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    Testing New Products in the Virtual World

    C-store retailers, manufacturers can determine what will sell best in real life.

    By Mark Hardy, InContext Solutions

    In the competitive, rapidly changing convenience store environment, virtual store simulations can help retailers more effectively test new products and in-store marketing displays before they invest in the real world. Here are some ways virtual simulations can be used to test new products in convenience stores:

    Quantify packaging design

    What catches the shopper’s eye? What entices him/her to purchase a new product? With virtual store research and simulations, c-store operators can test different packaging designs for a new product and figure out which one will yield the highest sales. Customers can track shopper eye movement in-store to see if the design catches the shopper’s eye from afar, and they can even see whether packaging claims entice a shopper to pick up -- or better yet, purchase -- a new product. With virtual store simulations, store operators and manufacturers have access to invaluable data before they roll out a new product or modify current packaging designs.

    Predict impact on category sales

    A new product is no good for the convenience store if it cannibalizes sales of other products and causes the shopper to buy less than he/she would otherwise. With virtual store research, retailers can evaluate how much a new product will sell, whether it will increase overall basket size or whether it will actually hurt sales. It helps convenience store owners feel confident that a new product will increase sales overall and help them generate more profits.

    Streamlining product offerings is one of the most important decisions a convenience store operator can make. Selecting a highly-curated selection of quality offerings at each price point will help to ensure every customer is able to find something he desires without risking cannibalization and without overwhelming the shopper.

    Determine optimal shelf placement

    Does a new snack product fit better near chips or snack bars? The answer really depends on where it will sell the most and where shoppers will look for it first. With the tight space of a convenience store, category sections are often small and limited. Testing where a product is best placed in a virtual simulation helps operators feel confident giving it precious shelf space. Virtual simulations can remove the guesswork that sometimes goes into shelf placement. Figuring out where shoppers will most likely look for a product is essential in choosing the best location for it, and for convenience retailers looking to make their shops easy to navigate and aesthetically pleasing.

    Make the most of in-store marketing 

    Space in a convenience store is tight. Not only do operators need to know their in-store marketing will increase product purchases, but they also need to know their marketing will actually fit in the space. Virtual simulations allow companies to see in advance what a new piece of in-store marketing will look and feel like; they can walk all around to be sure it won’t be cramped or fit awkwardly in the space.

    Also, they can see if the in-store marketing catches the shopper’s eye and whether it impacts product purchase. It’s a great way to predict return on investment on new marketing activity. Not only can such information help companies avoid costly and misguided in-store marketing campaigns, but it can also help them figure out what actually will work in the available space.

    Discover the optimal price point 

    For a new product, a small change in pricing can affect whether shoppers are willing to try it for the first time. With virtual store research, manufacturers can test different price points in advance to predict what will work in the real world. They can also test the impact of promotional pricing or coupons to see what is most likely to entice real shoppers and prompt adoption of a new product.

    Reach franchise owners of all backgrounds 

    With franchisees who don’t speak English as their first language, virtual simulations are a great tool for rolling out new products and in-store marketing across locations. Operators can use high-impact 3D videos instead of written instructions as they activate new concepts in the market. It makes compliance a breeze as the risk of new displays being set up incorrectly is hugely diminished. Virtual simulation movies are a very cost-effective, scalable way to activate new concepts across locations.

    With virtual simulations and research, convenience store operators and manufacturers can ensure they're both on the same page and making the most cost-effective choices. The invaluable information garnered from virtual simulations can improve decision-making across the board, and it can help to make shopping simple and streamlined for customers.

    Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.

    By Mark Hardy, InContext Solutions
    • About Mark Hardy Mark Hardy joined InContext Solutions in October 2012 as CEO. Hardy has 25 years of experience in driving growth at a broad range of information services companies through a combination of rapid innovation and globalization of product portfolios.

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