Is it worthwhile going immersive? : evaluating the performance of virtual simulated stores for shopper research : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Marketing at Massey University, Albany, New Zealand
Advances in simulation technology offer the possibility of more authentic shopper environments for virtual store experiments. Criticisms of subjective measures of consumer behavior previously led to the use of test markets or simulated stores for consumer experimental research. As cost implications made such experiments unavailable to the wider market research community, virtual simulated stores (VSSs) were developed as an alternative. However, the adoption of VSSs has been slow as traditional desktop-operated VSSs do not provide an authentic multicategory shopper experience.
New simulation technologies offer the opportunity for more immersive and authentic VSS environments. Yet there has been little research on how authenticity of VSSs is impacted by newly available technology such as head-mounted displays, motion tracking, force feedback controllers, and application of place and plausibility cues. Thus, this dissertation asks whether immersive technologies have potential to provide highly authentic VSS environments. Of the many factors that may determine authenticity, this dissertation examines three; participants’ sense of telepresence, the realism of shopper behaviour, and the effects of shopper locomotion alternatives.
An immersive VSS incorporating new virtual technologies was specifically designed and built for this research. Three studies were undertaken. The first compared perceived telepresence and usability between a desktop-operated VSS and an equivalent immersive walk-around VSS. The second examined the authenticity of shopper behaviour in the immersive walk-around VSS by comparing observed shopping patterns to those previously reported in the marketing literature. The third tested whether walk-around locomotion was necessary for authenticity, or whether a simpler teleportation method would result in equivalent shopper behaviour and emotions.
Results showed that immersive VSS systems are preferable to traditional desktop-operated systems with regards to telepresence and usability. Further, authentic behavioural patterns can be found in immersive walk-around store experiments, including plausibility of private label shares, pack inspection times, shelf-height effects and impulse purchases. Lastly, there were no differences in shopper emotions and purchase behaviour between walk-around locomotion and controller-based instant teleportation, implying that the teleportation technique can be used, thereby reducing the required physical footprint for immersive VSS simulations. Collectively, the findings imply that marketers who study in-store shopper behavior can be confident using immersive VSS for their research as opposed to outdated desktop VSS technology.