The Soup-to-Nuts of Product Testing Logistics

Filed Under: Product Testing


Jim Farina

Logistics Director, Administration & Project Support

Placing your products in the homes of consumers is essential to market superiority 

I stood on the loading dock marveling at how the driver backed the trailer truck into the tight parking space to offload his cargo. What is it today? It could be several of any products I’m expecting. “Are you with C+R Research?” The driver bellows, while he begins the process of engaging the truck’s pneumatic lift-gate mechanism. This action signals to me that this is going to be a heavier load than usual.

It’s four pallets of dry pet food. This shipment represents many variations of the same product, all contained in sturdy, plain white bags. Each bag weighs exactly five pounds. Each of the variations has a label with a three-digit numeric code. The variations are slight but meaningful to our client. Within a week, this product will be in the homes and hands of the true decision makers—the consumers.

C+R Research’s Gold Standard Approach to Product Testing 

After our kick-off meeting for this project about a month ago, I’d spent some time researching the best boxes in which to ship each 5 lb. bag of product and those boxes arrived about a week ago, ensuring that the product would arrive to respondents’ homes per the established schedule. As the logistics director here at C+R Research, it’s my responsibility to treat this 2500-pound shipment of pet food as the precious cargo that our client sees it as. These four pallets of pet food, which I’m about to unload and process for shipping, alchemize into something more akin to gold. And that’s how I handle it – like a precious commodity.  

And to our client, the term “gold” is more than a metaphor. If the research data captured from this in-home usage (IHUT) test comes in as projected, the eventual launch of this product into the marketplace will translate to a significant increase in revenue dollars over time. It will also establish our client’s superiority over their market competition – a boon to their brand share. If the client’s product does not fare well, this test will provide enough useful data so they can refine and reformulate if necessary. We will retest until that sweet spot is attained. 

Product testing is a small price to pay if you consider the cost associated with a full-blown launch where it’s discovered after-the-fact that your product was not quite up to snuff.  Much of this outcome rests on the client R&D team’s capability in making slight adjustments in formulation, while still maintaining the product’s integrity to the brand. The loyal consumer expects nothing less. This type of value engineering is best tested in a real-life setting – in consumers’ home environment. 

Seth Godin – marketing and leadership insights expert – frames it well:

“Great marketers don’t invent frills and fluff in order to create value. Great marketers have the wisdom to know that they will be judged and the practical empathy to go to where those that would judge them are.”

When to Consider In-Home Usage Testing 

This is only one story of many where IHUTs can provide valuable data. Some other situations where in-home usage tests are recommended:

  • Improving product acceptance as consumers’ needs and tastes change over time
  • Gauging consumer product acceptance for new products before they launch
  • Gaining consumer insights into new packaging ideas
  • Measuring the product position among its competitors 

I turn my attention back to the shipment. I get a new blade and carefully slice through the clear cellophane shrink wrap. I open the boxes and begin counting the coded bags. There are eight bags per carton. I come across a bag that is damaged, and the contents are spilling out into the box. I carefully remove the bag and place it on a shelf dedicated to other casualties. I make a notation of the damage on my count sheet.   I will relay the precise counts and any damaged product to the analytic team assigned to the project per our logistics’ protocol.

I go to my work station and pull up the electronic folder where I keep everything related to this study. I once again verify the timeline, instructions, and methods for this particular job. I triple check everything before a product study goes out for shipping. It’s part process and part my compulsive nature. 

Monadic Test Design 

After reviewing the study specs again, I confirm that each IHUT participant receives one of the four products. We begin the process of packaging and mailing.  The recruits will use the product over a two-week period. 

After the in-home usage period ends, our field team will send out an electronic survey link to a questionnaire specially designed to measure all of the key points and impressions, including textures, smells, purchase intent. Once they’ve completed the follow-up survey the participants will receive an incentive, typically in the form of a gift card. 

The monadic test design is most common for IHUTs. It is reliable as the consumer engages with only one product at a time. This also eliminates the suppression and interaction effects that can occur while testing multiple products at once. A sequential monadic design can be valuable for some applications, but if not administered properly, can create respondent confusion and yield murkier results. 

Of course, there are many techniques and custom designs used in product testing. Our C+R Research analytic experts will propose the best course once your particular study objectives are identified.  

In some cases, a more controlled environment is required, and the product evaluation will be designed as a central location test (CLT). This type of product testing is conducted at a test facility or in a controlled environment. Look for more information about CLT product testing in a future post.

Delivering the Goods 

After the product is all packed up and labeled, I stand on the loading dock and watch as the containerized packages are loaded by liftgate onto U.S. Postal vehicles. The parcels will ultimately be transported to their respective homes for use and evaluation. 

In a few weeks, C+R Research’s analysts will be working closely with our Advanced Analytics team to distill this critical information into a comprehensive report. This information will provide our client with solid direction and clear next-step recommendations. 

William Shakespeare was not known for his marketing genius, but his words hold much wisdom. He once penned:

“All that glitters is not gold” 

Remember to look before you launch. If you think that you have a great product, you might very well be right, but what is the cost to you and your organization if you are wrong? The best and most cost-effective way to be certain is by putting your product into the homes and hands of those who are engaging with it.  

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