ACSPRI Conferences, RC33 Eighth International Conference on Social Science Methodology

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Using Virtual Reality to measure consumer food purchasing behaviour

Wilma Waterlander, Cliona Ni Mhurchu, Ingrid Steenhuis

Building: Law Building
Room: Breakout 8 - Law Building, Room 100
Date: 2012-07-10 03:30 PM – 05:00 PM
Last modified: 2012-06-01


Background: Many interventions in the food environment aim to effectively promote healthier food choices. Examples of promising interventions include food pricing, labelling or product placement. Because supermarkets form the dominant food environment in industrialized countries, these seem the most appropriate place for such interventions. Nonetheless, experimental studies in retail environments are costly and difficult to implement. Consequently, most consumer studies rely on self report rather than actual food purchasing behaviour. The Virtual Supermarket may offer a solution. The aim of this presentation is to discuss the development of such virtual reality tools and their potential use in studying food choice behaviour.

Methods: The Virtual Supermarket was originally developed in the Netherlands. Currently, a New Zealand version is being developed. A key feature of the virtual supermarket software is that it is designed to reflect the layout of an existent supermarket and closely reflect a real shopping experience. This is done by using a branch of a leading supermarket retail chain as a model and creating a computerized version. The virtual supermarket contains shelves and photographs of genuine products are used to compose product images. The variety of foods in the virtual supermarket is chosen to be representative of a regular supermarket assortment. This is done by selecting food products from every product category, where the size of the product category determines the number of products selected. The virtual supermarket can be adapted to examine several research interventions, for example changing prices or food labels. The program digitally stores all data.

Results: The Dutch version of the Virtual Supermarket has been used to study five different interventions among over 600 participants. During this presentation, we will highlight some of the most important research findings from the virtual supermarket studies. Furthermore, we will show data on how participants rated the virtual supermarket software and how accurate it was in measuring food purchases. Finally we will share the progress of the New Zealand virtual supermarket development, discuss opportunities for input to this process, and indicate how other parties could use the software for their own research.

Conclusions: The Virtual Supermarket is an innovative research tool to study the effects of various interventions in a simulated retail environment. It may be a useful tool in studying consumer food purchasing behaviour, although thorough validation against real shopping behaviour is warranted.