In addition to doing your own market research and soliciting customers' opinions through surveys, your company can take advantage of consumer panels to get specific and timely ongoing feedback about your brand, products and business practices. Not only can you customize consumer panels to get insight from a certain audience or to achieve a specific purpose, but you gain benefits in terms of innovative product ideas, current trend information and increased customer loyalty.

Understanding consumer panels advantages and disadvantages can help you determine when and how to use them for your business.

Consumer Panel vs. Focus Group

Before exploring consumer panels advantages and disadvantages, it helps to know how consumer panels differ from focus groups as the two are often confused. When using a consumer panel, a company gathers people from the general public to get ongoing feedback that helps with market research and product development. This group can meet as often as needed to test products and suggest improvements. A focus group, however, involves getting people together to hear their opinions just once for a specific purpose, such as getting impressions before a final product launch.

Both options provide you with valuable information about product ideas and trends. However, a consumer panel can serve you better in the long term for ongoing feedback, while a focus group may offer fresher perspectives since you typically get a different group of people each time.

You Can Customize Panels

Whether your goal is to learn about the latest product trends, explore consumer behavior or get detailed impressions of your brand, an advantage of consumer panels is that you can develop them for a specific customer base or intended purpose.

For example, you could run a generic panel to explore how customers use your products or services, or you can get together customers with specific training in problem solving to offer creative insight on ways to improve your products and develop new ones. You can even gather loyal customers to find out what exactly makes them choose your company over others so that you can leverage those advantages.

Panels Help With Product Development

A consumer panel can help you determine which offerings your customers would like to see as well as give you a way to monitor how your development process is going. When your company is early in the product development process, you can use a consumer panel to get opinions on the features, appearance, size, names and even packaging for the product.

You can then let your panel try your prototype and use their detailed feedback to make changes so that the product is ready for the market. You can even use a trained focus group to gather innovative product and service ideas at the conceptual stage.

Besides helping you develop products and services, a consumer panel offers insight that gives you a close look at how customers think and behave over a period of time. This data can help you keep up with trends so that you can make changes to your brand, customer service processes, distribution methods and marketing techniques that help you retain your customers and compete better in the industry. Even better, the trend data you obtain from panels is usually up to date, specific and relatively cheap to obtain.

As an example, a consumer panel for a grocery store might indicate that customers would prefer a faster checkout process like the mobile checkout app that the store's competitor offers. It might also show a customer preference toward a grocery delivery service that the company can consider to gain more customers.

Panels Increase Customer Loyalty

Getting customers involved in the company's research and decision-making processes comes with the benefit of making those customers more loyal. Not only will these customers probably spend more money at your company and help your bottom line increase, but they may even recommend you to their friends and family.

At the same time, your company reputation can also see a positive impact when the public notices that you care about customers' opinions when deciding how you do business.

Consider Consumer Panel Disadvantages

While consumer panels can provide you with accurate information, bias can hurt the data quality if you don't select participant groups wisely. At the same time, you run the risk that some panel members may be outliers and offer insights that aren't representative of the rest of your customers.

Your company will also need to be able to commit to using the panels and will need the expertise to make appropriate decisions from that data for it to be valuable.