InformationWeek 500: Kimberly-Clark's Virtual Product Demo Center Yields Real Ideas On How To Sell More Products
Retailers test product display techniques for Kimberly-Clark's wares as well as other merchandise.
At Kimberly-Clark, innovation doesn't stop with developing more-absorbent diapers or stronger paper towels. The consumer-goods maker also is using IT to help retailers market and sell products--and not just the ones made by Kimberly-Clark.
In May, Kimberly-Clark opened its Customer Immersion and Design Center, which includes a life-sized virtual reality theater that uses 3-D technologies to let retailers interact with new products and displays in their stores in the same way customers would. Since the products and displays are digital, the immersion center lets retailers experiment.
White PapersMore >>
"You can pick up and pull virtual products from the shelf and interact with them in various scenarios," says VP and CIO Ramón Baez.
When managers from retailers such as Kroger, Target, and Wal-Mart visit the center, they walk into a room where full-length screens create a virtual store that looks like the one they work in--Target execs see the red Target logo, Target floor tile, and the reddish lighting--and surround sound provides the audio ambiance of the retailers' stores. There, they can test virtual merchandise similar to the products on their own store shelves.
Inside the center's virtual reality theater, visitors are surrounded by screens on which rear-projection equipment displays virtual images powered by applications running on eight Hewlett-Packard high-end rack-mount PCs. The system's 3-D capabilities were developed with RedDotSquare. Sensors embedded in the walls, ceilings, and floor detect the visitors' movements, track their locations, and can even tell exactly what they're looking at, says Kurt Schweitzer, director, IT business partner for marketing, strategy, and innovation. This allows the system to further immerse visitors by making things happen around them such as opening a door near where they're standing or changing their perspective on what's going on, he says.
"I went from B-2 bombers to toilet tissue," yet the goals are the same. Ramón Baez
The center lets store managers use "multiple senses and not just visualization" to assess product display effectiveness, Schweitzer says. The front screen of the immersion center is more than 20 feet wide and is flanked by two side screens that rest at 45-degree angles, creating a wraparound effect. The wings can move inward to 90-degree angles, forming a three-sided box. When you step into that 8-foot-high physical space, "the word immersive takes on a whole new meaning," Schweitzer says.
Kimberly-Clark's internal researchers also use the center. They bring models of products made using 3-D design software to the immersion room where they see the same interface as on their workstations. VRCO's Conduit software, used to manage the flow of 3-D designs to multiple PCs, lets them use most of the same 3-D development tools that they have on their workstations, Schweitzer says.
While Kimberly-Clark wants the virtual reality technology to help retailers more effectively sell its products, the company is also using it to give retailers ideas on how to better sell other merchandise, like clothing.
"We're showing them things that are not our area of expertise, but we have the technology to help them be more creative," says Baez, who joined the company in February from Thermo Fisher Scientific, a maker of scientific and health care products. The payoff, he says, is that the retailer will be more inclined to think of Kimberly-Clark as a tech innovator and include the company in other IT-intensive initiatives--including ones where it has extensive experience, such as using radio frequency identification for logistics.