Understanding the Differences Between Online Reviews and Pre-Market Product Testing

In a world where online reviews have profound impacts on purchase decisions and product success from sales volume to how much customers are willing to pay, brands are relying on customers’ voluntary contributions more than ever. Now, brands are hard at work even earlier in the product creation process trying to understand exactly what their customers want. In response to these growing needs, a variety of apps and communities have been developed to try to harness the “voice of the customer” including product sampling and reviews programs, social influencing and more. In this post, we’ll explore the differences between common online product reviews vs product testing.

Online Reviews Basics

Whether writing them or reading them, online reviews are part of day-to-day life as consumers. We all mostly trust them, too. Research has found that upwards of 90% of consumers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. Further, 93% of consumers are influenced by online reviews prior to making a purchase decision.

Online reviews are not only impacting consumers. Ratings and reviews have become almost essential for today’s brands and retailers. Today, businesses are trying to close the gap between launching products and the first product reviews as early reviews can drive faster sales. While this tactic can be at the risk of unexpected product experiences and even negative brand perception, product reviews are often driven to:

  1. Accelerate sales after product launch
  2. Increase overall sales volume and sell-through
  3. Create productive customer relationships

In today’s increasingly competitive digital world spanning from eCommerce to social media, brands and retailers look to generate and promote online reviews to drive demand and build customer trust. The expectation is that these efforts may continue and that more consumers will be encouraged to buy the product (and share then their own review). As reviews continue to accumulate product by product, they are continuously shaping a trusted reference shared among relevant consumers. For consumers, reviews are a trusted resource to help eliminate concerns and increase confidence during the purchasing process.

Incentivized Online Reviews

While most of us trust and rely on them, ratings and reviews on many products can actually steer us toward the wrong purchasing decision. This can be a byproduct of the type of review program and include the impact of incentivizing ratings and reviews.

Interested in how incentives affect what customers write in their reviews, Kaitlin Woolley, Associate Professor of Marketing at SC Johnson Cornell College of Business conducted a series of controlled experiments. Using methods involving natural language processing, Woolley’s experiments isolated the incentive’s effect on the content of reviews and illustrated that offering direct compensation for posting written reviews online results in a greater proportion of positive versus negative emotion across a variety of product and service experiences.

Acknowledging the impact that incentives can have on reviews, it holds that consumers may come across inaccurate ratings and reviews, depending on how the review was collected. This content may drive early sales for the company, but may mislead customers and result in a poor product experience against customer expectations. Further, disappointing product experiences often directly impact a consumer’s perspective and relationship with the company itself.

While there’s potential for difference between the impacts of organic product reviews and incentivized product reviews, brands and retailers have another way of engaging consumers that can close the gap between product launch and initial reviews while ensuring exceptional product experiences and brand relationships: pre-market product testing.

Product Reviews vs Product Testing

Where ratings and reviews programs look to gather the voice of the customer after a product has already been launched, product testing is most commonly done before a product is launched. Here, the goal of the engaged consumer is to help brands make the best products and create the best product experience possible. This approach can generate those early product reviews, but more importantly, result in great products that customers love. Below, we’ll cover some of the biggest differences between being a reviewer and a product tester.

Customer Feedback Before Product Launch

The first major difference between providing product reviews and participating in pre-market product testing is inherent; product testing usually happens before a product is launched. In this stage, brands and product testers are focused on improving a product that is in development or being worked on for a revision or update. While online reviews can vary in focus from customer service to shipping issues and beyond, they are not an effective way to validate products or identify opportunities for improvements before the products actually hit the shelves.

The result of an untested product can leave consumers unsatisfied with new products which are quickly marked down then fixed and updated with a revised version for next year (or done away with completely after a single selling season). Products tested on a pre-market product testing platform give testers an early look at what the brand is planning, and testers are ready to catch any issues with the product or allow the brand to go to market with confidence.

A Genuine Product Feedback Community

Product testers work alongside the world’s leading brands and retailers and are connecting with companies based on their interests, preferences, and activity participation. This means that their product feedback is not only valuable because of their product testing experience itself, but also because of their vast knowledge and dedicated history using related products as a part of their favorite interests and activities.

As a consumer, you are always looking for the next best product to improve your own experience, whether it is to make your run swifter, your bike-ride more refreshing or even your workdays more comfortable. Dedicated product testers work to improve the product experience for themselves but also their friends, family, and other customers overall through commitment to rigorous testing and genuine feedback.

Feedback at the Product Concept Stage

Through product concept testing, brands and retailers can determine whether a new product is worth bringing to market or if the concept needs more research and development. Through concept testing, brands share their product ideas and interests with target customers before investing in the development of a product. This let’s brands and retailers confidently create products knowing that their customers are going to love them. Through work with product testers, brands like Jetboil have seen nothing but success and raving reviews about their new product. One of their stoves has even been rated “the best all-in-one kitchen of 2021” by Backpacker Magazine. This accomplishment was assisted by the MESH01 product tester community.

These are just a few major factors of pre-market product testing that help brands and retailers ensure they will get the right feedback at the right time. It helps them create meaningful products they know their customers will love (and also leave great reviews about).

Product Review or Product Test?

So should you review products or test them before they hit the market? We’d recommend both, but it’s important to understand the type of review program you are engaging in and the potential impact you are making through product reviews vs product testing.

For product testing, pre-market product testing platforms like MESH01 allow brands to develop exceptional products while generating impactful review content. Now more than ever, consumers have a say in brands’ decisions and can help ensure a product will receive nothing but rave reviews.