5 Myths About Online Respondents—Debunked

Jul 28, 2016

Online market research can be the perfect solution for quick decision-making, gathering feedback on sensitive issues, or accessing in-the-moment reactions. However, the most important component of online research is often the part that gets the most flack, and that’s the respondents. There are plenty of myths surrounding the quality, characteristics, and behavior of online respondents, so we decided to take on a few of them below.

1. Online respondents are just people who sit at home on the computer all day.

The most popular time for respondents to answer market surveys is between 5 and 8 PM local time (source: GreenBook), which suggests that our respondents are busy during normal working hours and not able to take part in online surveys.

Regardless of the amount of time that people actually spend on the computer, we focus our efforts on screening for the right people according to the breadth of the research. For example, when designing a project investigating what features office workers would like to see in a printer, we would only accept people who regularly use printers in an office environment and eliminate those who don’t, ensuring our respondents have the necessary, relevant experience and are not just people who happen to be on their computer all day, waiting to take a survey.

2. There is no difference between desktop and mobile respondents.

Nearly half of our respondents take our surveys on mobile, and optimizing the experience for them is integral to continue reaching the widest range of respondents. People tend to have their phones with them all of the time, so we need to give our respondents the option of participating in studies in the way that is most convenient and comfortable to them.

Imagine the differences that you experience when you’re browsing the internet on your phone compared to when you are on your laptop or desktop. On your phone, you are dealing with a much smaller screen and more likely to be out and about in the world and interacting with it. Because of that, mobile respondents are able to do things like in-store studies where they answer questions about what they’re seeing in-aisle and what they are experiencing in the moment.

Respondents using a laptop or desktop are generally sitting in one place, using a larger screen, and are more reflective on experiences. It might be easier for a desktop user to look at a detailed advertisement and respond thoughtfully to specific parts of it. Additionally, questions about how an in-store experience compares to others they’ve experienced in the past would be easier for them to answer with time to sit and reflect.

3. Online market research cannot access hard-to-reach audiences.

I recently spent a weekend with a friend of mine and her 3-year-old, and I’m pretty sure she got to sit down and relax maybe once the entire weekend. Unsurprisingly, a lot of companies want to talk to moms just like her, since in addition to demanding 26 hours of attention each day, young kids require a LOT of products.

Moms with young kids, teenagers, organic shoppers—these consumers can be hard to reach. Our platform has reach across panel providers globally, and respondents are double-screened through our platform based on the demographic, behavioral, and psychographic parameters defined by our clients to ensure that we reach the right target audience. We work with clients to fit as much information into those screening questions as possible, refining and modifying the scope of the project until we find the consumers who are compatible with the needs of the study. This process allows us to focus our search on those hard-to-reach consumers and make sure that they will be able to provide helpful feedback on our studies.

4. Online panels cannot provide an adequate sample size.

54% of people around the world use the internet, a number that jumps to 87% when you look at more advanced economies (source: pewglobal.org). Our sample providers have millions of people on their panels who have signed up to be contacted to take online studies. Given this, it is relatively easy for our providers to find the right sample to meet our clients’ needs, whether domestically or globally.

The real question when conducting online market research is figuring out just what an adequate sample size is, and that’s a question best answered when the client and researcher are planning the study and discussing key research inquiries and objectives. For example, when taking a qualitative approach, you want to be sure you have a sufficient number of participants to represent meaningful insights, but not so many that some respondents feel overwhelmed or the moderator is not able to engage with everybody. Online research certainly has the capabilities to gather a satisfactory sample size, but it’s up to the research team and client to determine just what that number is.

5. Online responses are hardly ever good enough quality to actually use.

Let’s go back to the visit I had with my friend and her 3-year-old. She was on social media on her phone throughout the weekend, posting about what products she liked and which ones she wouldn’t use again. Her other friends with kids do the same thing. People today are used to having online outlets for sharing their opinions, and the fact that it’s online rarely diminishes their honesty or consumer insights. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, so participants tend to get invested in studies where they are asked specifically to share their opinions.

This is especially true for studies that deal with sensitive topics. For example, if someone has an issue like incontinence, an online study can give them the chance to anonymously express their frustrations and talk about their experiences with other people who know what they’re going through.

Additionally, our researchers are in studies moderating and making sure that the respondents are providing detailed, quality answers. We can remove respondents if they are not providing complete or relevant answers and can probe for more details.

It’s important to thoroughly explore online research methodologies in order to understand if it’s the right way to go based on your research needs and goals. Since the speed, affordability, and flexibility of agile market research sometimes sound too good to be true, we field questions like these all the time, and we’re always happy to shed light on any misconceptions. To learn about more myths surrounding agile market research that we’ve debunked, check out the eGuide below.

Written By

Sara Taggart

Sara Taggart

Senior Client Services Manager

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