In-home usage tests (IHUTs) are a popular market research methodology for all stages of product development.
As part of the testing, your product is shipped to targeted audiences where they can use it in their home as they normally would in its natural environment.
And with preferences for contactless research on the rise, IHUTs are an effective way for brands to remotely test concepts, products, and services before fully launching them into the market.
In this ultimate guide, we'll cover everything there is to know about IHUT research: what it is, its benefits, how to conduct one, and a real-world case study.
- What is an IHUT?
- Benefits of in-home usage tests
- What to consider before conducting IHUTs
- Steps to conducting IHUT research
- What is the cost of an in-home usage test?
- What is an example of an in-home usage test?
Interested in conducting an IHUT with a third party? Get a quote from our full-service market research company. Complete an online form or email [email protected].
An in-home usage test, or IHUT for short, is a consumer product research study where people use and review products at home to provide feedback about likes and dislikes.
Other terms include HUT (home use test), in-home use test, home-usage test, and in-home user testing.
Two common ways to collect IHUT participants' feedback include:
- Participants answer various, brief online surveys throughout the duration of the study
- Research analysts are on-site asking questions about their experiences (with the participant's full permission)
Our market research company has seen this methodology used for a variety of industries and products - however, the locale for this research is primarily inside of participants' homes.
Benefits of In-Home Usage Tests
The data collected from in-home usage tests are to market research for new product development in that it allows brands to see a concept's full potential and pinpoint the drawbacks.
Whether you are a national brand looking to conduct food product development or a local business wanting to test outdoor power equipment, the feedback collected from participants can fuel any company to the next level of success.
For a brief overview of the benefits of in-home testing, watch this video. Or, continue reading as we discuss each advantage of in-home usage tests in detail below.
1. Perfect for prototype testing 💯
For many consumers, the first impression of a new product is everything.
IHUTs allow product innovators to fully test their consumer packaged goods before launching them to the masses.
In doing so, manufacturers can work out any kinks or make significant improvements.
Although you may think your product is perfect, consumers may think otherwise.
An in-home usage test can answer questions such as:
- Does your product work as expected or advertised?
- Were the instructions easy to follow?
- Did consumers like the smell and/or taste of the product?
- What about the packaging that would influence a consumer’s purchasing decision?
Pre-testing a new or improved product before introducing it to a much larger audience will surely save you the hassle of inevitably having to remarket a newer model down the road.
Recommended Reading: Product Prototype Surveys [What Are They & Why Do They Matter?]
2. Collect in-the-moment feedback ⏰
There may be no better type of feedback than when it is collected in real-time. When more time passes, there is more of a lapse in judgment.
By lapse in judgment, we mean consumers are providing inaccurate feedback or not remembering exactly how a product made them think or feel.
Being that IHUT market research does not take place on-site at a focus group facility, but at home, it seems as though instant feedback would be near impossible.
But, with the help of a third-party IHUT market research company, like Drive Research, analysts can join participants in their homes or remotely and ask a series of questions while consumers are using the product.
Within minutes of participant use, your team can collect the crucial feedback you are seeking to refine or perfect your product instantly.
3. Variety of options to measure in-home usage tester feedback 📏
As with most types of market research, brands have different options for collecting feedback, regardless of the study being conducted at home.
IHUT participants will use a product and provide feedback through the following options:
- Phone surveys
- Online surveys
- Video calls
Though, our IHUT research company finds that online surveys are the best methodology for gathering insights. They are cost-effective and quick to complete.
4. Understand the market before a full product launch 🚀
In-home usage tests provide valuable feedback relating to ALL aspects of your product or service before buying shelf space.
And with only 40% of developed products making it to market and of that 40%, only 60% generating any revenue at all, relying on predictive analytics becomes all that more important.
IHUTs help brands understand the full picture of the market and target buyers by measuring:
- First impressions
- Appeal and interest
- Product improvements
- Estimated price
- Purchase intent
Furthermore, in-home usage tests give a clear picture as to whether or not your intended audience will easily accept your product if launched.
The feedback allows you to pinpoint barriers and challenges to using the product.
You will also be able to see which product features are proving to be of benefit to the end user and which ones are not.
Lastly, IHUTs can showcase if there are any additional features to the prototype before pushing it into a full product launch.
5. Track the performance of a product after launch 🏁
Some brands may choose to conduct multiple studies throughout a product's timeline.
The product stages where an IHUT is beneficial include:
- When testing a product or service concept
- When the prototype is created
- When a product has been on the market for a few months
- When a product is being relaunched
The importance of ongoing research through pre and post-product development cannot be understated.
The results gathered from the feedback can also be used to track the performance of the product as it evolves.
IHUT research allows companies to determine if the product is meeting, exceeding, or underperforming in regard to consumer expectations.
What to Consider Before Conducting IHUTs
If you want to conduct an at-home usage test, there are a few factors to consider before getting started or contacting a market research company.
The questions below are great to ask internal team members and stakeholders to assure everyone is on the same page.
What are your objectives?
In any type of market research study, it is helpful to outline and share objectives for the project with your third-party partner.
This assures all stakeholders are on the same page and understand expectations for the study.
Here’s an example of the objectives of an IHUT project:
A manufacturing company would like to conduct an IHUT project. The objective of the in-home usage test is to obtain customer feedback to understand their biggest pain points when using a specific line of cordless outdoor power equipment. The feedback will be used to rebrand and reconstruct the manufacturing company's line of products for next Spring.
How many in-home usage testers do you need to participate?
You will first need to decide how many participants you would like to test out your product.
Ideally, our IHUT research company recommends having more than 10 participants, but no more than 100.
What are the target criteria for product testers?
In many scenarios, your IHUT participants must meet specific criteria and qualify for the study. They often closely align with your target buyers of the product.
For instance, are there quotas for age, gender, or region of the country?
You can work with an at-home product testing market research company that can assist with recruiting participants for market research.
For example, our qualitative recruiting company can build an online recruitment screener allowing participants to sign up and go through verification that ensures they meet your exact criteria.
Additionally, this same survey platform can allow consumers to provide comments, thoughts, and suggestions at different times throughout the testing.
How long are participants expected to test the product?
As part of the at-home product testing, participants must provide feedback within a certain number of days, weeks, or months.
As the sponsor, you can decide how long the testing phase lasts. This is mainly influenced by the type of product.
For example, if you are conducting skincare market research, you will want your participants to have at least 30 days of using the cleanser or cream before collecting feedback.
If you are sending out a kitchen appliance, such as a new toaster, you can gather feedback after a week of usage of the product.
Will you offer a reward or incentive for participants?
In many of these cases, sponsors of in-home usage tests offer some type of incentive for consumers to participate and complete the study.
For example, participants may be offered the product as a reward or paid in cash.
Legitimacy and trust obviously play a large role in recruiting for these IHUTs. Therefore incentives usually help generate more interest.
And interestingly enough, paying out higher rewards can actually result in lower project costs.
This is something to keep in mind if you ask your vendor to lower honorariums from $150 to $100.
The cost of recruitment may actually go up because it will take additional time to secure participation.
At the very least, you should be willing to provide the product and ship it to participants free of charge.
Steps to Conducting IHUT Research
When working with an IHUT market research company, your team can be as involved as you want during the duration of the project.
Whether you prefer a hands-on or hands-off approach, the benefit of using a third-party market research firm is it can adjust its processes to fit your needs.
Drive Research, a national in-home usage market research firm, often works with brands to execute this type of market research from start to finish.
Here is an outline of our process.
Step 1: Request a proposal 💍
After we talk to our clients about their needs and objectives from the IHUT market research, our team puts together a full proposal.
Proposals highlight the full process, steps in recruitment, how participants will be recruited, how many participants will be recruited, how the follow-up surveys will work, timeline, and cost.
Step 2: Kickoff and set-up 🏈
If you choose to move forward with a market research firm for your IHUTs, the next step is to hold a kickoff meeting.
In this meeting, the market research firm will lay out an agenda and cover all of the specifics of your IHUT project.
Ultimately, they will want to dive into specific questions to ask on the recall survey, what products will be mailed to participants, and other instructions.
The kickoff meeting helps the IHUT market research company understand your needs from the usage tests, desired outcomes, and expectations.
Understanding these simple objectives can make a major impact on aligning the project and setting it on the right path.
Step 3: Create a project workplan 🔨
An immediate deliverable from the kickoff meeting will be the project workplan.
The project workplan is created by the IHUT research company and highlights key tasks, dates of deliverables, and responsible parties.
This makes sure everyone stays on-task and on target as the project moves along. The project workplan becomes a living document and is updated throughout.
Step 4: Recruitment 👨👩
After the workplan is created, the first step in an IHUT project is to focus on who your testing audience is?
Is it males aged 35 to 54, single women aged 21 to 34, or empty nest couples aged 55+? Understanding the target market is critical to a strong recruit.
As part of the IHUT project, the market research company will put together a draft recruitment screener.
A recruitment screener is helpful when:
- Qualifying participants for the study
- Giving participants instructions for the IHUT
- Providing participants with a point of contact for questions or follow-up
You'll also have to determine an appropriate stipend based on the amount of time and effort for the IHUT.
Keep in mind, not everyone recruited will follow through and complete the survey, so you will need to over-budget for additional participants.
This completion ratio can range anywhere from 65% to 90%.
The recruit confirms the market research firm found the right individuals and instructions are given on the next steps.
Recruitment can be completed through phone calls, online panels, or social media.
Here is more of a look at the process Drive Research follows when recruiting participants for IHUTS.
Step 5: Evaluation Form Design 🧾
This is the most crucial piece of the IHUT project. It's the evaluation form or a survey the participants fill out after they have used the product during the test period.
It can be filled out once if they are testing one product or three times if they are using competitive products as well.
A few options exist here for methodologies.
1. Paper form or diary
Some IHUT market research companies will send a paper form or diary to fill out. This comes packaged in with the kit when the products are mailed to households.
Participants simply answer the survey and mail it back to the market research company which includes pre-paid postage.
2. Static survey
Another option is to include a static survey or form link online for respondents to visit on their computer, tablet, or mobile device. This e-form supports in-the-moment market research.
For example, how great would it be to receive instant feedback after usage from respondents on a mobile device, right after the makeup is applied in front of the bathroom mirror?
You cannot get more in the moment than that.
3. Email survey after the test period
A final common option IHUT firms use is emailing surveys to respondents after the test period is completed.
Let's say the company mails five products that arrive on Monday.
The instructions state each product must be used during dinner preparation from Monday through Friday.
Therefore, the market research firm knows the survey invitation should be sent each night at 8 p.m. to obtain follow-up ratings.
Some marketing research firms may send just one survey on Friday at 8 p.m. asking the respondent to rate all products.
However, this much defeats the in-the-moment advantage of IHUTs.
If a respondent is using five different products over the course of a week, it will be difficult to remember specifics from the products used on Monday, Tuesday, or even Wednesday.
If this is a route you take, make sure you ask respondents to keep a journal each day with notes.
Step 6: Kit development and mailings 📮
Once you have a list of participants, either the IHUT research company can mail the products to participants or the sponsoring company can mail these out directly.
Mailing products directly may help reduce the cost of market research and the IHUT research firm can pass you the contact information for participants.
Ultimately, this is probably the most time-intensive portion of your market research IHUT project.
The kit development and mailing stage involves:
- Packaging the products for testing
- Including an introductory letter and contact information
- Providing a FAQs sheet and instructions
As the market research firm, the goal is to have this kit to be as organized as possible so it passes the credibility test when received.
Sloppy assembled kits = sloppy respondent engagement and feedback.
Take the time to nicely assemble and package your products for your IHUTs; it will pay off with higher response rates and better quality data.
💡 Pro tip! Randomize the sequence of usage
It is important to note that if you are testing multiple products in your IHUT, make sure you randomize the sequence of usage.
As you are kitting and mailing packets, your instructions should clearly identify the sequence the respondent should use the product: B, C, A or B, A, C.
This should be mixed up throughout the kits to ensure as little first-use and last-use market research bias as possible.
Step 7: Follow-up and reminders 📲
As is the case with any market research, particularly qualitative, reminders, and follow-up are necessary.
Let's admit it, for those who haven't done it before testing products at home and getting paid sounds too good to be true.
It sounds like a scam. Respondents are skeptical. They ask or at least think: "What's the catch?"
No matter how you slice it, these feelings and attitudes are bad for market research.
Especially bad for IHUTs when you spend all of this money to mail packages and then respondents receive it and quit because they're afraid they are getting scammed.
It is important to put yourself in their shoes and think of the big picture.
It's to your advantage to have everything organized, answer questions before they are asked, and reach out personally to talk to respondents.
Having a real person to speak with on the phone who can put the respondent at ease is critical.
At Drive Research we like to place calls at three different touch-points during the IHUT process:
- Introduction Call: Arguably, the most important call is this one. This comes after the respondent likely qualifies through an online recruitment questionnaire. During the online experience, they had no contact with a live person so they are probably left wondering, is this for real? Having a customer service person follow up and confirm interest, answer any questions, and explain the next steps will undoubtedly improve participation rates.
- Mid-IHUT Call: This is a check-in call. Half of the reason for doing this is to make sure the respondent doesn't have any questions and everything is going smoothly. The other half is to make sure respondents are participating. If not, you'll need to backfill with some additional respondents and additional kit mailings. This is not outside of the norm. Depending on the effort and timeframe of IHUTs, you may experience a significant drop-out rate (30% or more.)
- Follow-up Call: This is the final call to check in on respondents. Ideally, they have already submitted their final survey or feedback and this essentially becomes a thank-you call. In some instances, you'll use this call to remind participants to wrap up the project and have their form mailed or submitted by a specific date and time to receive their honorarium.
Step 8: Recall surveys 💭
Oftentimes, recall surveys are used as the final step for participants to complete their participation in an IHUT. The market research firm will email a recall survey to participant testers.
In some cases, this may be a more in-depth phone call. These recall surveys can range in length and number of questions.
The recall surveys may ask about:
- Suggested improvements
- Satisfaction with the product
- Likelihood to purchase
- Other helpful information
One of the approaches Drive Research recommends is an online survey follow-up. This is the most cost-effective market research methodology and timely.
The last question in the online survey can ask the participant if they would like to participate in a follow-up phone conversation if needed.
This gives the client the opportunity to follow up if needed for more clarification.
Step 9: Reward fulfillment 💸
Once all follow-ups, tasks, and surveys are completed, participants receive their reward. These are sent to all testers who completed their obligations.
They'll likely have no patience for waiting 3 or 4 months for payment, which can create a social media firestorm for your organization.
Incentives vary depending on the level of commitment and time needed for the IHUT.
Step 10: Analysis and reporting 📊
Last, and perhaps the most interesting step to conducting in-home usage tests, analysis and reporting!
While this should not be the first time you are looking at the data, it is the stage where a story is told and a picture is painted.
If working with a third-party IHUT research firm, make sure they are building in regular quality checks as participants submit their feedback.
The research firm will regularly look at the data anyway to ensure the information and responses are impactful enough to create a strong report.
This also allows the project stakeholders to identify any issues and resolve them mid-stream. At this point, when fieldwork is completed, it will be too late to change the process.
What is included in an in-home use test report?
The report is the best part of the IHUT project or any market research project as far as we're concerned.
The market research report produced by Drive Research includes:
- An executive summary of themes
- Appendix with additional detail on IHUT cases and data
The executive summary and infographics serve as the recap, while the appendix serves all of the details of the readers want it. Many of our clients love the specifics.
The report is the only true tangible deliverable in a service-based market research business.
It's the one deliverable that will stand the test of time and be revisited after the project is complete.
It's the all-encompassing review of the project, and the results, including recommendations to drive strategy and action items.
What is the cost of an in-home usage test?
As with most market research studies, it is difficult to provide one definitive cost for an in-home usage test.
Think of investing in market research like you would a car. The cost of a car is based on your preferred make, model, year, safety rating, and other factors.
A similar concept is used when creating a market research proposal for an IHUT. To provide a more accurate cost of an in-home usage test, our market research firm will ask a few questions about your specific needs and preferences.
In this section, Drive Research shares a few elements that impact the cost of this type of project.
Also, keep in mind our market research company tries our best to make even the tightest of budgets when conducting IHUTs.
Learn why it is helpful to share your budget with a market research company.
1. Participant criteria
Many times, our clients have quotas that participants must meet to qualify for an in-home usage test. The participant criteria generally line up with a brand’s target consumer.
For instance, a dish soap company would be interested in speaking with members of a household who are responsible for cleaning and are the primary decision maker for purchasing home cleaning products.
Whereas a children’s toy brand would be interested in testing young kids and/or parents of young kids.
The cost of an in-home usage test will increase with more refined targeting criteria because the sample size becomes more limited and harder to reach.
In other words, it takes more time to find and recruit green-eyed males, aged 25-45 than it would be to recruit from a general population.
2. Number of households
This is a simple component of any in-home usage test project. How many participants or households would you like to study?
The cost of the market research will increase as you increase the number of participants. This is because it takes more time to recruit, ship products, and analyze feedback from 100 participants than it would 50.
3. Tasks completed
What tasks are participants responsible for completing when they sign up for an in-home usage test?
The costs for qualitative recruitment can increase when more is asked of participants such as logging a diary every hour compared to once a day.
The cost of an in-home usage test can increase if your timeline is more aggressive. On average, an IHUT project takes 4 to 12 weeks to complete.
This includes creating a recruitment screener, finding qualified participants, shipping products, time for participants to use the product and offer their feedback, and reporting on participant feedback.
The best way to learn about in-home usage tests is to read a real-world example of this methodology in action.
The below case study will outline the objectives, process, and outcomes of an IHUT project our market research team conducted on behalf of an international brand of diapers.
The brand was looking to gather more feedback on the U.S. market to understand potential success and barriers to launching in the new market.
At a very high level, here were the steps used to complete this project
- Recruitment Screener
- Screening Phone Calls
- Confirmation Email
- Reminder Phone Call
- Product is Shipped
- Reminder Text
- In-Field Testing with Recruits
- Follow-up Reminders (As Needed)
- Online Survey Completion
- Analysis and Reporting
An international brand of diapers hired our market research company to complete a product testing project.
The client wanted to test a diaper product to understand the appeal, price, and other general feedback around usage. The data obtained from the product tests guided the client in operations, marketing, and strategy for a U.S. launch.
Participants received packs of 10 diapers to use over the course of a few days. This is in addition to a $25 gift card offered as an incentive for participating.
The $25 was only paid to those who completed the final step of the survey.
The study was conducted with a variety of participants across the United States.
Participants were screened to ensure they:
- Live in the U.S.
- Make or share responsibility for decisions on purchases of diapers in their household
- Currently have a child who wears diapers in their household
Drive Research recruited a mix of participants to ensure the testing group matches the demographics of the U.S. as a whole as well as recruit parents who have children in different sizes/age groups.
Our in-home usage test research company was responsible for:
- Pre-qualifying participants through an online survey
- Re-screening participants by phone
- Confirming their participation in the study
- Mailing the kits and instructions to recruits
- Conducting a follow-up survey to acquire feedback
Respondents were also required to sign a confidentiality agreement.
The process to recruit participants for the product tests was two-fold:
- Targeted emails to residents from the Drive Research panel
- Paid randomized ads on social media
Drive Research programmed an online survey to pre-screen the audience through random invitations.
Those who qualified received a re-screening and confirmation call to ask additional questions.
From there, participants received a confirmation email asking them to reply back “yes” and a confirmation call prior to shipping the kits. Participants were also sent a reminder text when the product was shipped.
Those who did not complete the survey within a few days of receiving the kits were sent an email and/or phone call reminder. This ensured very high participation rates for product testing.
One week after receiving the packages, Drive Research invited participants to provide feedback based on their experience in testing the product.
A total of 40 qualified households were invited to participate in the study. Ultimately, 34 of those households fully participated and provided feedback on the product.
This exceeded the initial goal of 25 participants and represented a strong participation rate of 85%.
As a final deliverable, our product testing company prepared an executive summary with recommendations on the next steps for the market launch.
This also included a full appendix of charts and graphs from the 5 to 7-minute follow-up survey.
Here are some generalized objectives and questions addressed in the survey:
- Satisfaction with the diaper product compared to the current brand used
- Satisfaction with various aspects of the diaper (i.e., softness, thinness, material, comfort, etc.)
- Open-ended comments about satisfaction or dissatisfaction with diapers
- Likelihood to recommend the product to a friend or family member (NPS)
- Perceptions of brands
- Price expectations of the diapers compared to current brands
- Factors in choice of diapers
- Where diapers are normally purchased
- Most common brands used
There are many tests a product must go through before being placed on shelves for consumer purchase. While an in-home usage test is not enforced for product launches, it is highly recommended.
Working with an IHUT research company can help streamline the process. A full-service market research company like Drive Research will manage recruitment, sending the product, fieldwork, and analyzing the results.
At-home product testing gives you the ability to check your prototype against real consumer usage before pushing into a full product launch.
When used correctly, at-home product testing can save enormous amounts of money by allowing you to tweak your product prior to a full launch or make estimations on market potential.
Interested in partnering with Drive Research on your next IHUT project? We can assist any business regardless of location or industry.
Start by contacting our team through any of the four ways below:
- Message us on our website
- Email us at [email protected]
- Call us at 888-725-DATA
- Text us at 315-303-2040
As a Research Manager, Emily is approaching a decade of experience in the market research industry and loves to challenge the status quo. She is a certified VoC professional with a passion for storytelling.
Learn more about Emily, here.