Does Virtual Reality Help Market Research or Vice Versa?

By Keith Phillips, Senior Methodologist

Does VR help MR, or is it the other way around? Virtual Reality (VR) is becoming more and more prevalent. We see it being sold in TV commercials and used on amusement park rides. If you are a “gamer,” perhaps you are already on board with the fun. Over the past few years, we have also seen VR play a prevalent role at market research conferences. Exhibitors like SSI are offering VR experiences at the booth and speaking about the use of VR  specifically for market research during presentations. ESOMAR Congress this September was no different – the medium seemed even more prominent with an entire session devoted to the topic which comprised of three presentations exploring the use-cases.

I saw an additional presentation on Virtual Reality by Alexandra Chirilov (Joint Head of the Global GfK Preference Modelling Hub, GfK)  during a session of the Corporate YES (Young ESOMAR Society) award finalists. In Alexandra’s study, she asked survey participants via paper questionnaire to choose which car they preferred to own. A side-by-side study was conducted where the participants were able to view the cars in VR, look up information about them and check out the interior as well as the exterior.  

The overwhelming feedback from the survey participants was that a VR questionnaire was a better user experience than a standard one. That makes plenty of sense, especially at this stage when VR is so new to so many people.  The study also produced different results via the paper survey vs. the VR experience. This prompted one member from the audience to ask, “how would you explain which result is the right one to stakeholders commissioning the research?”  Of course, if the VR experience produced the same result as a paper survey, would there be any reason to do it?

The use of VR in market research does make me think about VR ownership becoming the norm, rather than the exception. Very often with technology adoption, the issue is cost, but with VR we see very inexpensive options available (with varying levels of quality), including the inexpensive holders for your smartphone.  So what gives?  

It would appear that the adoption of VR is going to occur based on the availability of unique and desired content offered through the medium.  This article by film critic Ty Burr highlights some of the challenges with creating appropriate content as well as some of the innovation and progress that has been made developing it. 

Perhaps market research’s role is about more than utilizing VR as a research tool and instead could be used to help the companies investing in the technology unlock the ingredients for making the ideal virtual reality experience.