Using Children in Consumer Research

Children are becoming more and more influential in purchase decisions and may have the final say in whether or not a product becomes a household favorite. Their insights can be extremely valuable, and not just for products aimed specifically at them. However conducting research with children comes with particular challenges. Here are a few guidelines that can be used to help reliably predict children’s preferences:

What information will the children be capable of providing?
You must keep in mind that the children’s ages will affect their ability to answer research questions.  As children age their language skills, memory, and reasoning abilities are usually more mature and allow for more complex tasks.  However, we also need to remember to consider variations in children’s abilities even at similar ages.

How do we determine the correct test methods for different ages?
Since most of testing with children is concerned with their liking of a product we need to use the hedonic methods and/or rankings and ratings scales that have been demonstrated most appropriate for each specific age group.

How do we conduct the research?
Preschool age children are preliterate and must be interviewed one-on-one.  Children ages 5-7 still require assistance, but are capable of longer scales.  With children over eight the test can be self-administered with occasional assistance from the research staff.  Remember consent must be obtained from a child’s guardian to participate.

Where should these panels be conducted?
We must strive to create an inviting and friendly environment in which the children feel comfortable.  We should avoid using an authoritarian style and refrain from any comments which the children might feel are criticisms.   It is important that we communicate in a language they understand.

When should these panels take place?
As a general rule, mornings are a good time to conduct panels, as children are usually more alert.  It is best to avoid after-school hours when they are tired and need a chance to spend some unstructured time.  For foods serve them as close to the time of day they are normally consumed.

How will we handle the fact that children influence each other?
The research setting must be carefully managed in order to control the fact that friendships and other social structures might unduly influence the study’s results.