A New Normal and Retail’s Inevitable Move to Virtual

A New Normal and Retail’s Inevitable Move to Virtual

While our country remains in an extreme and unparalleled state of uncertainty, CPG brands and grocery retailers are in a particularly strange situation. Panic-buying has left shelves bare and manufacturers struggling to keep up with the demand. Grocery stores must remain operational so we have access to food, medicine, and cleaning supplies, and yet the country is slowly shutting itself down. What does it all mean for the future?

The fact is, we don’t know yet. Right now, manufacturers of toilet paper, canned foods and many other center aisle products are seeing big gains; one estimate sees sales lifts of up to 62% for the quarter and up to 15% for the fiscal year. But that could change as we fall into a new cadence of daily pandemic life. “We are at about noon on 9/11—we are still figuring out how this works,” said Bob Phibbs, The Retail Doctor, during a recent panel session with RetailWire. “We have to be realistic but ultimately the only thing that helps any of us is being calm in the storm and saying ‘What can I do?’”

We have some ideas about that, and we want to share them with you.

The Time is Now

Just as many of us can continue doing our jobs through virtual conferencing and digital platforms, brands and retailers can use virtual technology to continue with learning plans and shopper research—because people are still shopping. In fact, while it might seems like the wild west in terms of panic buying, a survey conducted by the Path to Purchase Institute found that 24% of those polled still look for coupons, 23% are reviewing store circulars, and 22% are comparing prices across stores.

There has never been a more important time to understand how 3D technology can change the way we work. Virtual testing gives retail and brand teams a way to continue their learning plans, and help them navigate the New Normal of in-store planning. While the priority for brands and retailers today is making sure items are stocked and that the supply chain is healthy, there are actually many opportunities to leverage virtual to improve strategies and work smarter:

Crisis mode testing

As soon as the COVID-19 crisis began to hit U.S. stores and disrupt our normal ways of shopping, we realized our methods would need to change as well. Rest assured, virtual research can accurately capture the changes in behavior in store happening at a given point in time, and repeated tests can capture how this behavior is evolving.

  • We quickly found we could address changes through our surveys and sampling methods to help mitigate abnormal sampling and shopperbehaviors.
  • We can get accurate behaviors using virtual research right now with these extra measures, which in turn helps you understand shopperbehavior today, as well as what that might look like down the road.

Virtual category line review

In the world of social distancing, we can’t gather large groups to review a new POG or category strategy in-store or at an innovation center. But we still need to be thinking about these things, so our categories are ready to thrive as we return to the world as we know it. 

Our virtual platform can:

  • Provide everything you need to ground your audience in category changes from a distance, by immersing them in your ‘virtual’ store
  • Give them an in-depth look at proposed category changes
  • Get feedback and quickly iterate as necessary  

Virtual learning plans

Virtual research can still be conducted during this time. As we said above, we have proactively fielded research on research that shows that we can get shoppers to behave similarly to how they did previous to the Covid-19 crisis. This means that for your team’s shopper research learning plans, ICS can:

  • Effectively help you understand the impact of your strategies on arrangement, assortment, signage, displays, pricing, promotions, placement, and other in-store questions.
  • Consult with you on how to use virtual store research to effectively address your learning plans both now and in the future.

Challenger opportunities

Virtual has always facilitated opportunities for challenger brands to get ahead through better collaboration and presentation capabilities, but today there is an even greater opportunity for challenger brands to plan ahead. The current state of flux could present a unique chance to catch the attention of retail partners. Challengers can leverage quick, cost-effective virtual research to get a jump on in-store strategies, and prove their value using data-backed recommendations.


Virtual conferencing has replaced face-to-face meetings for now—so what does that mean for sourcing? Even when business travel resumes, companies will have to be smart about how they are spending their money. We can render 3D product images, allowing sourcers and buyers to virtually continue with their tasks without the need for travel, keeping everyone safe in the coming months, and effectively saving on expenses now and into the future.


The ability to train retail working in a VR setting will ramp up significantly during this crisis and even after it subsides. Major retailers that were already taking huge steps to adopt virtual technology are now looking to provide VR headsets to onboard staff as this crisis continues. This includes new retail hires and new field sales staff–anyone that needs to be immersed in the store as part of their learning can benefit. By leveraging VR technology, we can help retailers and brands tailor the actual store space to conduct operational training in a safe learning environment.

We will get past this unprecedented time. What lies ahead will be a new kind of normal, but one that we need to be prepared for. “You have to look forward as a calm leader,” said Phibbs. “There’s no quick fix, it’s not an easy fix, but it’s a ‘We,’ not ‘Me’ moment.”

Together, we will weather this storm. Our job is to help you continue to gain valuable insights into the current shopper climate, and our virtual tools provide that agility–for today, and after this crisis subsides.

Please contact us to learn more.

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