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  • Writer's pictureJohn Ennis

Eye on AI - April 17th, 2020

Welcome to Aigora's "Eye on AI" series, where we round up exciting news at the intersection of consumer science and artificial intelligence!


Hi, everyone, for a change of pace this week, we’ll be looking at advances in using virtual reality to collect consumer data; specifically, how sensory data collected through virtual reality helps inform companies on product creation and marketing. Enjoy!

How Virtual Reality Can Advance Customer Data Collection

With this edition of Eye on AI, let’s look at one article, in particular, titled “A Piña Colada Tastes Better on a (Virtual) Beach”, which hints at big impacts VR could soon be making in the collection of customer data in market research. The article focuses primarily on the IFT19 annual event in New Orleans, where more than 100 attendees, mostly food industry professionals, participated in a “Virtual Reality Tasting Experience.”

The experience worked like this: participants tasted nonalcoholic piña coladas and Bloody Marys, once while wearing VR headsets displaying a video of a sunny beach, once without, then rated each drink based on a nine-point scale. The results, as one might expect, were telling.

“Indeed, the VR test data indicated statistically higher liking scores when the participants consumed piña coladas on a virtual beach than they did when tasting without the VR headset,” writes co-authors Peiyuan Zhou, Mingze Qin, and Robin Dando. “The mean liking score for piña coladas increased from a 6 to a 6.3 with a VR beach scene; the liking scores for Bloody Marys remained the same under both conditions.”

While on its head, this may not seem like a ground-breaking result, as piña coladas are traditionally beach drinks. But what makes this test so interesting is that it marks the beginning of a new type of stimulation testing. To this day, companies seem to be fixated on what is known as central location testing (CLT), in which taste tests are administered in stimulation-lacking environments, the theory being that participants will give more accurate ratings when no external stimulations are introduced. The problem is that products are hardly ever consumed in stimulation-free environments. And those environments tend to alter our perception of the products we’re consuming––products that test well in CLT environments, such as the infamous Coke Zero, often fall flat in the real world.

Could VR Be the Future of Market Research Testing?

To conclude, let’s take a look at the comfortability rating customers gave to the VR test, which might indicate its usefulness in the future, then briefly discuss viability of VR market research in the future.

“More than two-thirds of participants (73%) believed this technology would be useful in the future,” noted the co-authors. “First-timers saw the most potential for VR in sensory studies in the future, possibly also reflecting the novelty of the first exposure to VR. Other significant predictors of a panelist’s perceived usefulness of VR in sensory were the panelist’s perceived level of immersion when wearing the headset and their age: Younger participants were more likely to accept VR as a useful tool for sensory.”

What this suggests to me is 1) the VR test was a success, as most participants felt the technology useful, and 2) the application if this type of testing will only grow in time, as the younger participants found it most useful. In terms of how this translates into market research success, the sky seems to be the limit for VR. Younger participants will continue to become familiarized with the technology, as will the more technologically proficient generations that come after. As to how researchers can best use this technology, I’m most interested in VR’s ability to collect data on people’s sensory response to specific environments. This type of data will be essential in informing companies on how to create and market products to match human responses to specific environments.

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