Online and virtual research has grown in popularity as technology has improved and costs have become an even greater concern.  For years we have seen an increase in online surveys, then research in online communities, and now virtual stores.

The Shopper Culture blog had this post about virtual store studies and their apparent success.

While the visual appeal and other factors can be replicated on a screen, I do wonder about the physical appeal of the packaging (touching it, textures, etc.) and other environmental factors present when actually in the store.  The study cited in the post regarded packaging and shelf options – and the research company Decision Insights reports a high correlation between virtual studies and real-world success – but what are the current limits of virtual?  Could a virtual store accurately predict what cantaloupe someone would buy without them being able to touch it?

This seems like a great way to gain initial insights without costly failures, but it seems a real-life study may eventually be needed in many cases.