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.