Market Research and Technology

Modern Technology and Market Research

By Staff Writer
In March 28, 2013

In the not so distant past, the majority of consumer market research was conducted over the phone, through the mail or in person. These three methods represented the only “interactive media” at the time and landline telephone was the dominent research vehicle. Today it is estimated that online accounts for over half of the total volume of US survey collection. Modern technology has revolutionized consumer research in an amazingly short time, providing both new opportunities and new challenges of accuracy.

Landline Telephone

Landline Telephone

Telephones were the ideal data collection vehicle for decades. Virtually every American household had at least one landline and that translated into excellent coverage from which to draw a sample. At the same time, data collection firms could purchase names and phone number lists that already met target respondent demographic parameters thereby reducing screening time and costs. Life was good. For a while.

However, even before new technology entered the research picture, the invasion of telemarketing calls (prior to “do not call” lists,) substantially reduced respondent participation rates increasing costs and decreasing reliability.



Online research initially was the answer to the decline in telephone response rates. Unlike phone surveys, it is self-administered thus eliminating interviewer bias and cost. Additionally, more questions can be asked, visuals can be used and results are tabulated as entered by the respondents. Online access was growing rapidly providing wide US coverage. Fast, accurate and inexpensive. Life was good again. Telephone was out. For a while.

As online usage expanded, so did unwanted email. Anti-spam software became the “do not call” list for email. Randomly sent email invitations for a survey began to wind up in junk mail. Similar to telephone research, response rates began to plummet.

The solution became online panels where consumers are incentivized in advance to participate in surveys. This method is widely used today and also widely challenged. While internet access is near 100%, less than 5% of US households belong to a panel and many belong to more than one. Coverage is very narrow. Results from the same questionnaire can be different from one panel to the next even though they are demographically balanced. Are panel results truly reliable or are we mainly interested in saving time and money? Maybe telephone research isn’t so bad.

Back to Telephones

Back To Telephones

In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in telephone research due to its wide coverage and more random participation by consumers. Response rates are improving as households are receiving fewer calls due to the “do not call” lists.

The latest challenge however, is the increasing use of mobile phones. It is estimated that 36% of US households have a cell phone only and 16% have a cell and a landline but use their mobile phone more often. A landline phone is typically a household phone where mobile phones are personal and portable making the targeted respondents more elusive. Better lists of names and mobile phone numbers are becoming available and the interviews are becoming shorter and/or pre-scheduled.

To increase efficiency, time and cost, automated telephone polls and surveys are on the rise. We are all aware of these “surveys” when we call a customer service number (or they call us) and speak with a computer activated voice. Similar to online surveys, no interviewers are required and results can be rapidly tabulated. Phone surveys can now be fast and inexpensive. Will they continue to grow within the field of market research? How do we know for sure who participated in the survey?

Back to Online

Mobile phones have not only changed the way telephone surveys are conducted, but they are also changing online research as well. With an ever-increasing use of smartphones, especially among traditionally hard to reach segments like young adults and minority groups, market research is quickly embracing the technology. Smartphones open research opportunities well beyond traditional research. With geofencing technology that identifies a respondent’s location for example, interviews can capture real “in the moment” purchase decisions. Smartphone research is at its infancy today, but with coverage expanding, may become the dominant vehicle in the future much like landline telephone research was in the past.

My prognosis is that all of these techniques will be alive and well, each finding its niche in the future. We will be seeing more studies that combine these methods thus demanding more generalization than specialization among researchers. Life will be great. Where do you think its all going?

Staff Writer

So who is this mysterious staff writer? Could be anyone really, as long as they meet our very strict criteria. 1) Worked with us in one capacity or another. 2) Have something pretty interesting to say. 3) Want to use our blog to say it. See? Told ya they were strict!