A market research firm is using realistic, three-dimensional simulations to help restaurant companies test changes to their stores.

InContext Solutions, based in Chicago, offers 3D environments through an online portal that collects data from test participants. Bob Gillespie, CEO of InContext Solutions, says the tool can help restaurants test anything from menuboards and pricing to promotions and bundling.

“The way that you’ve [tested] in the past is that you’ve got a couple test stores where you go and say, ‘In Test Store A, I’m going to test some signage, in Test Store B, I’m going to try some different signage,’” Gillespie says.

“‘We’re going to leave that signage out there for three months and we’re going to see what drives sales, maybe we’ll interview a couple of people and ask them what they think about our signage.’ It’s a pretty inefficient way to do that, it’s an expensive way to do that, and it’s a time-consuming way to do that.”

InContext Solutions builds the rich environments for its clients based on actual stores, and applies whatever changes its clients wish to test, Gillespie says. The firm then conducts its market research with test subjects by having hundreds of people explore the environments virtually and answer a number of questions about their experience.

Gillespie says InContext Solutions captures analytical and behavioral data and uses the data to help its clients make the best decisions.

“When you do it virtually, you can make a ton of changes very quickly without having to build anything in the real world,” he says. “You can get a ton of people in a short period of time, and you can really isolate the one thing that you’re really concerned about and get both behavioral and attitudinal information from a large group of people.”

Gillespie says tests in real stores don’t just take a long time to vet, but results can also be skewed based on any number of outside factors, like store location or weather.

“We’re able to isolate the only thing that’s changing, which might be the menuboard,” he says. “When you’re trying to do testing in the real world, there’s so much noise around that data because there are so many things that could be changing.”

By Sam Oches

Back of House, Consumer Trends, News, Restaurant Operations