An unconventional research method helps one company develop the perfect showerhead for today’s consumers.

Moen's new Revolution massaging showerhead.
"Pay close attention to the man behind the (shower) curtain."

You don't need to be a wizard and read the minds of your clients to figure out their wants and needs. All you ever wanted to know about the showering habits of consumers has been stripped bare, so to speak.

Moen Inc., in its quest to develop the perfect showerhead for today's bathers, set out to answer some questions in a most unconventional way. With the help of QualiData Inc., an observational research company with offices in New York and San Francisco, Moen recruited nearly 35 not-too-shy volunteers from different age groups, who agreed to let the company videotape them in their homes' showers. Getting au natural was the key to discovering:

  • What people actually do in the shower;

  • What benefits consumers look for in a showerhead; and

  • How consumers reach a decision in showerhead purchases.

"This research was not about generalizing the public to come up with a product. It was about discovery — how do people interact with water in the shower?" says Jack Suvak, director of marketing research for Moen.

But why go buff?

"If we were to simply ask people what they did in the shower, we might get a 20-25 percent answer of what actually goes on. If we were to take them to a testing facility to shower, we might get 30 percent of what they do. But by being in their homes — in their showers — we get a 70-75 percent accurate response," Suvak explains.

It's this difference in percentages that became very significant to understanding human behavior in the shower.

In all, there were six to eight forms of research conducted to form a "mosaic of understanding" of consumer shower habits. Besides videotaping people's shower routines, Moen’s research and development team conducted in-depth interviews with people who kept diaries of their shower experiences, and surveyed shoppers in the showerhead aisle. Bathing "experts" were also questioned and interviewed — hydrotherapists and the like.

Some of the more interesting findings include the fact that maneuverability is quite limited in the shower. "People are operating blind in the shower. They've either got their eyes closed, or they’re not wearing their contacts, or the lighting is not that great," Suvak says. And bathers frequently have only one free hand, with the other used for balance or holding bath accessories (soap, washcloth, etc.).

The research also uncovered some showering myths: More force is not always better, higher water flow isn't always more stimulating, and a 20-function showerhead is not always what a consumer wants or needs.

Other findings include:

  • Consumers cite force, frequency and coverage as the most important features they look for in a new showerhead.

  • People use only one or two settings on a multifunction showerhead.

  • Most people think they spend up to 20 minutes in the shower, but actually shower in 10 minutes or less.

Revolution also comes in a handshower.

You Want A Revolution

Moen also wished to know how its customers come to make a decision on a particular showerhead. Through consumer interviews and surveys, the company found that 41 percent wished to replace worn or broken showerhead units; 32 percent replace existing showerheads to add new functions; 64 percent look for a showerhead that provides greater water flow; and 69 percent are in search of a massage setting.

After months of gathering information from these research studies, Moen's new product development team's end result was its new Revolution™ massaging showerhead. It takes water, spins each drop, then twirls the entire stream for a complete-coverage shower experience.

"The ideation, development and testing of this product really revolved around our extensive use of research," says Suvak. "Showering is a multisensory experience: there's the spray of water, humidity levels, and some people play music or use aromatherapy. These were all taken into consideration as we developed Revolution."

Features of this new showerhead include a continuous-range Freedom-Dial™ that allows bathers to maneuver the water's force, frequency and coverage. In the past, to adjust a traditional multifunction showerhead, users had to reach directly into the main water stream. Located at the base of the showerhead, the dial, made of a non-slip material, eliminates preset showerhead functions and is easy to use with one hand and eyes closed.

"People like several different types of settings. Now do they use all 20? No, they might use one or two. But within a household, everyone moderates their own personal shower experience."

The Revolution showerhead offers the adjustment of water spray on the body, its frequency, and force. It can be a wide soft spray or change easily to a narrow, more forceful stream.

The Future Of Research

This form of observational research used by Moen is not new. Methods such as these have been used in the development of several products, such as handheld computers and cameras.

Moen has said it will continue this type of observational research for future product development. The kitchen is especially ripe for attention. Whether it's watching how people wash dishes or cook a meal, or generally maneuver about the working space, observing consumers as they operate a home's every-day objects can pay off.

"We've received a positive response since Revolution's debut last fall," says Ginny Long, Moen’s director of public affairs. "So much so that we've added a handshower version earlier this year."

With such "bare facts" on hand, it won't be difficult for industry manufacturers to continue to give consumers what they want.