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8 Ways to Absolutely Ruin an IHUT Every Time

April 1, 2019

In-Home Usage Tests (IHUTs) are one of the tried-and-true methodologies for testing products. Whether you’re looking for a competitive advantage, launching a new product or line extension, improving an existing product, or testing for consistent product quality, an IHUT can be the right technique for your project. After all, what could provide you with better feedback than people testing your product in the environment where they would actually use it?

IHUT participants are typically recruited online from sample panels, and products are shipped to their homes along with detailed product-use instructions. This type of testing is ideal because it allows consumers to use the products as they normally would in everyday life. This eliminates biases that come from a formal testing environment, the presence of an interviewer, or an unusual time of day for product consumption. Sometimes the products are sent without identifying the manufacturer to ensure that no brand biases are introduced. Data about the usage experience is typically collected through online surveys, usage diaries, or even telephone interviews. You can also assign tasks to the participants, like asking them to test certain product features or benefits and report how much they like or dislike them.

While most IHUTs are conducted in the food, beverage, and household-consumables categories, the concepts and methods of IHUTs apply to many product categories. In fact, almost any product used in the home can be tested in the home: computer software, furniture, small appliances, large appliances, cosmetics, OTC medicines, toys, power tools, lawnmowers, trimmers, dog food, cat food, and bug spray. And while virtual reality can substitute for actual in-home use in some situations, you really can’t beat having an actual consumer use—or try to use—your product.

That said, IHUTs can be challenging to conduct. The key to a successful IHUT project is a carefully controlled and standardized process. The entire project—recruitment, product fulfillment, data collection, and analysis—must be planned and executed flawlessly to produce reliable results. Otherwise, it’s easy for things to go wrong. Here are 8 ways to ruin an IHUT:

  1. Ignore the importance of a tightly controlled, standardized process. A standardized system of operating procedures is the key to a successful IHUT, to avoid introducing bias and producing erroneous results. Some key mistakes here are:
    • Not having identical product preparation, product age, packaging, and labeling of test products.
    • Not using identical questionnaires (with the understanding that parts of the questionnaire must be adapted to different product categories).
    • Sampling plans that vary from IHUT to IHUT.
    • Differing methods of data preparation, tabulation, and analysis from one project to another.
  2. Ignore the data you‘ve collected over time. One of the benefits of IHUTs is that, as you conduct them over time, you develop a normative database, so that each successive project delivers better insight. Not developing normative data to compare survey results against is simply a wasted opportunity.
  3. Use different research companies. There’s no industry agreement about the single best way to conduct IHUT studies. Using the same research company for all your IHUTS ensures consistent survey results and reliable normative data.
  4. Bring consumers to a CLT (central-location test) for the survey. Products should be tested where they’re used or consumed. If your customers don’t live in a lab, don’t test your products in a lab.
  5. Recruit through a CLT. Assuming that your product is available nationally, recruiting in only one location could lead to a localization bias.
  6. Test with the wrong sample. Sampling is a critical variable in IHUTs.
    • For new products or low-share products, the sample should reflect the brand-share makeup of the market.
    • For well-established, high-share (or highly differentiated) products, the sample should contain a readable subsample of product users and a readable cell of nonusers.
    • If the product category is relatively new, then the sample should include nonusers of the category as well as users.
  7. Don’t think like the customer. The goal of IHUTs is to understand consumer perceptions of your product. You must include questions to measure aspects of the product that are most important to consumers.
  8. Throw caution to the wind. Reformulating an existing product or launching a new product is a high-risk, high-dollar proposition for most companies, one that should never be undertaken without careful testing and evaluation. If you have confidence in your IHUT results, then you can move to a limited introduction or a test market for further validation.
  9. Build a Better Mousetrap

    The best way to dominate a category or industry is to create and maintain product superiority. Companies that use IHUTs can “build a better mousetrap,” leaving companies that don’t to find their market share dwindling. However, when faced with ever-increasing budget and time pressures, the temptation is great to skip IHUTs for faster, less proven research approaches. Giving in to this temptation can be dangerous for any product. Carefully controlled testing focused on market acceptance and outcomes is always a good investment. Moreover, it can help prevent multimillion-dollar mistakes.

    One Final Thought

    A common misconception about IHUTs is that they can be very expensive. The most significant expenses for an IHUT project are product and mailing costs, which are directly impacted by your response rates. Symmetric and our parent company have been doing IHUTs with our online panel members for over 20 years. We have response rates close to 80%, compared to the industry average of 40%. That saves our clients time and money and makes IHUTs a highly feasible and effective methodology. We also have an in-house, full-service IHUT mail facility that’s temperature-controlled, sanitized, and secure. We’re ready to handle all your IHUT needs.

    Contact Symmetric Sampling today and let’s talk IHUTs!


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