Using Focus Groups to Test Your eCommerce Product Idea

Posted on

Are you lacking faith in your new product idea or feeling uncertain about what your target market will think? Perhaps your product idea is a bit ‘out there’ and you need someone to back you up.

All business owners crave the reassurance that they’ve come up with ‘the next big thing’. And no one wants to miss something that’s staring them right in the face. Let’s rewind to April 2017, and that infamous Pepsi ad that completely missed the mark. Messages and concepts can misfire, and whilst an idea might be crystal clear in your mind, this doesn’t always translate to market, so getting feedback is important. Extremely important.

“So how do I get feedback?”

The answer?

Focus groups.

What is a focus group?

A focus group generally comprises of around 7-10 individuals who don’t know each other, but fit into the same demographic (your target audience). Some business owners go down the route of hiring a moderator to ensure their session is unbiased, and unaffected by an affiliation with the business.

The session aims to ask a series of questions, the findings of which must be recorded. Once the session is complete, closely analysing responses provides an amazing insight into your product or service and how a sample group received it. Focus groups are used to anonymously test an idea. All the data collected is qualitative, and is used to gain some understanding of the opinions and motivations of your market.

What are the Pros and Cons of running a Focus Group?

The Pros

It's accessible

Focus groups are an accessible method of conducting market research that can be adapted to any business. Many e-commerce merchants will set up focus groups whenever there is an adjustment in the business that requires input. Consider setting up a focus group to collect data when: you change your packaging, you’ve prepared a new product launch, or you’ve redesigned your website.

It's simple and inexpensive

Organising a focus group is fairly simple and inexpensive. At a later stage, you might want to supplement your market research with in-depth, one on one interviews to gain even more knowledge on your product’s reception.

Gain valuable insights before you launch

You are able to gain insights from your potential market about your product. Any changes can be made before launching, saving you precious money and time.

Improve your management skills

Choosing to run your session (as opposed to hiring a moderator), can seriously improve your management skills! It’s your job to ensure that your session remains a discussion or conversation, not a debate.

The Cons

Finding the right people

To maintain the validity of your focus group, you’ll need to find the right people: you don’t want anyone associated with your business.

Keeping the conversation on topic

Since you’re working with strangers, there’s always the risk that a focus group will derail. The most common difficulties include small disputes or too much irrelevant commentary.

Tip: If you’ve never run a focus group before, participating in one yourself can be a great way to gain some understanding of how these things work.


You might have heard of the term “groupthink”. Groupthink happens when one member presents their strong opinion, which is then adopted by the rest of the group. Whilst focus groups can be a rich, multi-layered conversation in which participants respond to each other, the moderator will need to monitor that one person’s opinion doesn’t destruct the session.

Tip: to prevent groupthink, challenge group members with the opposite assumption. Further still, some e-commerce merchants will send material in advance to try engage participants before they hear others’ opinions.

Strapped for time

Your focus group should run for roughly an hour, so you won’t be able to analyse everything, like how an individual’s opinion changes over time, or what other demographics make of your idea.

Running a focus group

1. Know your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

This is the marketing concept that separates your organisation from competitors, and should always remain at the forefront of business owners’ minds. Without a USP, you won’t know who you’re pitching to.

2. Plan and research focus group material

To get the most out of your focus group, you’ll want to research and prepare your questions extensively. Open-ended and simple questions as opposed to ‘yes/no’ questions allow for a more fluid conversation. Whilst business owners probably know their product inside-out, your focus group won’t, so avoid technical jargon that can intimidate the group.

Here are some questions that are commonly asked in focus groups:

  • Overall, how interested are you in this idea?
  • What do you like the most about the product, any particular features?
  • Would you use the product? How often?
  • What kinds of things have you seen from this industry before?
  • What would you change/adjust/add? Is there anything you don’t like about the idea?
  • How likely are you to purchase this product?

3. Source appropriate participants

Focus groups are generally comprised of 7-10 individuals. This can feel like quite a lot of people for one conversation, but should contribute to a more engaging and lively dialogue. Your participants should all possess the demographic factors of your target market eg. the same age, gender, income etc. Once you’ve positioned your target market, take to social media to recruit focus group members. Ideally, each participant won’t have met before, which gives your focus group more validity.

4. The Session

When preparing your session, consider the space, and if possible seat your candidates in a circle, as this set-up is known for a more open and fluid conversation. Ask participants to show up in advance so that you can begin promptly and get the most out of the allocated time. If you’re using equipment to record the session, make sure contributors have given consent first. You can choose to run the session yourself or hire a moderator.

Tip: try to keep your affiliation with the business to a minimum, as this can affect the integrity of your research. Nonetheless, business owners who do participate in focus groups can respond straight away to the group, perhaps having a more thorough conversation, whilst opinions are fresh.

5. Analyse your insights

Once your session is complete, you should have some pretty extensive notes, or recordings of the session to listen back to. As you’re transcribing your notes, response patterns will become more prevalent. Consider these in relation to the initial objective that you set. Were you surprised by the responses and what you found out? What new insights did your focus group conceive?

Focus groups can change your own perspective and uncover findings that you wouldn't otherwise have predicted. They can also lead to more questions, so it’s not uncommon to collect your findings and modify the next session accordingly. When you get to a point where you’re collecting the same feedback repeatedly, action needs to take place.

Let's get started!

Ready to start your focus group? We can help you in the lead up to your product launch. Get in touch with Elkfox and we can help you take your Shopify store to the next level.