Traditionally, a business conceives a product or service, develops it to a sellable state, and then unleashes it on the marketplace, ready to purchased by consumers. But you may heard of other alternatives that exist. One method that you may have seen talked about is called shadow testing.
What Is Shadow Testing?
Shadow testing is a form of selling a offer before it actually exists. By gauging the response to your hypothetical offer, your business can get critical feedback on the viability of what you are selling. Having customers vote by offering their feedback on what needs to improve to secure their preorders is almost akin to the perennial car salesman's line, “what can I do to get you into this car today?”
Ways to Shadow Test
There's no limit to how many different ways you can shadow test. It is merely limited to your ingenuity.
Basically, the concept is to test an idea while keeping your identity as obscured as possible. One way is to create a “fake” crowdfunding page on say, Kickstarter, and see if the marketplace responds by offering their donations. Of course, you should definitely take down the page if you aren't close to bringing your idea to fruition; however, if you are able to fulfill your end of the crowdfunding bargain, then consider this the first step towards knowing the feasibility of your idea. For more on crowdfunding, be sure to check out our article here.
Another method is to create a free website Creating a Website, launch an online survey about the particulars of your product, email the potential customers, and ask for their feedback. Offering incentives, including future discounts or small perks, can give you very honest feedback that you can use to retool your ideas until they are custom tailored to what the marketplace demands. Be sure to keep the list of emails to use in your database to contact them with your real offer when it becomes available.
To elaborate on the previous idea, you can create a fake competitor website offering what you propose to sell, offering incentives that your company doesn't currently offer to see if anyone jumps ship. Of course, if you do have customers who prefer the “competition”, simply change your offerings to meet the demand.
Is shadow testing devious and black hat? Not entirely, but if you're not careful, it can be. In effect, you are using the marketplace (and maybe your customer base) as guinea pigs.
Ethically, you must be upfront with your potential customers (and especially your existing customers) that what you are offering is still in development and may not be readily available. Anyone can obviously see that this is a risky method, especially when entrepreneurs live and die on how they are perceived by their customers. If you succeed, you can be seen as having foresight into delivering the needs and desires of your fanbase. For some companies, especially start-ups, that can benefit from sharing their trials and tribulations with their supporters, shadow testing shows that you're willing to compromise in real-time with the ever-changing wants of consumers.
As a quick example, offering a Christmas package to your customers may seem like a great idea, but you may miss out on that you're excluding other religious denominations (or lack thereof) that may see your package as myopic and non-inclusive. Having that faux pas disappear into the ether of the Internet is preferable than having it reflect onto your company.
From the Shadows…
Ultimately, it is up to you to decide whether shadow testing is right for you. This method of testing can minimize the risk of your project by gathering data from real customers as soon as possible. And minimizing risk is something all entrepreneurs can agree on is a good thing.