took an agile, scrum-based approach to quickly develop a proof of concept based on the Unity Engine VR game platform.
Seeking a reliable and secure solution that would scale as more users joined Virtual Store, Datacom chose the AWS (Amazon Web Services) platform to power it. The AWS Elastic Beanstalk service also allows autoscaling to cost-effectively adapt to changing demand for the app.
Virtual Store has been used in New Zealand, Brazil and China, and the proof of its value is in the customer feedback and data accuracy. Over 85 per cent of users have rated the app very easy to use, while 82 per cent considered the experience to be very realistic. Some even commented that they would prefer to shop that way all the time.
“Quite often, humans say one thing and do another," says Nikita Zachinskiy, business manager – Behavioural Hub, Fonterra. "The key reason for this is that 95 per cent of our decisions are made subconsciously, so asking people to predict their behaviour can be a bit tricky. This is the driver behind why traditional marketing research approaches are frequently subject to suboptimal accuracy.
"A much more reliable way to predict behaviour is to observe respondents in a realistic environment and analyse what they actually do, not what they say they will do. These days, technology allows us to do this in a cost-efficient and fun way, so why wait any longer?
"By taking advantage of Datacom’s experience in developing immersive technologies, its software engineering capability, and deep knowledge of the AWS platform, Fonterra is now able to shape the future of commerce for the benefit of its customers, its 10,000 farmers, and the country’s export industry."