Using a UK virtual supermarket to examine purchasing behavior across different income groups in the United Kingdom: Development and feasibility study
Mizdrak A., Waterlander WE., Rayner M., Scarborough P.
© Anja Mizdrak, Wilma Elzeline Waterlander, Mike Rayner, Peter Scarborough. Background: The majority of food in the United Kingdom is purchased in supermarkets, and therefore, supermarket interventions provide an opportunity to improve diets. Randomized controlled trials are costly, time-consuming, and difficult to conduct in real stores. Alternative approaches of assessing the impact of supermarket interventions on food purchases are needed, especially with respect to assessing differential impacts on population subgroups. Objective: The aim of this study was to assess the feasibility of using the United Kingdom Virtual Supermarket (UKVS), a three-dimensional (3D) computer simulation of a supermarket, to measure food purchasing behavior across income groups. Methods: Participants (primary household shoppers in the United Kingdom with computer access) were asked to conduct two shopping tasks using the UKVS and complete questionnaires on demographics, food purchasing habits, and feedback on the UKVS software. Data on recruitment method and rate, completion of study procedure, purchases, and feedback on usability were collected to inform future trial protocols. Results: A total of 98 participants were recruited, and 46 (47%) fully completed the study procedure. Low-income participants were less likely to complete the study (P=.02). Most participants found the UKVS easy to use (38/46, 83%) and reported that UKVS purchases resembled their usual purchases (41/46, 89%). Conclusions: The UKVS is likely to be a useful tool to examine the effects of nutrition interventions using randomized controlled designs. Feedback was positive from participants who completed the study and did not differ by income group. However, retention was low and needs to be addressed in future studies. This study provides purchasing data to establish sample size requirements for full trials using the UKVS.