Get our best content directly in your inbox
Sign up

University of Ulster trials VR grocery retail experience to develop research around consumer behaviour

young woman with glasses smiling
3 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
woman and man standing with virtual reality headset

Image courtesy of University of Ulster

The Northern Irish arm of convenience retailer SPAR has partnered with University of Ulster to create a new virtual retail facility.

The technology has been funded by the university’s business school, and will be the first VR lab of its kind on the island of Ireland to be used for shopper research. It will be set up at the Consumer Insights Lab on Ulster University’s Coleraine campus.

SPAR’s virtual grocery store will be based on a real-life store, and will include all the elements that might be seen in a community shop, such as point-of-sale messaging and promotional packaging.

It will be used to help SPAR, which is owned and operated by Henderson Group, collect data around how and why local shoppers choose specific groceries in a store environment.

A separate ‘Vulcan Store of the Future’ has also been implemented into the VR technology. This experience is based on the model of an Amazon Go store, where shoppers can buy what they need and leave without paying at a till.

“There is vast learning to be made through these separate models for both our students, our faculty and our local business partners”, says Geoff Simmons, Professor in Consumer Behaviour and insight at University of Ulster.

He added: “This technology will enhance the student experience at Ulster University Business School, supporting their learning around retailing and consumer related studies, showing the importance of using real-time data to inform new product development.”

The consumer insights research team at the university have already completed their first collaborative project using the VR space. The project ‘Tonight’s Tea’ sought to discover what factors influence which groceries a shopper decides to buy to cook a meal for themselves or their family.

Some ten users of the VR shop were able to choose products that would be available in typical SPAR stores across Northern Ireland, with brands such as Enjoy Local, The Kitchen and The Greengrocer’s being on offer, as well as a range of locally supplied fresh and artisan products.

Jonny Agnew, General Manager at Henderson Kitchen (of Henderson Group) said: “We know the value in collaborating with such an innovative team at Ulster University, and our Tonight’s Tea project will aim to extract the data around decision making for creating a meal that night.

“We care about the ever-changing behaviour of shoppers, especially with the changes to lifestyles and living costs in recent years and months, and this continued partnership will help us build a more robust brand and shopping experience for our retailers and shoppers.”

Virtual reality trials have become a popular way to find out more about consumer behaviour and are being used elsewhere in the UK for different purposes. In June 2022, four UK supermarkets announced they would be trialling environmental labelling systems in virtual reality before moving them in-store.

Grocery retail tech is continuously evolving. Find out all about the new innovations that have changed the sector and how they might impact its future too in this Food Matters Live Podcast episode:

A new frontier – how tech is changing grocery retail


Related content