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Virtual reality is – we’ll just come out and say it – pretty hip right now. Facebook acquired Oculus for $2 billion in 2014, and the speculation of where this partnership will lead is all over the board. A teleporter has been reported. Gaming rumors abound, of course. And there’s talk of virtual reality becoming the next major computer platform that will come after mobile.

Virtual reality is popping up elsewhere, too. Lately we’ve seen some Virgin Airlines billboards appearing on the 101 freeway near San Francisco that advertise an app which allows passengers to experience their travel experience using their virtual reality headset.

And, of course, there’s Google Cardboard. (Just $2.99 on eBay!)

So yeah, virtual reality is … here.

Virtual reality is making a big splash in marketing, too. Merrell hosted a virtual reality exhibition, where people wore the Oculus headset, walked around bridges and features, and were thrown into a full virtual reality world of mountains, boulders, and stunning scenery. All to try out some shoes.

Brands are getting incredibly creative with virtual reality technology, and it’s only a matter of time before this technology becomes accessible and affordable to the masses.

Which makes us pretty happy as market researchers. Here’s why.

Virtual reality will help market research put people in spaces that we’re studying

In market research, the more realistic the situation, the more accurately we’ll be able to study how people behave. Focus groups are great – they serve their purpose and deliver a wealth of insights, but talking to people in a room is different from understanding how they might behave if they’re actually surrounded by the stimulus we’re talking about. For example – say that we’re doing research on the car- buying experience. Instead of walking with people through their memories of the process, we could have them wear virtual reality headsets, which showcase a car dealership, and have different scenarios of the car buying experience (salesperson approaching or perhaps a Tesla-type experience, where you pick out your car on a computer). This more “reality” type of situation then lends itself beautifully to facilitating a discussion about the person’s experience as they go through a setting that they experience – virtually. It would bring a whole new life to focus groups.

Virtual reality can augment or even replace some types of ethnographic research

Ethnographic research has come a long way. We can now easily set up mobile and online studies, which allow us to get footage and imagery from people as they’re out shopping or in their homes. We can get feedback, in-real time, which helps mitigate against any lapses or influences in memory.

But with virtual reality, ethnographic research could enter a whole new frontier. Instead of having people physically go to a store and record their experiences (either with an in-person ethnography or through mobile ethnographies), we could have people shop virtually, through the magic of a virtual reality headset. A researcher can walk the person through the experience, capturing insights along the way. This same process can be replicated for home studies and in office environments.

Yup. We’re pretty excited to see where virtual reality will lead us as market researchers. Stay tuned.

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