Product testing is critical for bringing any new product to market. Think of it as the final rehearsal before the big show. Whether it’s a new lip stain or a type of chocolate chip cookie, proper testing ensures your product is ready to hit the market in its best form.
Since product testing requires upfront time and resources, retailers often skip it. However, if you want to create the best products for your audience, you need to test them before launch.
It doesn’t have to be overly complicated or expensive. Here are the various methods and processes you need to know about, and some of the best product testing sites to try.
Table of Contents
What is product testing?
Product testing, sometimes called consumer testing or comparative testing, is the process of determining how products will perform among a target market. By comparing metrics like purchase intent and value, it helps you find the best products for consumers.
Why is product testing important?
Develop new products
New product development is a primary part of product design. If you’re taking a new product to market, you need to know if it’ll resonate with potential customers. Product testing helps you launch products people will actually buy.
- What customers think of your product
- What they like or dislike about it
- How they use it
- Influential packaging options
During product testing, you’ll also gain a better understanding of your product’s limitations, as well as how much support you will need to provide.
Product testing is also critical to differentiating new products from others in the market.
Maria Shriver, CEO of MOSH, says that testing is what keeps MOSH’s protein bars competitive. “While we worked with a team of brain health experts and nutritionists for over a year and a half, tweaking and perfecting our recipes, nothing beats product testing to understand how the product fits into people’s everyday lives,” she says.
“It’s where all of your digital analysis meets real-world usage to give you clear communication of performance parameters—in other words, what works and what doesn’t. Gathering customer feedback also lets them know their opinions matter to us, and makes them feel a valued part of our growing brand.”
Nothing beats product testing to understand how the product fits into people’s everyday lives.
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Product testing is a way to verify an item’s safety and compliance with regulations. Extensive testing can help you ensure a product is compliant with government standards, and protect your company from potential lawsuits.
If you sell candles, for example, you need to make sure they meet fire safety standards for candles and their accessories, such as maximum allowable flame heights, stability, and secondary ignitions.
Identify cost savings
Product testing increases reliability and reduces development time. To avoid upfront costs, some small businesses avoid testing, but in doing so they miss out on long-term gains and put their company at risk.
Testing products can result in lower costs as a result of:
- Reducing the chance of defects and product failures. Testing finds weaknesses and flaws in a product’s design before the end user does.
- Fewer repairs. Finding (and fixing) defects during manufacturing can lower the cost of owning and operating your product.
- Fewer returns and warranty payouts. Having fewer products fail means customers are less likely to return products and ask for refunds.
💡 PRO TIP: With Shopify POS, shoppers can return or exchange items they bought in store or online as many times as they need to be satisfied with their purchase. You don’t have to resort to issuing store credit or gift cards, and customers have the freedom to choose being refunded or exchanging their purchase for another product.
Find new use cases
Businesses develop products to solve specific problems. However, the ways customers sometimes use products can vary. The success of a product depends on its ability to meet its promises and fulfill its purpose. Rigorous testing ensures a product will satisfy customer needs and build brand trust before it hits the shelves.
“Product testing is not just about quality, it’s about integrity,” explains Marcus Hutsen, business development manager of Patriot Coolers. “If you want to be able to stake your business on selling a high-quality product, you have to be willing to do extensive product testing, and you have to be able to stand by the results.
“My company makes high-quality coolers and related products. Our rotomolded hard coolers can keep ice cold for 10 days. It’s not a bold claim, it’s a fact. We can’t say this if we haven’t verified it through product testing. A company would put themselves at great risk if they were to exaggerate the results of their product testing. If our coolers kept ice cold for eight or nine days, we wouldn’t claim 10—it’s as simple as that.”
If you want to be able to stake your business on selling a high-quality product, you have to be willing to do extensive product testing, and you have to be able to stand by the results.
Marcus Hutsen, Business Development Manager, Patriot Coolers
Improve existing products
Creating a product people love is hard. Sometimes it requires continual improvements to meet new expectations and market trends. Regular product testing gives you valuable qualitative data to renew existing products faster and uncover hidden use cases from the customer’s point of view.
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Product testing methods
- Central location test (CLT)
- In-home usage test (IHUT)
Central location test (CLT)
Researchers commonly use a central location test (CLT) when conducting qualitative research. As opposed to home-use tests, CLTs take place in a controlled environment, like a room in a shopping mall.
There are a few ways to carry out your central location test.
- Monadic. Everyone focuses on one product and assesses how it would work if taken to market.
- Pair comparison. People compare two products and choose which one they like best.
- Sequential monadic. In this design method, people assess one product using the monadic model. Then they assess a second product, and compare the two.
🥇Goal: Get feedback on products in a face-to-face environment with reduced bias.
📈Ideal for: Taste testing and sensory testing.
🏬 Location: Hotels, malls, labs, eateries, and other community settings.
- Eliminate bias. Testers monitor everyone in the same environment, eliminating outside influences and presenting material in the same way.
- Obtain raw feedback. You can monitor and observe body language and reactions. Plus, people may ask questions in-person they might not have answered online.
- Ask questions in real time. A researcher can ask questions based on a participant’s actions in real time. Due to this, researchers can test tangibles and intangibles together. Taking notes on participants’ sensory impressions is easy for testers.
- Cost-effective method of testing. CLT market researchers can book a location and test large numbers of people in the same place, saving time, money, and resources.
In-home usage test (IHUT)
In-home usage tests are another popular market research methodology. You can use them remotely or online. As part of testing, you ship products to participants so they can use them at home in a natural environment. IHUTs are common in product research where consumers use the product in-home, like a Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner or Annie’s organic soup.
🥇Goal: Understand impression, appeal, and purchase intent of a product.
📈Ideal for: One-off or multi-usage products that require long feedback periods.
🏠Location: Customers home.
- Pre-launch testing. IHUTs let consumers fully test a packaged product before launching it to the public. This lets you work out any kinks and make improvements using feedback from an uncontrolled environment.
- Various feedback options. You can collect feedback over the phone, through customer surveys or video calls, or in-person. With IHUT market research software, you can also collect in-the-moment feedback remotely and ask consumers questions while they are using the product.
- More realistic results. Because IHUTs happen in a consumer’s own home, versus a test environment, the results are more realistic in terms of product satisfaction, usage, and improvement areas.
Product testing process
- Market research
- Test product concept
- Test product prototype
- Soft-launch product
- Continually seek feedback
Let’s walk through each of these steps.
1. Market research
First, you need to decide on your target audience and the market need. Business owners often hire market research firms or consultants, but you can also conduct this research yourself.
Due to their love of spending time with customers, retailers often conduct their own market research. By understanding buyer preferences and interests, you can validate and refine product concepts before investing in development.
2. Test product concept
The next step should be making sure you pick a winning product. What looks good on paper could be a disaster in real life.
Concept testing takes place once you start creating your product. It helps you test a product idea and try different concepts on potential customers before you invest in a prototype. The goal is to understand if a customer would actually buy your product.
The easiest way to test is by sending out customer feedback surveys. You can use a free tool like Typeform to collect product concept feedback, then use it to send a prototype out for testing. Be sure to ask no more than 30 questions per product concept test or you’ll risk people dropping out of your survey.
3. Test product prototype
A prototype is the first model of your product. It acts as a minimum viable product (MVP) to test with people and use as a sample for production. You can create a prototype on your own if you’re skilled in a particular discipline—like pottery, if you’re a home interiors brand. But if you’re a fashion label, you may want to work with a seamstress or pattern maker to develop an MVP.
Once you have a prototype in place, it’s time to test it on real people. Choose one of the methods above (CLT or IHUT), based on which metrics will help you decide if your product is good or not.
To run a successful product test, you need to be clear on what you’re testing. Excellent tests start with a strong question, like, “Does our target audience find our product innovative?” Be as specific as possible.
Common metrics retailers test include:
- Purchase intent: Will people buy your product?
- Innovation: Do people find your product innovative?
- Value: Is your product valuable to users?
- Relevancy: Does your product meet users’ needs?
- Uniqueness: Is your product different from others in the market?
Use a Likert scale test to assess the opinions and attitudes of product testers. Then turn these insights into action to guide development and consider new solutions.
4. Soft-launch the product
A good example of a soft launch is The Defender’s shoe by Balenciaga. The shoe was originally released during the brand’s Spring/Summer 2022 runway, debuting the unique tire-like sole unit. Balenciaga waited to see if the sneaker resonated with customers, releasing only two colorways initially. After a few months, The Defenders became more popular, which signaled the brand to release the sneaker in more colorways and invest in more promotion.
5. Continually seek feedback
Whatever method you choose to test products, remember that testing is key to every part of the product lifecycle. You want to continuously collect customer feedback and use it to make product enhancements.
“Consumer feedback is the most overlooked area of the product development process,” says Annalisa DeMarta, an ecommerce expert and founder of Ridgeline Insights. “When I was growing one of my brands, we implemented a panel of our target customers and routinely met with the panelists to hear feedback. We were a small company—under $2 million in sales. Though this may seem like big-corporation activities, I am proof it can be powerful at the smallest level.
“We would show prototypes, colors, and patterns, ask them to journal their wear tests for us, and even share potential product ideas. This group saved us from several expensive developments that had no impact on the customer. We loved working with our focus group, which became more than 100 volunteers across the country. They exchanged their time and feedback for products and $50 gift cards. It was amazing, and the best way to understand features, benefits, and marketing opportunities.”
Product testing tips
Whether it’s your first or fifth product test, keep the following tips in mind:
- Detail your testing procedure: Document every step of your product testing process clearly. That way, you can easily replicate it. Consistency in testing is key for getting comparable results.
- Prepare for variability: Be OK with variability in your results, especially when working with human testers. Differences in perceptions, preferences, or habits can lead to variation. Plan to include a wide range of testers to capture and account for it.
- Calibrate testers: Are you working with a team of testers? Make sure everyone understands the testing protocols, assessment criteria, and ways to score the tested attributes. Host a session before testing starts to discuss any uncertainties or questions.
- Have a data management strategy: Collecting data is only half the battle. Managing it is equally as important. Put systems in place for storing, analyzing, and interpreting the data you collect during testing. Qualtrics is an excellent product experience management software you can use to manage the process.
- Incorporate real-time feedback: Encourage testers to provide feedback while they’re using the product. This yields more accurate and authentic insights than if they try to remember their experiences after the fact.
- Keep an open mind: Expect unexpected feedback, and don’t dismiss it if it doesn’t match your expectations. The best insights come from unanticipated feedback.
- Communicate results: Data is only as good as your ability to communicate insights. Translate your findings into actionable, understandable reports for your team. Whenever possible, use visual aids like charts or graphs to illustrate key points.
- Try a product testing site: Product testing websites offer a broader audience and structured feedback opportunities. With them, you can reach testers who might be inaccessible otherwise. Be sure to vet these sites and understand their tester pool, data handling, and privacy policies. Some of the best product testing companies include Influenster, Social Nature, Vocal Point, and i-say.
Can your store benefit from product testing?
A product testing process is a critical part of your company’s success. Do your research, plan accordingly, and continuously test your products with people. It’s the best way to understand what works and what doesn’t, and stay ahead of the market.
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