In-Home Usage Tests (IHUTs) are one of the most proven 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, then the products and detailed
instructions are shipped to their homes. This type of testing is ideal because it allows consumers to use
the products as they usually 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 use or
consumption. Sometimes the products are sent without identifying the manufacturer to ensure no
brand biases are introduced. Online surveys, usage diaries, or even telephone interviews typically collect data about the usage experience. 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 may 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:
Ignore the importance of a tightly controlled, standardized process. A standardized operating
procedure 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
- 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
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
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.
Bring consumers to a CLT (central-location test) for the survey. Products are best tested where
they’re used or consumed for the most useful and reliable results. If your customers don’t live in
a lab, you probably should not test your products in a lab, if you have a choice.
Recruit through a CLT. Assuming that your product is available nationally, recruiting in only one
location could lead to a localization bias.
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 category
nonusers and users.
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
Throw caution to the wind. Reformulating an existing product or launching a new product is a
high-risk, high-dollar proposition for most companies and 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.
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 use
iHUTs 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 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 practical 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!