What is Product Testing? + How to Create a Process (2022)

There are more than 30,000 consumer products launched every year, and 95% of them fail

It’s no wonder that a great product testing process is essential for retailers, especially if they expect to win customer loyalty and increase revenue. 

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, whether you want to set up a test process yourself or hire a company to do it for you. 

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 audience. By comparing metrics like purchase intent and value, it helps you find the best products for consumers.

I regularly see micro retailers in our community heavily invest in their product prior to understanding their target audience, that group’s need, or if the product can effectively benefit one’s life. It’s the main reason so many businesses fail!

Importance of product testing

  • New product development
  • Meeting regulations
  • Identifying potential cost savings
  • Validating product’s end-use
  • Improving existing products

New product development

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. 

You’ll learn:

  • What customers think of your product
  • What they like or dislike about it
  • How they use it
  • Influential packaging options

During product testing, you will 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.

Maria Shriver, MOSH

Put your data to work with Shopify

Only Shopify unifies online and physical store data to the same reporting dashboard. View and analyze sales, customer, product, staff, marketing, inventory, and financial data and make more informed decisions.

Meeting regulations

Product testing is a way to verify a product’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. 

Identifying potential 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 in several areas:

  • 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.

Validating product’s end-use

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 8 or 9 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, Patriot Coolers

Improving 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. 

Customers are more inclined to make purchases from your firm if you can assure them that your goods have undergone sufficient testing and have a good track record as a result.

Gerrid Smith, Director of Ecommerce, Joy Organics

💡 PRO TIP: Only Shopify POS unifies your online and retail store data into one back office–customer data, inventory, sales, and more. View easy to understand reports to spot trends faster, capitalize on opportunities, and jumpstart your brand’s growth.

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 then 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. 

🟢 Advantages:

  • 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 on time, money, and resources.

In-Home Usage Test (IHUT)

In-home usage tests are another popular market research methodology. You can use it 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

🟢 Advantages

  • Pre-launching testing. IHUTs let consumers fully test a packaged product before launching it to the public. It 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, 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. 

Send products to acquaintances, people with three degrees of separation from oneself who embody one’s target audience. With that product, send a survey outlining specific areas of need, and outlining everything from initial perception, to use, to aftermath.

Jordan Dollar, expert retail strategist

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.

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. 

Read more: The Complete Guide to Market Research for Your Retail Business

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. 

Test product prototype

A product prototype is a 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. 

Soft-launch product

A soft launch refers to releasing a product with little or no marketing push. Think of it as a rehearsal for the full product launch, and a good time to get feedback from early adopters. 

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. 

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 product development,” 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 $2M 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.”

Can your store benefit from product testing?

Only 40% of developed products make it to market, and of that 40%, only 60% will generate revenue. 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.

Grow store sales with Shopify POS

Shopify POS has all the tools to help you convert more store visits into sales and grow revenue. Make more relevant product recommendations, turn abandoned store sales into online sales, and track both store and staff performance from one easy-to-understand back office.