Next-gen Product Testing
This article was originally published on TheStartU.
Showstopping Product Testing With Showcase
Here’s a scenario. You’re walking out of the mall, recent purchase in hand, and you see someone with a clipboard walking straight towards you. Do you a) sprint towards your car and avoid conversation or b) happily spend 10 minutes talking about why you bought that product? Chances are you picked ‘a,’ as would most people. People who complete surveys are not typical, which makes it difficult for qualitative researchers to understand why consumers choose certain brands.
Dana Kim is no stranger to these struggles. Prior to beginning her MBA at Wharton, she oversaw in-person research at Kelton Global for clients such as Nike and Coca-Cola. During this time, she learned the limitations of qualitative research firsthand, and saw how taxing on time, money, and resources it could be.
Standard product research can take the form of focus groups, in-home usage testing, or intercept interviewing — all of these methods are expensive. Focus groups offer deep insights, but a standard six-person focus group lasting 2 hours can cost anywhere from $8,000 to $15,000 on average. In-home usage tests, where participants are surveyed via phone or email after trying a product at home, may be more scalable, but orchestrating recruitment, product shipping, fielding, and data collection add immense complexity, time, and cost. Finally, intercept interviewing, where researchers interview consumers while they interact with the brand, is difficult to scale as most researchers average 15–20 interviews per day of field work. Even after researchers complete gathering data via one of these methods, it can take significant effort and time to aggregate the data and turn it into actionable insights for product development or marketing. After realizing that much of these processes are automated for more traditional quantitative and qualitative approaches (via Surveymonkey and Recollective, for example) Dana saw the opportunity to drive similar advances for physical product testing.
“I saw the growing sophistication of quantitative methodologies. Getting a survey out is easier, cheaper, and faster than ever, but in qualitative market research, especially when you introduce physical products, it can get really tough to scale.” — Dana Kim
Dana came to Wharton with a mission to transform qualitative research. She began validating ideas from the ground up — seeing if students in Huntsman Hall would take a free granola bar off a table, in exchange for completing a survey. Showcase Insights soon evolved from this, in the form of a custom-built vending machine that provided product samples in exchange for survey completions. Users simply scanned a QR code, received their product of choice, and completed a survey via Showcase’s mobile app. The survey completion rates for the vending machines were an impressive 75%, compared to a blended industry average of 33%, as users were not eligible for sampling another product unless the survey was completed.
After debuting the vending machine in January 2020, Showcase went on to raise money from the Penn Wharton Innovation Fund. It was here that Dana met Ethan Kellough, Showcase’s founding CPO and a student in Penn’s Masters of Integrated Product Design Program. Ethan’s background in mechanical engineering, business analytics, and product design made him the perfect fit as technical co-founder of Showcase. Invigorated by the success of their vending machine, Dana and Ethan prepared for rapid expansion — building v2 of their app, securing locations for new machines, and producing more machines. But shortly after the machines launched, they were forced to quickly pivot the business as COVID cut off access to their vending machines. This catalyzed their next pivot to The Boxed Club, a curated community that ships boxes of products directly to users’ doorsteps.
Unboxing How It Works
Users pick around 7 items from a menu of products, including snacks, beverages, and personal care items, filtered by their preferences. A box is curated, packed, and shipped directly to users’ homes, where they have a week to try the products and complete their surveys. Since the user screening process is already complete, each survey only takes around 3–5 minutes to complete. If a user completes their surveys, they are eligible to receive another box of new products. To date, Showcase has tested over 50 products with more than 25 brand partners. They seem to have found the treasured product-market fit as well, with 54% of their users claiming they’d be disappointed without Showcase.
Sounds Great, What’s In It For The Brands?
Showcase orchestrates the user recruitment, shipping, distribution, and data collection & analysis for brands. The team currently works directly with brands to craft the surveys, but moving forward, plans to productize the survey process.
So far, Showcase’s community of 550+ members have completed 2,500+ surveys with astonishing completion rates of 90% for The Boxed Club. Unlike traditional methods, brands can see survey results populate in real-time on their dashboards. And Showcase is able to provide these actionable insights at ~20% the cost of a traditional in-home usage test.
“Getting product into the hands of potential customers isn’t easy, especially amid COVID. With Showcase, we were able to sample our product with our core demographic and get candid and actionable customer feedback within days. Showcase was really valuable in helping us iterate quickly as part of our R+D process.” — Julianna, CEO & Founder, Kickbar
Plans For The Future
Showcase Insights is early in pioneering this new method of conducting qualitative research. Their success with brand partners derives from their ability to orchestrate product shipping, recruit users, and analyze data seamlessly on their platform. Showcase’s marketing research services are needed now more than ever, as traditional in-person qualitative research methods have been disrupted due to COVID-19. And while there’s no direct competition right now, other players such as Sampler (and even the likes of Amazon) have entered the adjacent product sampling markets with similar models. As such, it should come as no surprise that Showcase is currently raising another round of funding, just 6 months after raising money from Dorm Room Fund and Rough Draft Ventures.
Dana and Ethan plan to use the additional capital to expand both their team and their platform to drive the next stage of growth. There’s strong reason to believe that the team at Showcase can win the race to becoming the qualitative research platform of choice. As Ethan puts it, “Our blend of backgrounds in product design, development, and marketing research give us that proverbial founder-product fit.” The team further plans to expand the types of products they ship to users, from children’s’ toys to home care items. I’ve already signed up for The Boxed Club using the referral code below, and I’m very excited to see what brands they partner with next.
This article was originally published on TheStartU