Test your product concept in an online store before full rollout

Test marketing a product or service concept can be accomplished online with little investment.

In my daytime job, I work with start-up and veteran entrepreneurs. I also work with people who have a product concept, and they want to immediately purchase manufacturing equipment and open a storefront—all before testing their product concept—so they can make their millions. I do not try to slow them down, but I encourage them to do some market testing.

In the “good old days,” test marketing required millions of dollars, a huge engineering department, and a small production run of the product being test marketed. And then you needed a test market like Eau Claire, Wis. And then you needed to get the product to the town. And then you needed to get your product on the shelf. And then you needed to measure the results. And then you needed to make a go/no-go decision. Oh, the good old days—how I miss them so.

In the better new days, you can simply mock-up a product, take a photograph of it, place the photo on e-bay and see if it sells. You don’t really have to even have a finished product yet. And, all of this costs less than, well, a couple of dollars. If you want to do better test marketing online, simply secure a web domain, build a product website, purchase internet advertising such as AdWords from Google, and see if your product has actual demand.

When you see that your product has merit in the marketplace, meaning that the product actually has demand and sales from known customers, then you can buy equipment and start full-on production. Once production begins, you can enhance your online presence, buy offering your product through other online catalog retailers, buy placing online advertisements on various websites, and buy purchasing click-through ads from various ISP. All of these online efforts are relatively inexpensive compared to traditional test marketing.

The whole point of this article is to encourage you to take your product concept idea and put it in a marketplace where actual sales can occur. It is much easier to refine and hone your product offering once you know what actual customers want from your product. In fact, most people with a product concept idea change the concept after hearing form actual purchasers and users of the product. Now, just go out there and put your product online.

Paul J. Werner is an Michigan State University Extension educator from L’Anse, Michigan. Werner has many years experience in small business ownership and entrepreneurship. He and his wife currently own two small businesses in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. You can obtain free business counseling by registering with the MSU Product Center.

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