One critical step in new product development is selecting from among multiple possible product concepts the one that the firm will carry forward into the marketplace. There is a need for low-cost, parallel testing of the appeal of new product concepts, the results of which closely mirror ultimate market performance.
In this article, the authors first describe an Internet-based product concept testing method they developed that incorporates virtual prototypes of new product concepts, substituting them for physical prototypes. The method can be used with either static representations of the products or with dynamic representations that demonstrate how the product works through a simulated video clip of its operation. The objective of this method is to allow design teams to select the best of several new concepts within a product category with which to proceed, without having to develop physical prototypes.
The authors then provide a rigorous test of both virtual prototype methods against tests using both physical prototypes and attribute-only (i.e., no visuals), full-profile conjoint analysis. Nine concepts compete against two actual products in the tests. Market shares from the test using the physical prototypes are defined as the “actual” market shares. Predicted market shares for the attribute-only, full-profile conjoint analysis and each of the two virtual prototype methods are compared to those obtained for the physical prototypes.
Both static and animated virtual prototype tests produced market shares that closely mirrored those obtained with the physical products, outperforming the set of predictions across the full range of products produced in the attribute-only conjoint analysis. Interestingly, the attribute-only conjoint analysis identified the top three products, in correct order. It was unable to differentiate performance below these top three products. Furthermore, it predicted market shares for the top three products to be well below those achieved using physical prototypes.
As virtual prototypes cost considerably less to build and test than their physical counterparts, design teams using Internet-based product concept research may be able to afford to explore a much larger number of concepts. Virtual prototypes and the testing methods associated with them may help reduce the uncertainty and cost of new product introductions by allowing more ideas to be concept tested in parallel with target consumers.