Colmar Brunton brings the store to the screen with virtual shopping

Understanding what gets consumers buying is a core marketing skill, but in the world of retail, experimentation is often limited to a few variables—and expensive. So Colmar Brunton has launched a new product called CXS, or Customer Xperience Simulation, to solve those issues by allowing products and shopper marketing campaigns to be tested virtually. 


15 months in the making, the new research tool simulates a real New Zealand supermarket, which allows FMCG companies to completely replicate every aspect of the shopper experience and get shopper feedback on everything from the packaging, pricing and position in the supermarket chiller or shelves without having to set foot in a store.

Wellington-based technology company XandAR developed the back end of what Colmar Brunton’s chief executive Jacqueline Ireland likens to a shopping video game (we’re predicting it will be a big seller come Christmas) using augmented reality, which combines digital and real world techniques. 

Colmar Brunton group account director and head of shopper research Clint Elsom says worldwide examples of virtual stores showed good results as a shopper behaviour research tool but none of them were able to replicate the New Zealand experience. 

“Our CXS tool completely mirrors real New Zealand stores carrying New Zealand brands with New Zealand pricing and instore promotional components,” says Elsom.  “Recently completed trials with two of this country’s largest FMCG companies—Fonterra and DB Breweries—have provided some exciting results, which show the new tool can significantly assist category optimisation and growth without relying on just price to do so.”

Fonterra Brands New Zealand head of insights, Tim Opie, says the CXS trial allowed the company to ‘virtually’ test all elements of one complete chiller category (it’s thought retailers are increasingly asking for initiatives that help to grow categories and total sales, rather than just growing individual brands).  

“We wanted to know how we could grow total category volume and value and deliver incremental value rather than simply through discounting. Using CXS we were able to simulate and then test with shoppers flow, space, signage and point of sale materials, new products, position, adjacencies, secondary sites—all real-time and at pace,” he says. “By manipulating aspects of the in-store marketing mix other than price we gained clear insights into shopper behaviour and avenues for driving sustainable shopper growth that would benefit our retailers and ourselves by driving the total category. We also got an amazing understanding of scenario interactions such as which flow works best with what space and with which new products, and which communications elements drove positive shopper behaviour resulting in that all important sale. The ability to optimise the shopper experience via multiple scenarios is something very hard to do in the real world easily.”

As an example, instore marketing saying something like ‘Cereal loves Yoghurt’ placed in the cereal aisle significantly boosted yoghurt sales. 

Colmar Brunton believes the CXS tool will provide significant long term benefits for FMCG brand marketers—and, as evidenced by the significant investment into the creation of this bespoke technology, to itself. 

“The virtual store allows marketers to test changes four to six times more quickly than doing so in a real store, thereby providing them with a significant first to market advantage,” says Elsom. “Real instore testing tends to be limited to changing one or two variables whereas the virtual version allows for testing multiple options. In short, it provides FMCG marketers with the ability to test any product in any New Zealand supermarket before spending big dollars on new product development and packaging. It allows for decisions to be made faster, earlier and cheaper.”

Opie says that while there is an upfront investment in the CXS tool, smart marketers need to think of it as a means of creating a strategically important ongoing tool, not a one off initiative to give a short term boost to sales performance.

“The ability to replicate the customer experience and easily integrate this information with other research methodologies, tools and panels will provide brands with the real ability to deliver long term, sustainable value growth. It also gives us the ability to deliver unconstrained innovation in the shopper space, and think differently around how value can be created.”

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