One of the key challenges faced in FMCG market research is accurately gauging how customer choices are made in real life. Bias can work its way into results simply by the act of putting participants in a room and documenting what they say – being observed changes the responses that they’ll give.
When it comes to testing new packaging, the aim is to understand the strengths and weaknesses of new designs, how they affect perception, but most importantly, how a new design changes shopper behaviour.
“To achieve this goal, it’s common practice to test the new pack and old pack side by side – but this a situation that will never occur in-store. It’s not a realistic test because the designs are only relevant when compared in their in-store context,” Chris Thomas, MD, PLAY Market Research tells PKN.
“It’s not possible to entirely remove bias from the equation, but we are getting closer with virtual reality emulating what shoppers experience in real life,” Thomas says.
PLAY Market Research’s speciality lies in the FMCG space, and the grocery channel in particular. “For our large manufacturing clients,understanding how packaging changes affect shopper behaviour is the most common problem we’re called in to solve,” Thomas says.
“Several years back, we decided to introduce 3D visuals into the research in order to give our research participants much more realistic stimulus.
“Through our exclusive ANZ partnership with a leading UK agency, we’ve been able to create virtual shelf displays in supermarkets. We found an instant improvement over simple images of the products in question. Put simply: the more realistic the stimulus, the better quality the research.
“Using this technology, we can answer questions such as ‘Which items did they hover over and for how long?’, ‘Which products did they ‘pick up’?’, ‘Which labels did they read?’ and ‘How long did it take them to make a purchase decision?’”
A recent project required a series of high-resolution, virtual supermarket aisles that included 26 bays and shelves containing over 500 different SKUs. Using this virtual walk through, the client was able to understand how shoppers would react to various shelf changes.
PLAY created multiple versions of the supermarket aisle walk-through to display different pack holders, signage and various possibilities. After a series of tests, it was able to digitally create the optimal shelving solution – one that would make the shopper experience faster and easier. This was then taken to a major retailer and used to help improve the category layout.
Thomas says that once the aisle has been created, it can be reused for future projects at a much lower cost. Furthermore, the research quality is higher as participants are answering questions based on photorealistic shelf displays.
“Another useful tactic is reproducing different sections or versions of the aisle as stills and showing those to respondents. This helps us measure elements such as shelf standout for new packaging designs,” Thomas says.
New packaging design is not always the answer, as this infographic demonstrates: