The Benefits of Online Survey Technology for Market Researchers during Covid-19

Philip Cleave
May 21, 2020

Following the Market Research Society’s announcement that all face-to-face research should cease and the government’s subsequent lockdown to contain the Covid-19 outbreak, agencies and in-house market research teams are having to adjust their practices.

While this would have presented a major challenge for previous generations of researchers to overcome, the prevalence of online survey technology, combined with access to consumer panels offers today’s market researchers an effective alternative to keep insight flowing. Compared to when digital survey technology first emerged, the falling cost, improved speeds and increased access to the internet among the UK’s population – measured at 93% coverage in 2019 means there’s no longer a major barrier to researchers using an online market research survey to connect with nearly every respondent in their own home.

With even the most far flung corners of our planet having internet access, the reach of today’s online survey and consumer panels audiences is truly global, enabling researchers to engage with audiences across a broad range of demographics from almost anywhere in the world.

The changing face of market research during Covid-19

Whether it’s interviewing people in the street while they are wait for a bus to get their views on cutbacks to local public transport services, or an exit survey of people leaving a newly opened venue to obtain their views about the experiences they’ve just had. As a result of the Covid-19 lockdown, virtually all the scenarios and locations where researchers would have typically carried out face-to-face research are now completely closed or absent of people.

Ironically researchers are now in greatest demand in supporting the response of public service organizations, brands and communities to the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. By eliciting the views of the general public and other stakeholders about how these bodies are performing, it helps put these organizations in a better position for providing the necessary level of response. This is where the benefits of using online survey technology and consumer panels really come into their own.

Online surveys – a powerful tool for market researchers in the fight against Covid-19

Whether it’s gaging the response to retailers’ performance in keeping food shelves stocked and ensuring customer safety in their stores, to evaluating how well pharmaceutical companies and the government are administering the supply of critical medical supplies to where they are most urgently needed. The in-house market research teams or agency-based research professionals supporting them, need to be able to reach out and get answers from the public quickly, if they are to best meet the needs of a rapidly evolving situation.

Compared with the length of time and expense of many other research methods, online surveys offer an agile and cost-effective solution, which market researchers can rapidly deploy to get the feedback and results they need.

Reaching out to large audiences in a much shorter time frame

Given the anxiety that the general public and other stakeholders will be feeling during the current pandemic, the ability to reach out to them, quickly answer their questions and work to alleviate their fears is crucial.

Not only are online surveys swift to create, the ability to distribute them across a wide range of mediums from email, text or a QR code, to a link on a portal, website banner or pop-up or a social media site means you’re able to reach out to a large audience in a much shorter time frame than you would do using other market research methods. This allows organizations to gain almost instantaneous insight about what’s happening on the ground, in the minds of a huge number of people, which is vital in a fast -changing situation.

Quicker, more informed decision making

Once this feedback is collected, using built in reporting tools researchers can start to organize and analyze the data to start marking informed decisions. From smart dashboards with interactive visuals that allow data to be viewed in real-time or over any given time period, to advanced filtering, reporting options that enable researchers to drill down in detail. For greater complex analysis look for platforms with export options enabling data to be exported as .CSV or other formats such as .SAV for direct import to dedicated statistical platforms such as SPSS. Best in class platforms will also have collaboration tools built in enabling colleagues to view and analyze results in their entirety or a specific slice. These types of powerful reporting and analysis features are fundamental to allow organizations to make sense of often large rand complex data sets.

As the pandemic evolves and new policy is put into place at speed to help restrict its progress, it’s essential to be able to understand how well it’s working and being received. Fortunately, with the right survey questions and analysis tools, organizations can quickly gather and interpret feedback, helping them implement the necessary changes to alleviate any concerns and ensure new initiatives achieve the results expected.

Ensuring Research Data is Safe & Secure

Data security is also critical, particularly with larger volumes of data, which can be even more of a challenge to manage. Traditionally, many organizations have been concerned about the security of digital data and its potential to fall into the wrong hands. However, for organizations that work with the right online survey provider, this shouldn’t be an issue, because if they have the correct compliance and processes in place, data can be even more secure than under other research methods. It’s therefore important to know what accreditation and processes to look out for when searching for a new online survey partner, if you’re to obtain the highest level of security assurances about how your data is managed, accessed and stored.

To be able to offer this, look for a provider holding the following key accreditation:

Data Security through behavior and process

ISO27001 certification is internationally recognized for ensuing the highest levels of best practice among information security management system professionals. ISO27001 accredited companies are set up to minimize risk, ensure business continuity and all employees follow best practices and procedures that effectively manage data and keep the threat of a potential data breach to the absolute minimum.

Protecting Research Data From Cyber Attacks

The threat from cyber-attacks has grown in recent years, so any accreditation that can demonstrate that your provider is serious about and can effectively mitigate this risk is invaluable. Cyber Essentials Plus is one of the best accreditations in the industry for dealing with this threat. The process involves the testing of five key cyber security controls that an organization needs to have in place to meet this standard including boundary firewalls and internet gateways, secure configuration, access control, malware protection and patch management. During testing the qualified assessor needs to simulate a range of cyber-attacks to ensure that the systems in place provide the level of robust security required.

Data Storage – Keep It In the UK

The final area that many organizations don’t spend enough time to consider when researching a new survey provider, is where their data will be hosted. Even if a provider is UK based, they may be hosting your data in a different country, which will be subject to different laws that can have implications for the security of personal data.

Thanks to UK legislation, providers that host your data on UK based servers are required to provide adequate protection for all customer data that they collect and store. This also includes not transferring data outside of the UK without adequate protection. So, if you want to maximize the security of your personal data, it’s prudent to partner with a provider who can guarantee that your data will be hosted on UK-based servers.

Recruiting high quality research respondents in an instant

Whether you’re a public sector organization, a retailer or a manufacturer. Whatever type of organization you are, or are supporting, there will always be occasions when you don’t have a large enough representative sample within your existing database of contacts with which to be able to make informed decisions.

Fortunately, with the use of a consumer panels service market researchers can gain instant access to exactly the right demographics and sample size to quickly gather the insights they require. Some online survey providers offer access to Consumer Panels as part of their services offering – ensure you check before investing in a provider.

Improve understanding about what consumers need

Whether you’re a public or a private sector organization, enhancing your understanding of what consumers are thinking and how they are behaving is vital if you’re to improve a service, pivot a brand campaign or even re-angle the development of a new product. And when you’re operating in the environment of a fast-moving pandemic it’s essential that this can be done at speed. This is exactly what consumers panels can deliver, with the ability to generate responses from a global audience in less than 24 hours.

Such rapid performance allows researchers to identify and reach out to the exact audience sample they need, and swiftly obtain the insight required to keep a pulse on public opinion or consumer trends and help drive positive change. Gathering insight digitally is beneficial for the health and safety of the wider community, while simultaneously arming organizations with the data they need to make more informed decisions.

The great thing about consumer panels is that they can help you to keep track of evolving sentiment over time. This could be especially beneficial if used as part of a longitudinal survey, with repeated observations of the same variables over a short or long period to see if consumer perceptions had changed. In the current lockdown scenario, this could provide organizations with even more detailed and valuable data with which to adjust and improve their approach in the future.

As the Covid curve begins to flatten both the public and private sectors will be looking to the future. Subsequently, they will want to be able to better evaluate what the public and consumers are thinking and what’s influencing their behavior, so they can better meet their current wants and needs, while also ensuring their own business survival throughout and following the Covid-19 crisis. And the use of consumer panels, is one of the most effective ways for them to achieve this.

Why we’re likely to see greater use of digital technology going forward

With many commentators already stating that some areas of life may change permanently as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, the same could be said for the market research industry.

While it has already had to bring in new rules for face-to-face research, depending on how long this pandemic continues, it may be forced to bring in more permanent guidelines for this area of research, as the industry looks to adopt safer practices going forward. Whether that’s retaining an element of social distancing or new rules around interviewing people from more vulnerable groups, it’s hard to say.

However, what we will almost certainly see is a greater use of digital technologies such as online surveys and consumer panels, as researchers increasingly recognize the benefits they can bring – not only in enabling safer practices, but the speed and the cost-effectiveness with which they can deliver invaluable insights.

It will be interesting to see how the market research industry progresses and evolves in the post Covid-19 world.


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