Even Better Than the Real Thing

Contact: Even Better Than the Real ThingThe line between reality and the virtual is getting even fuzzier. Now Wal-Mart, Safeway and other stores are arranging their real-life shelves based on what test subjects do in a virtual store - because for shoppers, it's pretty much the same thing, says Karen Strauss at Meridian Consulting.

Tech firms like Red Dot Square put people in front of large screens depicting a 3-D virtual store. Shoppers pick up products, read labels and put stuff in their carts. Researchers rearrange the goods and displays to see what makes people buy more.

It's a lot cheaper and easier to experiment like this in a virtual setting, says Red Dot Square vice president Wayne Link. "Retailers get hundreds of display and promo ideas from manufacturers that they want to test. Now they can," he says.

Safeway and Kimberly-Clark implemented a virtual-shopping results in real stores last year: Instead of organizing baby-care items by category, the stores relocated them by themes. For instance, in the "bath time" area, baby soaps and toys are displayed next to each other. The result: 20 percent higher sales in the themed sections.

Come to think of it, why even bother with the brick-and-mortar versions of crowded stores? Maybe shopping at Wal-Mart could mean a new Wii game and cheap soup and shampoo delivered with our Netflix. It might be safer than the real thing.
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