In-home Usage Testing: 12 Things You Need to Know

Bringing testing out of the lab and into the real world is scary. We get it. You give up the safe, controlled environment you’ve meticulously crafted and enter the messy, unpredictable space of a customer’s home. But that uncertainty is exactly what makes in-home usage testing so powerful.

In-home usage testing has become an invaluable tool for companies looking to launch new products or improve existing ones. By sending products directly to consumers to use in their natural environments, companies gain incredibly rich insights into real-world product performance, usage, and satisfaction.

If you’re considering running an in-home usage test for your product, here are 12 key things to know.

12 Key Things to Know In-home Usage Testing

1. Test Real-World Usage

The biggest benefit of in-home testing is observing how people use your product day-to-day. Do they use all the features? Do they use it as intended or find creative “workarounds”? This real-world usage data is incredibly valuable for optimizing products before launch.

2. Test with Your Target Market

Don’t just test your product on anyone – recruit participants who represent your target customer demographic. Test with people of different ages, genders, locales, tech-savviness levels, etc. to ensure your product appeals to your intended audience.

3. Test for Extended Periods

To understand usage patterns and long-term satisfaction, test for at least several days or weeks. This allows consumers to take products through daily routines and on trips, revealing insights you’d never discover in a one-hour lab test.

4. Gather Broad Feedback

In addition to usage data, use surveys, video diaries, and interviews to gather feedback on product likes/dislikes, ease of use, needed improvements, and more. The more qualitative data the better for truly understanding the user experience. Advanced ihut product testing platforms make gathering comprehensive insights simple.

5. Make Testing Easy

Minimize the effort for testers by providing prepaid shipping envelopes for product returns. Make instructions and feedback surveys readily accessible through a mobile app. The easier you make it, the happier your testers will be.

6. Offer Incentives

Compensate testers for their time and feedback. Money, gift cards, or free products are great incentives. This improves satisfaction, retention, and quality of feedback.

7. Test Remotely

With mobile diaries and camera kits, participants can record videos, capture images, and provide feedback right from home. This is more convenient than lab visits. Some providers even offer wearable cameras for hands-free video capture.

8. Gather Usage Metrics

Sensors, meters, and built-in diagnostics can track helpful usage metrics like hours run, cycles completed, buttons pushed, etc. This concrete data supplements and validates consumer self-reported feedback.

9. Test with Competitors

Run comparative tests with key competing products. This reveals how your product stands up and where you can improve relative to what’s already on the market.

10. Test Various Models

Test different versions, models, or bundles of your product to determine which specific configurations appeal most to consumers. This can guide final product specifications and pricing.

11. Test New Features

Before investing in adding new features, test mock-ups or prototypes with consumers. This ensures new capabilities will improve the product experience.

12. Start Testing Early

Consumer testing shouldn’t be the last step before launch. Build in testing throughout the development process, from early prototypes through final packaging, to ensure you’re on the right track.

When to Use In-Home Usage Testing

In-home usage testing provides the richest insights when:

  • You need detailed, real-world usage data on a physical product.
  • Extended testing timeframes are required.
  • Testing location/environment is important.
  • You want feedback from a geographically dispersed sample.
  • The budget allows for product samples and incentives.

In-Home Testing Provider Comparison

Provider Panel Size Locations Testing Types Tracking Capability
Test Company 1 10,000 US & Canada Extended product testing, feature evaluations Mobile app, wearable cameras
Test Company 2 25,000 US, UK, Germany Product concepts, packaging Product sensors, mobile reporting
Test Company 3 50,000+ Global Usability, comparisons Built-in diagnostics, mobile diaries

Tracking Usage and Feedback

In-home testing employs various methods to track product usage and gather feedback during the testing period:

  • Mobile apps

Apps allow easy capturing of video diaries, surveys, notes, and usage data. Researchers can also remind and nudge participants through the app.

  • Product sensors

Built-in sensors can track usage metrics like hours operated, cycles completed, buttons pushed, and more.

  • Wearable cameras

First-person perspective cameras worn by testers capture product interactions and environments.

  • Product diagnostics

Diagnostics built into products can report performance data like speed, temperature, errors, etc.

  • Mobile ethnography

Participants use a smartphone to capture images, audio, or video at key moments to tell the usage story.

  • Usage diaries

Testers log product usage sessions, thoughts, frustrations, or ideas.

Key Metrics to Track

Usage testing aims to capture both quantitative and qualitative data. Key metrics to track include:

  • Frequency – How often is the product used? Daily? Weekly? Occasionally?
  • Duration – How long are usage sessions? Does duration change over time?
  • Environment – Where and when is the product used? Home? Work? Travel? Morning or night?
  • Use cases – What activities is the product used for? As advertised or new uses?
  • Features – Which features get used? Not used? Confusing? Enjoyable?
  • Ease of use – How much effort does the product require? What causes frustrations?
  • Satisfaction – How happy are users with the product experience? What drives satisfaction/dissatisfaction?

Choosing the Right Sample

An effective in-home usage test requires choosing the appropriate sample:

  • Demographic mix:

Test with different ages, genders, income levels, family sizes, etc.

  • Geographic spread:

Include participants from various regions to identify regional differences.

  • Usage frequency:

Recruit both heavy and light expected usage groups.

  • New vs existing:

Test with both new customers and existing brand users.

  • Personas:

Recruit participants who represent your core customer personas.

  • Large sample:

Larger sample sizes reveal more robust insights and reduce anomalies.

  • Prescreening:

Carefully pre-qualify participants on key attributes to achieve your target sample.

The sample composition can make or break the validity of in-home testing results. Work closely with research teams and recruiters to obtain your ideal user profile mix.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is in-home usage testing?

In-home usage testing sends products directly to selected consumers to use in their natural environments over an extended period. It gathers insights through usage metrics, surveys, video/photo capture, mobile apps, and more.

What can you learn from in-home testing?

In-home testing reveals real-world product usage, likes/dislikes, areas for improvement, comparisons to competitors, appeal amongst target segments, and more through both usage data and qualitative feedback.

How long do in-home tests take?

Most in-home tests run from several days to 2-3 weeks. Extended timeframes capture daily and varied usage. Shorter 1-3 day “quick takes” are also possible.

How much does in-home testing cost?

Costs vary based on incentives, test duration, sample size, and tracking methods. Expect to invest around $100-$500 per participant for robust testing. Larger samples provide more significant insights.

When should you start in-home testing?

Begin consumer testing as early as possible, even with rough prototypes. Early feedback can significantly improve the end product. Continue testing through launch.

In-home testing provides invaluable usage insights and consumer perspectives that can’t be matched by lab studies or surveys alone. For consumer products and innovations, it’s an investment that can pay off in the form of improved market success.

Final Thoughts

In-home usage testing delivers incredibly valuable insights through extended, real-world testing and comprehensive consumer feedback. If designed and executed effectively, it can significantly improve product experiences, adoption, satisfaction, and business outcomes. 

Consider integrating in-home usage testing into your research and development process to create resonating products tailored to your target consumers’ needs and preferences.

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