There’s a glint of missionary zeal in Jean-Pierre Lacroix’s eyes when he talks about the future of store design coming into view on the horizon with an amalgamation of AR, VR and neurometrics.
“How do we get closer to truly understanding the emotional triggers that get customers to buy?” he asks. “These are decisions that are made in the blink of an eye.”
Lacroix is the president of design agency Shikatani Lacroix, which has partnered with neuromarketing research firm True Impact to create what the firms call “a first-of-its-kind approach” that combines neuroscience with augmented reality and virtual reality (the AR and VR mentioned above) aimed at revolutionizing retail and packaging design.
“Our intention was to merge these technologies to produce consistent and reliable data that we can translate into actionable strategies for our clients,” he said.
Shikatani Lacroix designs realistic retail environments using 3D technology that are visualized on AR and VR devices to allow clients to experience the retail concepts before physical prototypes are built.
To validate the effectiveness of these concepts, the company has partnered with True Impact to accurately measure consumers’ emotional responses to the AR and VR environments using Electroencephalogram, or EEG, monitoring technology.
The firm recently brought small groups of tech industry insiders and writers together at its Toronto headquarters to showcase the partnership, which has resulted in an innovative approach that marries Microsoft Hololens and Samsung VR headgear with EEG measurements to decipher consumer preference through emotion. The ability to measure the true emotional response to how a retail environment or package makes a consumer feel correlates to the effectiveness of the retail or package design, the company said – potentially saving companies millions of dollars on unproven prototypes.
“When you really understand why customers make the decisions they do, you can really start to put the customer at the center of the experience,” said Diana Lucaci, founder and CEO of True Impact.
According to Lucaci, while biometrics may tell researchers when someone’s pulse increases or face flushes – signs of excitement – neurometrics can, even more importantly, tell researchers why.
Her firm uses accepted academic protocols and formats for data processing, as well as the same kind of sensors used in academic studies, to make sure the results are backed by decades of scientific research, Lucaci said.
“We are well-grounded in a mountain of evidence,” she said. “There is no secret black box behind the data.”
All of which all sounds well and good – but what does it really mean?
It means that designers can design a new store in a virtual program and then have focus group “customers” visit the new store layout in both virtual and augmented reality environments, all while wearing EEG-measuring headsets that tell designers what emotional responses they’re having to the environment. That could translate into significant costs savings for brands that can create virtual pilot stores instead of spending to create physical iterations. It creates the potential for a full-on revolution in store and experience design, if designers can walk shoppers or diners though an entire experience and accurately measure their true emotional responses.
The question, of course, is how closely do people’s emotional responses in virtual and augmented reality environments mirror those they’d have in “real,” physical ones? According to Lacroix, that’s the next step in their research, to firmly back up the science and pre-empt any questions potential users might have about its veracity. And, as the processing power of our computers increases, so will the ability to make those AR and VR environments more closely mimic the physical.
From a firsthand standpoint, even as it stands now the technology is almost literally, and certainly somewhat disconcertingly, mind-blowing. Strapping on a VR headset and virtually touring a fully-realized retail bank environment is quite literally dizzying. You have to be careful not to accidentally walk into a very real wall.
Or fit on a Microsoft Hololens (Shikatani Lacroix is a Wave 1 developer for the tech) and take a bird’s eye view of a new branch layout and how to navigate it.
Then add to that the ability to measure what someone is actually feeling emotionally at that moment, as opposed to relying on verifiably unreliable self-reporting? Brands can and should be lining up to try this kind of technology on for size or develop their own solutions. The arms race is about the get started.
“We’re going to be using this more and more in our design process,” Lacroix said.
And he isn’t the only one with a bit of the evangelist in them.
“This is the future of retail,” Lucaci said. “This kind of design, with this kind of technology, will really put people in the center … Stores will become actually mindful, designed with human beings in mind.”
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