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Which data collection method?

We examine the pros and cons of using different methods for research data collection, and when they work best.

October 1st 2013, by glyn

You have a wider choice of data collection methods for market research than ever before, but it's still important to choose the method most likely to help you makes decisions from your data.

You should look first at which methods will achieve a good response rate, gain the largest sample of data, and provide the most accurate feedback. The other aspects to consider are:

  • How do your customers already interact with you?
  • What method might the participants prefer?
  • How are hard to reach groups identified and feedback included?
  • Is there any bias when only one data collection method is applied?
  • Which sector is the research sample drawn from?

Here are some of the most common methods of collecting market research data, and in what situation they work best:

Face-to-Face Interviewing

In business environments face-to-face qualitative research is applied with significant benefit in understanding executive expectations, their perceptions, best practice and benchmarking.

Pros: During a face-to-face interview, respondents have time to consider their response, interviewers can probe response to gain in depth understanding of a response, the why and how. Where material is demonstrated for reaction this is better suited to one on one situations.

Cons: Maintaining consistent levels of quality with face to face interviews is more difficult than with telephone interviews. Face-to-face interviews need monitors in attendance for part of the time and quality back-checks must be implemented. On many occasions interviewers work in isolation and quality of the work is dependent on the conscientiousness of the individual.

Usage: This method is applied in different circumstances and is dependent on the sampling approach applied; we often see face-to-face interviewing used in public sector studies, retail product testing and environmental research.

Telephone Interviews

The significant advantage of telephone interviews against face-to-face interviewing is speed and lower cost. These are most evident in business-to-business market research.

Pros: Cheaper and faster than face-to-face interviewing, you can fit around 7, 15-minute telephone research calls in on a good day, but in the same time only 1 or 2 interviews can be achieved face-to-face.

Cons: There are sometimes good reasons for not using telephone interviewing. Visual aids are difficult (although not impossible) to use and if respondents need to consider a number of pre-determined factors in order to test their views it is often hard for the respondents to hold more than five or six factors in their mind.

Usage: Despite these limitations, the advantages of telephone interviewing data collection are considerable and the method is highly favoured by a number of our clients.

Telephone interviewing is applied by our team across most business sectors. In business environments the approach is well received through appropriate positioning of interviews. In consumer sectors, we use specific interviewer engagement training to support participation, enhancing interviewing benefits. 

Self-Completion Postal Surveys

The most influencing factor on postal survey response rates is the interest that respondents have in the subject.

Pros: You can reach a large number of people very quickly with postal self-completion questionnaires. When supported with effective communication and a visually appealing design, response rates can be very good. 

Cons: Response rates will vary considerably across survey type: where a level of authority exists in a relationship, e.g. a council body or gas supplier; it will likely achieve around a 25% response rate. In contrast, respondents receiving a questionnaire through the post enquiring about the type of pen they use is likely to yield a low response (less than 5% is likely). A survey of existing customers is likely to achieve a higher response than a non-customer survey, because there is a vested interest in and relationship between customers and the project sponsor.

Self-completion surveys depend on suitable databases containing the accurate names and postal or email addresses of respondents. If lists are out of date or have spelling mistakes in names and addresses, questionnaires will have a less positive effect and the response rates will be low.

Usage: Postal/self completion interviews are applied through different sectors; our experience includes using them to good effect in the automotive sector, utility sector and financial services sector. 

Online Surveys

Using online surveys enable effective monitoring of response rates across the research audience and targeted communication to achieve positive uptake.

Pros: While similar, web-based or email surveys have gone a long way to replacing the slower and more expensive method of postal surveys.

With technology advancements, they have become the data collection method of preference for many customer and employee satisfaction surveys, as well as service feedback and product evaluations within many B2B markets.

There are many different reasons for conducting online surveys including cost savings, time savings and improved data accuracy levels through automated routing.

Cons: Just as with postal surveys, you are at the mercy of accuracy of your contact data. A structured questionnaire format with short questions and even shorter answers work best, so if you need long, detailed responses an e-survey is probably not the best method.

Usage: Applied across sectors, such as: Automotive, Finance, Utilities, Construction, Retail and Public sector in Consumer and Business environments and when conducting employee research surveys.

To talk to us about any of these data collection methods, or to discuss any aspect of market research for your business, contact .

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