What is a central location test?

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What is a central location test?

Essentially, it’s a way of carrying out product market research that’s done in a controlled environment, not in the participant’s home.

In this way, it differs from methods like online surveys or online communities. Sometimes, central location tests are referred to as “hall tests”.

The main reason to use these tests is to be able to test physical products in a face-to-face setting, exercising more control of the testing process. By being in the room with the participants, it’s easier to control for bias, engage more with the process, and ideally gain accurate and useful results.

In this article, we’ll dive a little deeper into the reasons for carrying out central location tests, the different types available, and share best practice tips for conducting this type of research. Let’s get started.

Why Conduct A Central Location Test?

Here are some of the most common reasons for conducting a central location test for your products:

  • It helps minimize bias. In a central location test, everyone is monitored together in the same space. It’s easy to eliminate outside influences, present questions in the same order to avoid confusion and ensure participants answer logically.
  • You can observe body language and other types of indirect feedback. This isn’t always possible online, but it can be very useful when making decisions. Participants might also say things or raise questions that they wouldn’t have the chance to do otherwise, which can lead to a more detailed understanding of their opinion.
  • You can test things like taste, smell, and touch, which typically isn’t always possible if the test is conducted at home, without the logistical challenge of sending products to each respondent.
  • It’s convenient. Testing large numbers of people in the same place at the same time helps save time and resources.
  • You can ask follow-up questions and tailor interactions with participants in real-time based on their responses. This allows you to go further to capture additional information than might be possible with other testing methods.

The Different Types of Central Location Tests

There are a number of different ways to carry out your central location tests. Here are the main models:

  • Monadic. This is where everyone focuses on the same product. The goal is simple: assess how well it would work if taken to market.
  • Paired comparison. Here, participants compare two products and choose which one they think is best.
  • Sequential monadic. First, participants assess one product, as in the monadic model. Then, they move on to a second product and assess that. Finally, they compare the two.
  • Proto-monadic. This is slightly different from the above. Participants start by assessing one product (product A), then go straight into comparing it with another. The order is usually rotated between participants, so each product gets to be product A an equal number of times.
  • Repeat paired comparison. Here, participants assess the same pair of products multiple times. The goal is to make sure feedback was not random or based on first impressions, with the goal of getting a more accurate end result.

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How to Conduct a Central Location Test

Recruit the right sample of participants. This is usually done by looking at your target customer base and then scaling it down so it’s small enough for the test. The most important part is to get a representative spread but also focus only on people who really are in your target demographic.

Find a good venue. This will depend on how many people you are planning to engage. It also needs to accommodate the logistical needs of the test. We have a network of tried and tested venues we’ve used over the years in multiple markets. 

Make sure you’re working with a trained team. Your team needs to be trained to ask questions, monitor responses, and ask any required follow-up questions. They’ll need to know how to do this in a way that avoids bias and doesn’t steer the participant in a certain direction.

Design the survey well. Here are some tips:

  • Include an introduction to the survey. This can be written or verbally delivered, but it should clearly explain how everything works, address any confusion, and explain the reasons behind the survey.
  • Start with some screening questions. These are usually based on things like age and profession, and the goal is to disqualify candidates who don’t fit into your target demographic or who simply aren’t a good fit. Screening can also be done in advance if you are pre-recruiting for the central location test. 
  • Make sure the questions follow logically and intuitively. Group similar questions together, and try not to mislead or confuse your participants.

Analyze and take action. Once the central location test is complete, it’s time to analyze the results and implement your findings. This is perhaps the most important part — if you do this incorrectly, you risk wasting the investment in the entire process. Ensure the results are clearly presented, and any key insights are highlighted so your stakeholders can understand them. This way, you’ll be able to use the findings to convince others in your company and drive real action.

Is Central location testing (CLT) cost-effective?

Central location testing can be a cost-effective approach for market research, depending on the specific context and research objectives. CLT allows researchers to gather data from a large number of participants in a controlled environment, which can offer cost savings compared to conducting individual interviews or surveys. By bringing participants to a central location, researchers can efficiently collect data from multiple individuals within a short period.

Additionally, the centralized setting allows for standardized procedures, streamlined logistics, and easier management of participant recruitment. However, it’s important to note that the cost-effectiveness of CLT depends on factors such as the size of the target population, the complexity of the research objectives, and the resources required for the facility and equipment rental. CLT may require additional costs for participant incentives, venue rental, moderator fees, audiovisual equipment, and data analysis.

Researchers should carefully plan and design the CLT study to maximise cost-effectiveness, ensuring that the sample size, research objectives, and methodology align with the budget and desired outcomes. It’s also worth considering alternative research methods, such as online surveys or virtual focus groups, which may offer cost advantages in certain situations.

While central location testing can provide valuable insights and efficiencies, its cost-effectiveness will vary depending on the research context and careful consideration of budgetary constraints.

Focus Groups and Central Location Testing

Focus groups are a commonly used technique within CLT. In focus groups, a small group of individuals is brought together to engage in a guided discussion led by a moderator. This interactive format allows researchers to delve deep into participants’ opinions, attitudes, and preferences. Through open and dynamic group conversations, focus groups provide qualitative insights into consumer perceptions, motivations, and behaviours. By incorporating focus groups into CLT, businesses can gain valuable feedback, generate ideas, and uncover nuanced insights to inform decision-making and drive product development. The rich and interactive nature of focus groups makes them a powerful tool for understanding consumer perspectives and refining strategies to create products that better meet customer needs.

Challenges and How to Avoid Them

If your central location test is properly planned, uses trained staff, and is professionally designed, it should run smoothly. However, here are some challenges to look out for.

  • Interviewer cheating. Sometimes interviewers can deliberately provoke biases or push participants towards certain answers. This can be avoided by working with a trusted partner and reliable staff.
  • For certain types of central location tests — for instance, where you’re recruiting people from a mall and then bringing them to a central location testing facility, you can face problems in recruiting if there are fewer shoppers than usual. For this reason, it’s best to organize tests and recruit participants in advance.
  • Biased responses to interviewers. Sometimes, participants might have a very positive psychological response to their interviewer. Maybe they like their personality or their looks. In these cases, they can give answers that might differ from their beliefs. This is another reason why training your interviewers carefully is so important.

Central location testing is a great way to get feedback on your products in a face-to-face environment with a reduced risk of bias. It allows for more interaction between interviewers and participants, delivering much more accurate and nuanced responses.

At Kadence, it’s our job to ensure you create and conduct the most effective market research projects possible — including central location tests and surveys. To find out more about how we can help, reach out to us and request a proposal.