Back in the 1980s, the most disruptive technology to hit in-store planning and category management was the introduction of JDA software—and it remains an integral part of the industry to this day. But the difference now is that technology has grown exponentially and changed the way consumers shop. We hear it over and over, but as the ways to discover, research, browse, and buy continue to evolve, so must the ways in which we develop in-store concepts.
We created VR solutions for this very reason. VR technology itself is not new—but cloud-based VR software that allows users to work together within a virtual environment, save changes and view them on multiple devices, is. At least as of 2009 when InContext was born.
Of course, the two technologies on their own, VR and cloud-computing, have been the subject of myriad coverage and conversation. But combining the two is rare—there are few companies out there right now that can take VR technology into the cloud. The fact that our VR platform, ShopperMX™, already lives on the web is a big differentiator, and a big asset for retailers and manufacturers trying to work more efficiently. Here are a few reasons why:
When VR is web-based, it means it can live anywhere—there’s no need for expensive on-site servers.
"A cloud based solution allows us to reach anyone, anywhere, anytime," says Tracey Wiedmeyer, InContext Solutions CTO and cofounder. "This was a main reason for starting InContext because traditional methods were just too slow, limited and cumbersome, and they relied on on-premise solutions."
For example, if a shopper marketer created multiple signage concepts in virtual reality, she can easily share images and 3D videos with stakeholders or collaborate with other team members, from wherever they are. Or say a category team wants to convince a retailer that their concept is the most profitable—instead of flying the retailer in to see a concept, they can bring the concept to the retailer and even use VR headsets for a more immersive experience.
When it comes to the store level, interactive visualizations of new planogram arrangements can easily be streamed to a tablet and viewed by store employees, which improves compliance and saves dollars on printed, two-dimensional concepts.
InContext is not the only VR company out there to cater to the in-store planning needs of retailers and manufacturers. But many of them rely on large-screen centers and physical VR lab locations that don't allow clients to be in control of concept iteration. Cloud-based virtual solutions put the power back into the hands of the user; they can make changes, create and save multiple concepts, and do quick tests to get a read on effectiveness, on their own time and using a secured access.
It also means that the data itself lives in the cloud, so there’s no storage limit, and you can come right back to where you left off.
Research teams also benefit from cloud-based VR. When testing a new concept, sample shoppers are needed to provide feedback. These shoppers are able to access shopping simulations right from their own computers. This not only allows for a larger sample set, it also eliminates geographical boundaries.
If you’re a manufacturer based in Illinois, but you want to pitch a new product to a retailer out in California, cloud-based VR makes it possible to test your product with local shoppers who can view it on a virtual shelf set.
Because we manage the infrastructure, hosting, storage, data security, backup and update/maintenance aspects, clients can onboard quickly and ensure they always get the latest updates on our timeline, without waiting for an IT admin.
"Web-based solutions ultimately drive Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of the platform down for our customers because these aspects are managed by InContext, letting customers use those extra dollars in other parts of their business," Tracey says.
The reality is, VR is quickly becoming a popular business solution in a number of industries, and web-based software is quickly becoming a necessity. We’re proud to say we were able to bring them both together to help move retail and CPG forward.