A Proven Plan for Product Testing Success

Product testing isn’t new.

In fact, it has been an integral part of L.L.Bean’s product development process for over 100 years. My first “corporate” job in the mid-90’s was being one of L.L.Bean’s Field-Testing Coordinators. This position was my dream job – working with merchants, sending out products to field testers with detailed questionnaires, summarizing the results and ultimately making changes to improve the product line.

That job taught me the importance of listening to customers and using their feedback to build better apparel, footwear, outerwear and sporting equipment.

However, much has changed in the last 25 years. From new materials and manufacturing processes to e-commerce and the power of social media; individual changes have brought an overall increase in complexity and speed.

Amid these changes, in 2013 L.L.Bean was faced with a challenge: How do we take product testing – a critical activity in making the best products – and have it work with more complex assortments, ongoing innovation and faster speed to market?

MESH01 proved to be the solution to that challenge. Just as new business transformation technologies brought solutions to areas including product lifecycle and inventory management, MESH01 was proving the same type of innovation was happening in product testing. Business was moving too fast for distributing random surveys and collecting and compiling fragmented feedback.

Using customer insights in your product development process is critical if you want to succeed in today’s consumer-driven environment. There is a way to test your products, gain feedback from real customers, and make this happen within your tight development timelines.

I believe the three most important steps toward product testing success are:

  1. Engage the right testers to generate actionable customer insights
  2. Choose an intuitive and easy-to-adopt platform
  3. Reinvent your top products first to make a big initial impact

1. Engage the right testers to generate actionable customer insights

The core technology that will serve as your team’s product testing platform must have the ability to:

  • Build your ideal tester community
  • Make it easy to interact with the testers
  • Quickly generate actionable consumer insights

The MESH01 platform allows you to tap into their online tester community comprised of over 30,000 individuals across 30 countries. You can also add your own customers into the mix and build your own custom tester community. The MESH01 platform allows you to find the right testers in the right environments and conditions to test your products as they will be used by your customers.

MESH01 also makes it possible to truly interact with your tester community and generate real actionable customer insights. MESH01’s product testing platform facilitates valuable multi-channel feedback including surveys, heat-mapping (“Performance Zones”), image and video uploads and activity logs. It also allows you to continually engage testers through these channels over time.

These aren’t one-and-done anonymous surveys, they are detailed, digital conversations with actual customers.

2. Choose an intuitive and easy-to-adopt platform

The right testing platform strikes a balance of powerful functionality and easy usability. Today’s time constraints and condensed timelines make it impossible to use a heavy, difficult-to-learn tool. The MESH01 platform is intuitive and easy for merchants, developers and designers to engage and begin using right away. Their online dashboard makes it easy to generate survey questions, choose the right testers, see feedback in real-time and summarize the results. MESH01 also provides incredible customer support and tailored training.

3. Reinvent your top products to make a big impact

While the efficiency of the MESH01 platform is certainly fast enough to support high-speed rapid prototyping or new product development, that might not be the best place to start first time out. Instead, it may be best to focus on products that fall outside the normal process timelines and have a high impact to the top and bottom line.

It’s not uncommon to see a high percentage of your product line’s revenue come from a few top products. It’s critical to keep these programs fresh and up to date before they reach a maturity stage and begin to decline. Forget about hopeful product extensions or reinventing the wheel. Instead, use product testing to extend the success of your top styles by keeping the parts that still work and identifying opportunities to update elements that have fallen out of style or become obsolete.

The magic is that this can all be done on a comfortable timeline with on-hand units for potentially massive return on a modest investment of time and effort.

A great example of this took place at L.L.Bean

The Outerwear team identified a multi-million-dollar key item rain jacket that had begun to enter the decline stage of its product lifecycle. Using the MESH01 platform, the team engaged target customer testers and generated critical feedback that resulted in five key item updates including trim detail changes, material changes and a fit update. Once debuted, the updated key item reversed the sales decline and resulted in a wave of thankful customers reviews citing the resonating product updates.

By starting with more accessible products in your line, your teams can begin to develop a familiarity with the new process and platform technology. Teams will understand the power of customer insights to build better products. Eventually, this will lead the teams to use MESH01 to test new concepts within the current development cycle and improve the product’s fit, performance and durability before it hits the market.

I believe product testing and customer insights are even more important now than they were 25 years ago. MESH01 helps you take an updated approach to product testing. Its platform allows you to build the right tester community that can provide you with actionable customer insights to improve your products. The feedback from testers happen in real time and are quickly digestible to fit into tightening development cycles. The tools are intuitive and easy to understand so today’s busy merchant, developer and designer will embrace the technology.

Once you have MESH01 up and running, consider starting with updating a core product to get familiar with the platform and generate the biggest impact to the top and bottom line.

The impactful results of product testing, even within your accelerated timelines, are truly at your fingertips with MESH01 Product Testing

David Findlay is highly experienced in large business transformation projects including leading cross-functional reengineering of organizational processes and structures, and multiple projects directed at attracting new customer segments. As the SVP and GMM of Men’s Apparel, Footwear, Outdoor Sports & Travel divisions at L.L.Bean, David oversaw the strategic planning and successful implementation of MESH01 product testing during L.L.Bean’s business transformation period. Currently, David is a strategy consultant focusing on merchandising and brand as well as a Senior Advisor at BCE Consulting where he helps national brands identify and capitalize on new growth opportunities.