Multiple exposure shot of two businesspeople wearing VR headsets superimposed over a cityscape

Should Clients Consider Virtual Reality?

By Susan Sabanos, Vice President Client Relationships

Should Clients be considering conducting market research using Virtual Reality?

Yes. And here’s why.

Virtual reality (VR) is on a fast-track to becoming mainstream among your consumers.  Consumers enthusiastically anticipate using VR for experiences like travel/adventure, live events, home design and education.  Most also imagine using VR for shopping. This interest will only get stronger, especially as Gen Z consumption takes center stage.

VR projections all point to positive growth. Accessibility is being driven by affordable headsets which have fallen in price from nearly $40,000 in 2014 to under $1,000 today, leading to projected sales of 37 million by 2020. Revenue growth should also be exponential, increasing from $4 billion in 2016 to $40 billion in 2020.  Overall, the global VR market is expected to grow 45% between 2016 and 2022 driven by mass scale adoption in various industry verticals.

Why VMR?

VMR (Virtual Market Research) is highly immersive technology that allows clients to examine how a consumer reacts to a digitally-generated simulation of a physical environment (such as a store, hotel or travel destination) or digitally-created product (such as a kitchen appliance, TV or car). Two of the most compelling benefits of VMR are greater accuracy of consumer feedback and greater efficiency.

We see better accuracy because VR simulates in-the-moment truth better than asking consumers about what they did in the past or what they might do in the future. Chris Milk, CEO of Within, in his TED Talk, described VR as “a  machine, but inside of it, it feels like real life. It feels like truth.” (Chris Milk Ted Talk March 2015 Vancouver.)  In a VMR test consumers have an experience that clients can observe and evaluate in real time.  Research on research studies concludes that VMR provides an accurate prediction of brand share and price sensitivity to price. As well, the accuracy of results from combining VMR with eye-tracking heatmaps, brain activity measurement and facial coding is improving.

VR produces better efficiency because, rather than having to physically build out a newly designed store or product, it can be created digitally. Furthermore, VMR allows for a quicker cycle for test, refine, repeat iterations. From a logistical standpoint, VMR allows for broader market coverage because it eliminates geographic limits. You can test the same stimulus simultaneously from San Francisco to Shanghai.

While VMR has been adopted by many leading companies (Ford, Walmart, Conagra, Cadbury), it is still a small percentage of research buyers. According to the 2017 GRIT Survey, only 11% of respondents say that they are using VR. However, 38% say they are interested.

What are the barriers to wider VMR adoption?

Cost and lack of familiarity are the biggest barriers.  VR store simulation costs range from $30,000 to $1 million, so it’s not surprising that potential users of VMR might stop right there in favor of traditional methods. A related hurdle is that services such as graphics and programming customized for VR market research are not yet widely available. In addition, internally there has to be buy-in to create the VR test stimulus or work with digital content creators.  These are not insignificant issues. But, the potential power of harnessing VR as a research tool is too important to not be addressed.

What’s next?

It’s time for the market research community to get ahead of the VR trend. For research buyers this means considering VR as an option and comparing the costs and benefits to the current/traditional method.

Additionally, research agencies need to step up by having a VR solution in place for their clients. MMR continues to monitor the latest developments through literature and organizations such as IIex, vetting VR service and equipment providers and putting VR forward as a possible solution to clients when appropriate.

VMR is destined to become a common tool because we need to meet consumers where they are – and they are heading to VR. From a market research industry image perspective, this is a chance to lead. This is an opportunity for MR to leverage the potential and excitement of a new and highly consumer-engaging technology.