Consumer Geo-Tracking Is Changing The Game for QSR And Shopper Insights
May 10, 2018

Going, Going, Gone: The Impending Death of The Online Survey

With the rise of mobile technology, declines in PC sales and usage, growing concerns about bots and fraud, and a variety of other unfavorable trends well known to most researchers, the future of the online survey has seemed uncertain for some time.  And now its demise finally appears to be visible on the horizon.  What’s our evidence? We’ve begun to see a big shift in our clients’ spend away from traditional online surveys to app-based (read carefully: app-based) mobile surveys that overcome so many of the shortcomings inherent in today’s traditional online surveys.  It’s not that our clients have not had concerns about online surveys – particularly the data quality – for quite some time. They have (see the latest GRIT Report on market research trends if you want to see how acute these concerns are, or the graphic below).  It’s just that until recently they had no alternative for conducting quant research. Now that sophisticated app-based mobile research technology is here and proven, we see it ushering in a new era in quant research, ultimately sending the online survey to its grave.

Outlook Regarding Future Online Sample Quality Among Market Research Professionals, May 2018



We want to stress an absolutely critical point: an app-based mobile survey IS NOT an online survey that has been optimized for mobile.  An app-based mobile survey is designed to be taken by the participant using a specific mobile market research app that the participant already has on their phone because they are a member of a mobile market research panel.  We have partnered closely with the mobile app and panel provider MFour, whose 2 million members all have downloaded the Surveys On The Go mobile market research app and represent a broad cross-section of American consumers.

Why is app-based survey data quality so much better?  First and foremost are the significant additional fraud protections that online panels can’t replicate.  To date, the bots that are wreaking havoc in so many online surveys simply don’t exist for app-based market research, meaning every app-based response comes from a real participant. And while professional offshore and gig-economy survey takers with multiple accounts on a given panel are thought to be prevalent in online panels, the only way for an individual to take an app-based survey multiple times is to have multiple phones with the app on each one; an expensive and exceedingly rare possibility.  Additionally, while online panel providers and their agents often sell and resell their members to each other, mobile-app panel members are captive solely to one panel company so they can never appear multiple times in a single study. Put it all together, and app-based research offers data quality advantages over online surveys that are nothing short of startling.

The benefits we’ve seen from app-based surveys are not just related to enhanced data quality.  As we’ve written about before, app-based mobile research allows us to do some amazing things that just can’t be done online, like target surveys based upon location (for example, on the way into Wal-Mart).  It also allows us to invite and screen participants based upon their geotracked past behavior (for example, having visited McDonald’s 3x / week for the last three months), which is much more reliable than asking the participant to recall where they’ve been.  And photos and videos taken by participants out in the real world bring the researcher into the participants’ lives in ways that no online survey taken at a PC can.

For a variety of reasons, not every quant survey is feasible for app-based mobile.  But we do firmly believe that the default approach for every quant study should now be to look at the feasibility of app-based mobile first, and fall-back to traditional online research only when app-based mobile cannot get the job done.  We feel confident in saying that almost everyone working in research today will come to see the day – in the not too distant future – when they will write their last online survey.  

What do you think?  Do you see online surveys fading the way we do?  We’d love to hear your thoughts?

For help evaluating the benefits of app-based versus traditional online surveys for your next quant research project, please reach out to us.  

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