A consumer panel is a group of individuals selected by a business or organization to provide input and opinion on products and services for research on consumer behavior. Panel members are chosen to be representative of the general population or a target group.
Consumer panels are used to test public opinion in a controlled method for advertisements, products and services. Researchers can guide the focus of the panel and ask the specific questions they want to be answered. Consumer panels allow companies to test products for response with less risk than a full product launch, which requires the investment of considerably more resources. Information gathered may indicate necessary changes to make before a product is released to the wider market. Consumer panels may be used for test marketing, which is a tool used by companies to gauge probable market success or the effectiveness of a marketing campaign.
Research companies and marketing agencies often form consumer panels for independent research or on behalf of their clients, the producers. Individuals on consumer test panels may be chosen for a variety of reasons depending on the particular product. Companies may want to target a specific demographic for detailed insight on purchasing behavior or select a balanced demographic makeup to ensure that more consumers are represented. Specialists may sit on several consumer panels for numerous companies through their agency.
Purchasing behavior is often tracked through the use of consumer panels. For example, Nielsen, a global consumer research agency, tracks this information from 250,000 household consumer panels in 25 different countries. To test purchasing behavior, Neilson gathers data directly from products scanned at checkout in stores. The scanned data is sent directly to Neilson for analysis, providing an unobtrusive means to gather information about shopping behavior.
Unlike focus groups, consumer panels are usually ongoing and can be reconvened quickly for input. This continuous nature allows opinions to be tracked and updated through various changes and efforts by a company. Depending on the product and market environment, a company may decide on either a panel or a focus group.