A Different Kind of Panel

The SME Series from BVA BDRC

Interview with Alexia Sichere & Maelle Pochat, founders of the consumer product review site Try & Review

In 2016, two French entrepreneurs in Singapore decided to set up a product review site where consumers could share their thoughts and opinions about consumer products. The site was called Try & Review. Not unlike hotel review sites, it was intended to be a repository of honest opinion on consumers’ experiences with brands, but with more everyday categories such as FMCG and beauty products.

The idea was not new – these sites had been established in Europe and North America, where brands gave away free samples and products for testing to obtain consumer feedback on them – but the concept at the time was not known in Asia.

Alexia Sichere, comments, “We saw the opportunity in Asia because no one was doing it, Asians love freebies, and brands need the feedback. Furthermore, there was a boom of e-commerce and the ‘power of reviews’.”

When we started out, there was a risk that, after sending people the products, they would not provide the reviews – there was no contract and no payment to our testers! However, we found that people who opt into our ‘research’ have a genuine interest in the product category and are therefore keen to share their views.

The other challenge was that, sometimes, Asian consumers are reluctant to share negative feedback. Consequently, we needed to ‘educate’ them on the benefits of providing both positive and negative points of view. We also had to do the same with clients – for example, on how best to accept negative reviews in the public domain (i.e. on their website), and how to manage these accordingly, such as by providing the consumer with alternative products. But the benefit of showing both positive and negative feedback together is that it actually makes the positive feedback more authentic. We also use the testers to develop social media campaigns for those products they rate highly – again, this is far more authentic than, say, using celebrity endorsements, which is becoming a somewhat passé (and expensive) method of brand promotion.

Today, the new challenge is our international expansion. We now have panels across SE Asia and in Hong Kong, and clients across the region. Maelle comments, “As a small business, we have to be very careful about costs and how we manage the business. As we expanded regionally, we found some markets such as Thailand to be quite dynamic, and we need to serve clients here directly.

“We seek to concentrate staff with different language skills in Singapore to run the regional business. But as the business expands, we might need to consider setting up offices in other countries. This is a huge step as we need to have senior people in these markets, who are often hard to find.”

The next opportunity is the wider application of our panel to other forms of research besides product tests and reviews. In partnership with BDRC, we undertook a pilot study to look at the general behaviour of the consumers in our panel in relation to the product categories they are interested in. From this study, BDRC showed us how they exhibited characteristics of more advanced consumers in the market. That is, they are researching and using up-and-coming brands, buying them from different channels, and they are also able to articulate their needs and views on these products far better than ‘ordinary consumers’. We are now working with BDRC to undertake annual trends studies for brands, to help them identify and plan for the future of their product categories.

Alexia and Maelle have not used market research firms for their own business, but they understand their value, even if they are a bit expensive for a small business. Indeed, they admit that market research might have helped them to avoid some costly errors that many small businesses make in their early years. But they tap into the available resources that many start-ups can get access to in order to help guide their decision-making.  For example, they have presented their business model to a senior panel of experienced business people, who have in turn critiqued the business and given advice related to specific business challenges.

Alexia comments, “We take a very considered approach to business. As two entrepreneurs, we can regulate each other’s decisions. One person can come up with an idea, the other can challenge it, and maybe modify it. To make a decision, we have to have a set of arguments that lead to an action.”

This is evidence-based research that all companies, big and small, should use.