The Wonderful World of the IHUT

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All through January, we are featuring some “Lost Gems” from 2014 — some great posts from other blogs that deserved to get wider notice than they did the first time out.

Not to be confused with everyone’s favorite pancake house, an “IHUT” or simply “HUT” is, at its most basic, a type of in-home study that involves consumers using and evaluating a product. IHUT stands for In-Home Usage Test, and it has long been one of researchers’ go-to studies for detailed, in-context consumer feedback on anything from pillowcases to, well, pancake mix.

IHUT 101

As the name implies, IHUTs are used to test products with real consumers in their homes. This type of study is particularly useful for testing newly released products, prototypes before they hit the market, or existing products that may be in need of a redesign.

Consumers are shipped the product or sometimes instructed where to purchase it. Their feedback is gathered in follow-up surveys, or, in the case of mobile research, in real-time using smartphones or tablets. IHUTs can give market researchers deep and important insights into many facets of how a product is perceived and used, and how it fits into a consumer’s regular routine. Maybe consumers are overlooking an important step in preparation, or maybe they’re having trouble with the enclosure system. An IHUT can reveal such product challenges.

Here’s what an IHUT can help you do:

  • Learn how consumers interact with the product in a natural environment.
  • Understand sequencing of consumer interaction with the product.
  • Collect in-the-moment consumer feedback about the product as it is used or consumed.
  • Gauge the popularity and satisfaction of the product.
  • Discover new uses for the product.

Going Mobile, Baby!

Mobile technology greatly streamlines home-use testing and can decrease time to field. Mobile can also replace time-consuming, costly follow-up methods such as phone surveys and the outmoded in-home visit.

Perhaps most important, mobile expands what was previously possible with an IHUT. Respondents can offer feedback at every step of their journey with the product – from their first encounter with the product to final use or consumption.

Mobile IHUTs also allow for types of data that we only dreamed of before. For instance, respondents can take pictures and even videos while interacting with a product. Is the packaging too difficult to open? Video tells the frustrating story. Do people find surprising uses for a product that could drive innovation? A picture is worth a thousand words.

Simple, But Substantive

The whole point of in-home testing is to get accurate, quality feedback from consumers or potential consumers of your product. To do that, your goals as a researcher should be clear going in, as should your questions.

Here are examples of questions businesses typically hope to answer through in-home testing:

  • How do consumers use my product? It’s likely that the overworked team down in product development overlooked some really cool uses for your product. Consumers won’t.
  • Is the packaging engaging and attractive? This is often your customer’s first encounter with your product, so it can really set the tone for what you can expect from sales.
  • What suggestions for product improvement do customers have? You’d be surprised how honest and thoughtful your consumers can be. They’ll openly tell you about the proverbial good, bad and ugly if you give them the opportunity.
  • How satisfied are consumers with my product overall? If you could only get one data set back, this might be the one. Do they take it to bed at night and tuck it in with them or leave it in the corner of the garage? That could be the make-or-break question.

Size Matters

There are a few key factors to remember with IHUTs, whether mobile or traditional. First, over-recruiting is crucial. Product types, respondent pools, whether a product is purchased by a respondent or delivered through a fulfillment company all affect completion rates, so determining the sample size is an intricate and important stage that needs to be considered. Often, the sample size needs to be well beyond double the responses desired.

For this reason, many suppliers have prescreened pools ready to go. They could have tens to hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of consumers who fit varying demographics. These consumers can often be reached using mobile apps and geofencing technology to locate, recruit and validate willing participants. So much for the pen and clipboard days, huh?

To learn more about home-use testing and IHUTs, here are some suggestions for further reading:

Tina Day is director of organizational development and quality at uSamp. With over 15 years in the market research industry, she has a well-rounded understanding of the end-to-end research process and uses her expertise to drive training and development efforts throughout the organization.

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