Online Research: Temptations and Limitations

Internet research is quickly gaining popularity as a marketing research method. In fact, growth of research via the web has increased six times the rate of total market research. The advantages of Internet research include real-time reporting, reduced costs, personalization, higher response rates, and the ability to contact hard-to-reach targets. But what are the disadvantages?

A recent American Psychology article detailed several disadvantages of online surveys. We must be careful of sample bias that effects the generalizability of your data. Unlike random dialing of telephone numbers, nothing exists to give you a random sample of Internet users. And people who can participate in online studies tend to skew towards certain demographic profiles other than the general population. In addition, response rates for online surveys versus paper are generally lower. Online participants may drop out before completing a study and there is often difficulty in getting a hold of them at a later time. This is because email addresses change more frequently than phone numbers and mailing addresses. Online also runs the risks of multiple submissions or flooding a site and people may act differently online than they do in real-life social interactions. Also are participants who they say they are? With an in-person study, you can see that someone is who he or she says they are.

Another fact to consider is that the vast majority of online research is quantitative with companies using applications like SurveyMonkey and Zoomerang. There are limitations in conducting qualitative research online – how do you get someone to taste your product or what if you need to observe their behavior? Internet research is gaining ground and may be attractive because of its immediacy and lower cost, but it is good for us all to also keep in mind its limitations.

US Census: Bad Ads But Great Information

The US Census campaign was bad marketing, but their website is a goldmine of marketing information. If you’ve never done research there, give it a try. After a little searching I found the 2008 Statistical Abstract from the National Data Book for “Construction & Housing: Housing and Neighborhood Quality.” This report contains two very useful charts “966 – Home Remodeling–Work Done and Amount Spent: 2006” and “Expenditures by Residential Property Owners for Improvements and Maintenance and Repairs by Type of Payment and Year Structure Built: 1995 to 2006.” The data in these charts could be very useful for a store like Home Depot trying to estimate potential sales and marketing expenditures.

In table 967. “Expenditures by Residential Property Owners for Improvements and Maintenance and Repairs by Type of Payment and Year Structure Built: 2006” there is more valuable data for the Home Depot marketing department. This data breaks down the amount of money spent on improvements, maintenance and repairs by the year the homes were built. So let’s say Home Depot wanted to do a direct mail campaign. With this information they could segment the campaign for the most effectiveness. According to the chart homes built from 1980 to 2003 represent $70,336,000,000, homes built form 1960 to 1979 $30,790,000,000 and $34,950.000,000 for houses built before 1960. Home Depot could save production and postage expenses by sending the mailing only to the households most likely to perform improvements, maintenance or repairs.

Another useful table in this report is Table 966. “Home Remodeling–Work Done and Amount Spent: 2006.” This chart helps us narrow down the types of remodeling jobs people are performing. For our Home Depot direct mail campaign this could help them decide on the most relevant promotional message. By comparing the remodeling project categories by number of households amount of money spent we can isolate the projects with the most profit potential. The top remodeling projects by type are: 1 – remodel bathroom, 2  – carpeting, 3 – remodel bathroom, and 4 – roofing. The highest spending per remodeling project is 1 – roofing, 2 – remodel kitchen, 3 – remodel bathroom, and 4 – add deck/porch/patio. By combining these numbers we end up with remodeling a kitchen or bathroom as an attractive promotional message for the campaign. This information could further be combined with additional secondary data about the seasonality of remodeling projects to further pinpoint Home Depot’s marketing campaign.

We all pay for this data to be collected we might at well start using it. What can you find for your business or research project?