Coca-Cola Introduces Shopper Experience Innovation Center

High-tech facility features realistic scale, customizable retail and foodservice facilities to incubate and test solutions.

The brightest new star in the world of shopper marketing is not a renowned expert or an insightful study. It’s The Coca-Cola Co.’s recently launched Shopper Experience Innovation Center (SEIC) which contains two retail environments that can morph like a movie set into a realistic scale, customizable outlet for any channel—from supermarket to QSR to convenience retail to specialty retail and more.

It’s an incubator for new ideas, a laboratory to test them and a dazzling resource to bring solutions to life for customers, positioning the Company as an innovative leader in shopper marketing.

“The SEIC is a dynamic, multi-channel facility where we collaboratively create innovative and irresistible shopping experiences that will truly drive growth for the company and our customers,” said Ron Hughes, director of Shopper Experience Innovation, Coca-Cola Refreshments. “It’s a catalyst for creating a pipeline of game-changing, insights-driven solutions that we can deliver to the market near-term and over the next 10-plus years.” 

The SEIC offers a tremendous range of opportunities:

•            Shopper insights development through focus groups, in-depth interviews, shop-alongs and shopper immersion

•            Concept/solution reviews including testing and validation for packaging, messaging, POS, fixtures, displays and store layouts

•            Operational testing encompassing a range of solutions, such as shelf set and space planning, as well as prototype installation, development and execution

“The realistic retail settings enable in-environment learning and insight generation that will lead to more innovative designs, higher impact solutions and improved ways to work with our customers,” added Hughes. “Learnings from the SEIC can create truly unique and engaging in-store experiences that drive revenue. The SEIC strongly positions The Coca-Cola Co. as a leader that helps customers better identify and capture current and future opportunities.”

Among the distinct advantages the SEIC is designed to offer:

•            Decreased development costs

•            Faster speed to market

•            Proactively identify and address potential challenges before a solution is placed in-market

•            Deeper insights that inform and guide innovation solution development, including real-time/space shopper attitudes, behaviors and emotional responses to choreographed stimuli and environments

•            Solutions that more effectively address shopper and customer needs

•            Enhanced innovation and insights capability across the organization

Customers working with the company to use the SEIC reap direct benefits. On a research project, for instance, an environment can be transformed into an identical version of their outlet within a few hours. Once converted, for example, into a popular fast food restaurant with the operator’s signage, interior look, digital menu boards and drive-thru window, the only clues that the facility is transient are the wheels affixed to equipment, counters, tables and fixtures for efficient transport into storage. This can provide tremendous cost savings to customers that might otherwise have to shut down operations while testing a concept in a real outlet.

In addition to the flexible, stocked retail environments, another outstanding feature of the SEIC is its sophisticated technology. The facility has 21 cameras and 46 discreet nesting locations. The coverage is so comprehensive it is possible to read hand-held grocery lists used by test subjects shopping the environment. Technicians monitor footage from a control room that offers all the capabilities of a modern television studio. Feeds are recorded and delivered in split-screen views to observers in an adjacent room, where an interactive white board can exhibit real-time displays of shoppers during testing that can be viewed by colleagues located thousands of miles away. 

“Customers that have engaged the SEIC recognize it can help relieve some of their pain points through enhanced understanding of key shoppers’ needs, purchasing occasions and brand affinities,” explained Hughes. “It enables retailers to transform shopping from an uninspiring task to an engaging, experiential event in a way that will drive real business results.”

The 15,000-square-foot facility opened last May in a highly secure, undisclosed Atlanta office park. There is no sign of the ubiquitous branding normally associated with Coca-Cola. Designers purposely created a pleasant but nondescript “lifestyle” shopping center environment that produces no clues about the company operating behind the scenes. This prevents creating a bias for the parade of focus groups, test shoppers and others who visit the premises.

Since its debut, the SEIC has played a role in development and refinement of numerous innovations including:

•            The groundbreaking new Beverage Aisle Reinvention (BAR) system, to be piloted by a prominent regional supermarket chain

•            Solutions for c-stores, such as the new On The Road Again (OTRA) cross-category merchandiser, currently in test with one of the nation’s largest privately held, company operated convenience store chains

In addition to its designated purposes, the SEIC can be used for employee training, as well as filming videos and commercials. “We’ve only begun to tap into the SEIC’s potential,” said Hughes.

“The SEIC is an organic outgrowth of The Cola-Cola Co.’s ever-expanding expertise and capabilities in shopper marketing,” added Hughes. “Our objective is to become our customers’ most valued supplier, and this facility amps up our ability to do so.”




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