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  • TrialPanel: When 300 000 consumer-testers vote for their preferred product innovations...

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    Below is a transcript of the interview with Patricia Florès conducted by Thierry Semblat (Market Research News) whom we thank for showcasing Repères innovation!


    15th May 2014




     Several weeks ago, a number of innovation-products were awarded the label “preferred by consumers”, which is of significant importance if one takes into account the fact that 300,000 consumers participated with approximately 1 200 products tested and more than 950,000 evaluations. However, this prize is only the more publicised part of a particularly ambitious ecosystem called TrialPanel which establishes links between brands, consumers, and a retailer (Carrefour). The research is orchestrated in France by the Repères research institute.


    Patricia Florès , Consumer & Shopper Insights Director France, in charge of this activity at Repères , answers the questions of MRnews to help us better understand how the TrialPanel  platform works.

    Market Research News: How would you define what TrialPanel in just a few words?

    Patricia Florès: TrialPanel is a tool, a platform between three parties, the brands, the retailers and the consumers. This tool was launched by an Argentinean company, Brand Value, and was then deployed in France in April 2013, with one retailer as an exclusive partner, Carrefour, and one research partner: Repères.


    What is the general principle behind this platform?

    Basically, it consists of delivering value to the different stakeholders by means of three major components. At the heart of the system is a massive marketing data collecting process, which totally complies with the Esomar code of ethics. There is, of course, an analytical component, to help manufacturing brands in their innovation process. But an important element is communication - amplification even - with a showcasing of the products and brands with the general consumer via the site monavislerendgratuit.com (my opinionmakesitfree), where hundreds of evaluations by consumers are posted on the products. The crowning event in this “amplification” process is the recognition of the products and brands preferred by these consumers via a dedicated site (prefereparlesconsommateurs.com) and a prize.


    How does it actually work? I’m a consumer: how do I become a part of this process?

    The consumers who join the scheme are clients of the retailer who is the exclusive partner of the platform, Carrefour in the case of France. Carrefour customers are therefore exposed to advertising conveying the following message: “Give your evaluation and benefit from hundreds of free products”. They are invited to go to the internet site monavislerendgratuit.com. When they go online, their usual supermarket must be validated as being part of the list of 105 points of sale participating in the operation (approximately half the Carrefour supermarkets). They are asked to give their loyalty card number or, if need be, they are issued a card. They then provide their profile and purchasing habits. From the moment they are registered they receive e-mails inviting them to test new products. They receive an average of two e-mails per week, with in most cases in each e-mail a proposal to test 3 products. One year after the launch of the operation, 300,000 consumers are currently registered, the operation having been the object of a major recruitment effort on the part of Carrefour. The operation has also benefited from word of mouth.


    The consumers therefore test the products free of charge? Isn’t there the risk that you may be dealing with an atypical clientele, particularly attracted by the possibility of consuming products for free?

    The programme was defined so as to avoid that risk of only recruiting people who are specially fond of promotions, this is something which needs to be taken into account of course. When a consumer signs up, he or she is given a credit of 450 points to spend. Each product being tested has a value. To give you an idea, a tomato sauce is worth 100 points, the number of points being determined in proportion of the face value of the product. The consumers will therefore have to make choices, according to their emotional or “functional” interest in the products. When they receive e-mail invitations, they discover the different products proposed for testing, with the number of points associated with each one, a visual, a presentation “pitch”, and possibly an ad.

    And once they have chosen the product they want to test?

    For them the first stage consists of answering (on the site monavislerendgratuit.com) a pre-use questionnaire, which enables us to identify their behaviours and attitudes associated with the product category and the brand (which purchases, which behaviours in relation to competing brands, and at what price they expect to find the product, what they imagine it is like, what image they have of the brand, etc.). They receive a coupon with a bar-code of the product. They then go to the point of sale which they have already informed us of as being their usual supermarket, and they do their shopping normally; this is something we insist on. On their path they encounter special signage next to the products, markers which have been put up to help them identify the products, bearing in mind the fact that we don’t modify the placing of the products on the shelves. At the till, they pay for their purchases normally, except for the products in question which they pay for with the coupons. Here again to ensure the shopping was done normally, the global amount of the purchases has to be at least 30 euros. In fact, the average ticket is 98 euros, which is perfectly consistent with the usual averages observed in supermarkets.


    They therefore take the products which they consume at home...

    Exactly. The consumers use the products in real situations, and after each use, they go back online to monavislerendgratuit.com to answer a post-use questionnaire, with verifications which make it possible to check the consistency and veracity of the responses. The consumers are naturally encouraged to give their opinions, simply by allocating new points enabling them to continue testing new products.


    What about the brands, the manufacturers, who do they have access to?

    The manufacturers who have negotiated to take part in the programme with Carrefour have access to two major categories of information and analysis.

    The post-use questionnaire we use is very complete, it includes information on satisfaction and the degree of preference for the product, as well as organoleptic, packaging and value-for-money analyses, and other open questions. And of course the purchasing intention is measured by the spontaneous reaction first of all, then measured again after a reminder of the price so as to get an idea of the price-elasticity of the tested product compared with competing products. We have included another important indicator, the ease with which the product is located in the shop (benchmarked using criteria in our database), which is often an important issue between manufacturers and retailers.

    As a consequence, the standard deliverable for the manufacturers is a summary of the performances of their products under the form of KPIs compared with the scores of products of the same category.

    Then, in addition to these standard indicators, the manufacturers can also receive a complete analysis of their mix via the detailed results from the questionnaire, and can even include specific questions about their product (organoleptic questions for instance). They turn to us to give themselves every chance of understanding the reasons for the success or failure of the product, whether these reasons relate to the product itself, its perceived price level, the shoppers’ profiles, or the packaging.

    How would you define the most significant advantages this system provides manufacturers compared to more conventional types of studies?

    With such as system, we are dealing with huge volumes. In one year we have tested 1 700 different products (100 to 120 products per month), out of 300 categories and for 400 brands. We are processing more than a million post-use questionnaires, with sample sizes of around 1,500 people per product whereas for a more conventional use test, the sample bases are close to 150 or 200 people. The fact of working with such volumes presents major advantages. This makes it possible to conduct very detailed analyses of sub-segments of customers. Much more than is usually the case with a concept-use-test whilst applying a superior reality principle. But we have to take into account the fact that a concept-use test is by definition a pre-test, whereas in this instance we are in post-test conditions.

    And in comparison with panel data?

    I was coming to that. The other advantage associated with the size of the sample, is the speed with which we get feedback, especially compared with feedback provided by consumer panels. Very quickly, as soon as a hundred interviews have been conducted, the manufacturer knows generally speaking what the performance of his product is compared with competing products through the KPAs. And contrary to panels again, they have precious insight concerning the consumers’ reasons, explaining why the product performed or under-performed. Above all, the manufacturers know whether there is a tactical problem such as the visibility of the product on the shelf (in which case they can turn to the retailer) or whether the problem is the perceived price. Or whether there is a fundamental problem in terms of the validity of the product-concept itself. This rapidity in receiving feedback is of course an extremely important component in the context of the mass retail sector where the de-listing of products can occur very quickly, especially in the very “crowded” sections such as the fresh produce section.

    I suppose the tool has its limits. Isn’t the need to limit the testing within the scope of Carrefour an obstacle to responding to certain needs?

    At first sight, this could appear to be limiting. But technically, we have never perceived this as being the case, since in France, shoppers frequent 5 different retail chains on average in the year. Our consumers probably don’t shop only at Carrefour.

    And in terms of targets, with 300,000 people, we really have the likelihood of finding all customer categories within our sample, even if out panel tends to include fewer seniors on average. Especially since by encouraging consumers to choose which products they are really interested in testing, the samples reflect the potential buyers of the product, which is the most important thing.

    As far as limits are concerned, I would tend to evoke the more intrinsic components of the product itself: even if the tool is extremely reactive, we are using a post-test approach, not a pre-test approach. One can also mention the fact that for certain manufacturers, the decisions are taken at a global level, an international level, whereas this tool is more local in the way it is implemented.

    It is local in the way it works, while being deployed in several countries...

    Absolutely. Initially it was launched in Argentina with Walmart. It has now been deployed in France for a year, and has also been launched in Belgium, also with Carrefour.

    Concerning the cost for the manufacturers, what sort of prices are we talking about?

    The cost of being included in the platform is negotiated between Carrefour and the manufacturers, we don’t know what the conditions are. But for the part that concerns us, for the complete analysis of the performances of a mix we’re talking about 6 to 12 K€, which is extremely competitive in terms of added value compared to price.


    Contact: Patricia Florès p.flores@reperes.net