Most merchants do conduct some types of pre-season product testing through their brick-and-mortar stores, It's often to gauge the consumer’s response to appetite for styles, designs, colors, prices and other variables. This gives direction to guide merchants in getting the collection right and to better plan and buy for the season. Ultimately, this would translate into higher sales and profitability while minimizing inventory risks.
The online retail store presents an opportune environment for product testing. Not only can results can be easily quantified and quickly tabulated — often in real-time — but, if you're like most large retailers, the online customer base you're sampling is much larger than the traffic through your largest brick-and-mortar store.
Unfortunately, the online channel is often underutilized for testing and development purposes. Often this is due to the independence or the separation of the product and e-commerce organizations and the fact that merchants are used to conducting product testing in brick-and-mortar stores only.
Merchants such as stevemadden.com and ninewest.com have been actively conducting online product testing through their pre-order program. The largest specialty online apparel retailer such as victoriassecret.com has been previewing some of their key collections much earlier. The lead time gained allows the merchant to better plan their buying and adjust their collections and assortment.
Winning multi-channel retailers understand the strategic value of e-commerce. They don’t just set up an online version of their brick-and-mortar stores. Instead, they utilize the e-commerce channel to unleash the overall growth potential of their brands. Online product testing is just one more example of this thinking.
Online product testing is particularly effective testing key items that would impact a significant percentage of the sales. Variables that merchants might consider testing include:
- Feature color
Product testing involves many different business functions and, as a consequence, can disrupt your existing product development and e-commerce production process and timelines. With most of 2012 still before us — and well ahead of the big fall and holiday seasons — now is the perfect time to build a product-testing protocol within your organization. Establishing a testing protocol and defining key metrics are the most useful tools to ensure you can successfully impact your pre-season planning and buying as well as in-season optimization.