Featured image for What Does Immersive Virtual Reality Have to Do With Packaging? Maybe A Lot.

What Does Immersive Virtual Reality Have to Do With Packaging? Maybe A Lot.

by Chloe Gordon on 07/20/2023 | 4 Minute Read

What if you could design a piece of packaging and have a focus group immediately interact with it on a store shelf, surrounded by its competitors? Or what if the packaging was filled with liquid, and you wanted to see how consumers would interact with the fluid behind the label design? 

Not to sound like a tacky car salesman, but with Esko's Store Visualizer, you can, along with a few other things. 

Esko is a graphic arts company producing prepress software and hardware for the packaging and labels, sign and display, and publishing industries. While the company focuses on software for creating packaging, it also has a tool for designers that helps modernize the research and testing for designers and brands by implementing virtual reality (VR) technology.  

SSV Supermarket 2a.png

Susie Stitzel, the product manager for all of Esko's structural design and 3D products, is one of the masterminds behind the tool. "Our store visualizer is an application that runs on both the Mac and PC, allowing you to design and build a complete virtual store," Stitzel says. "You start by saying what type of store you'd like, what you'd like the floor, the ceiling, and the walls to look like. Then you can put in aisles and standard shelving and then put products on the shelves. And, remember, it's all completely virtual."

"You can view the store on a computer screen, but it also supports virtual reality," she adds. "So you can use a virtual reality headset, walk around, navigate the store, and pick things up."

The Store Visualizer tool allows brands and designers to see what packaging designs will look like on the shelf with other products and be able to do A/B testing, data research, eye tracking, and consumer testing. "It's just about as realistic as it can get. It's doing real-time rendering. It has a physics engine, so things like liquids move when you pick up a bottle, and if you had a whole stack of things and pulled the bottom out, the display would collapse, and the same thing would happen as if you were in the real world." 

Studio-Store-Visualizer-GET SET MAX.jpg

Destroying a virtual employee's organized shelf stocking aside, this immersive, realistic experience Esko developed allows brands and creatives to maximize a product's design potential. Through focus group testing and analysis, brands can quickly analyze what packaging performs the best, how consumers go about their shopping, how consumers interact with packaging, analyze that oh-so-critical eye tracking, and much more. 

"A lot of the time, brands start with one SKU but then decide to make two flavors or three different sizes. Then try to figure out how all that gets laid out. Brands also want to know how their product looks with the rest of the brand on the shelf and how it looks next to the competition. Store Visualizer can help with that as well; it's the virtual reality experience of a store," says Stitzel. 

Beyond testing and analyzing consumer interactions, Stitzel has also seen brands get creative with the software. "We had one of the brands host a virtual fair of their new upcoming products, but they were doing it in Store Visualizer, which was pretty interesting. It was just a big table with many products sitting on the tables, some in packaging, some not, and they brought buyers from the retailers through and tried selling products for the specific season." 

Studio-store-visualizer-Drupa mall project 21.jpg

Stitzel isn't naively optimistic about the future of AR and VR. She understands that the space has some evolving to do, and she believes that most brands aren't using it in any way that benefits consumers yet. Sure, the Store Visualizer tool offers many opportunities for simplifying testing, but the world of VR still feels unapproachable for some. 

"There have been some barriers to entry, just from literally having the hardware and the ability to run it. Some people are weirded out by the VR aspect, while some people are really into it. There's this age barrier somewhere where everybody who grew up with virtual video games is completely comfortable with the controllers and moving around. For others, there's more of a learning curve," notes Stitzel. 


"I don't think we know what it is yet. I don't even think we think we know what it is," she adds. "Right now, I feel like it's almost like a game. We're in a place where everybody's just sort of going off on their own way, trying to figure out how to make money with this thing without thinking about the user experience."

There's still so much learning and adapting that has to happen for the world of VR to impact the CPG landscape, but Esko's Store Visualizer technology is leaning into its potential. For brands and designers to virtually test the visual impact of their designs in an actual environment where it would exist speeds up the design process in a seamless way. And maybe that keeps them from breaking into a grocery store and playing around with a mockup on the shelf.

Screenshot June 19 2020 - 02.jpg

Not only does it allow designers to see their work in an actual environment before it gets printed, but it allows them to see their new designs on the shelf next to the competition and present a complete product launch in 3D, including retail-ready packaging, displays, and other branded items. Designers can also update their designs in real-time to do live testing with focus groups or clients, saving time and money and cutting out excess waste from printing and producing test designs. 

And most critically, you can see—in real time—what consumers gravitate to. And that's knowledge worth having.