What Is Convenience Sampling?

Philip Cleave
July 11, 2023
Thinking about the sample size for your next piece of research

When it comes to research there are two main methods of sampling, probability sampling and non-probability sampling.

Probability sampling, which involves random selection allows you to make strong statistical inferences about a group that can be applied to the wider population, while non-probability sampling, is more concerned with getting answers to research questions as quickly as possible through non-random selection techniques.

While each approach has its own merits depending on the type and depth of research you need to carry out, the convenience sampling method belongs to the non-probability sampling approach.

Typically, market researchers are attracted to using convenience sampling when a number of factors apply including:

  • They need to act quickly, as they have a tight timeframe to meet a deadline
  • They only have a limited budget to work with
  • They don’t have access to the full target population in order to get a representative sample

What is convenience sampling?

Convenience sampling, also known as opportunity sampling, is the most common type of non-probability sampling. It focuses on getting information from the most convenient and accessible sample of participants.

In contrast to methods under the probability sampling approach, where a random selection of participants is chosen based on defined criteria such as demographic factors, researchers using convenience sampling can subjectively choose anyone at random, who is happy to be approached and be a part of their research. So, depending on what you were researching this could include anyone in your local shopping center or high street, to respondents in your workplace or an online community.

Given how quickly it enables researchers to get data and move on with their study, this approach is especially useful for exploratory research, pilot studies and gathering primary data in advance of larger-scale studies being carried out.

Benefits of convenience sampling

There are many reasons why convenience sampling is a popular option for researchers, with the best of these including.

Ease of use

This form of data collection is relatively easy. And it doesn’t require a lot of training and experience to carry out convenience sampling.

Creating a survey with questions that enable you to collect information in quantitative ways, can allow you to quickly analyze trends. In addition, the smaller sample size will save you time when you’re having to sift through raw data.

Quick and affordable

In contrast to the time and investment required for full-scale research projects, the convenience and minimal resources required for convenience sampling makes this a relatively quick and low-cost method to carry out.

Perfect for your initial research

When you’re a bit unsure about the thoughts, beliefs and values of your target audience, or you just want to do an initial small-scale survey, convenience sampling is an ideal method to use.

It’s simpler to get future participants

Unlike with a probability sampling method, given that convenience sampling doesn’t usually require any specific criteria to be met, it makes it much easier for a researcher to get more participants if they want to carry out any similar research again in the future.

Participants can be recruited from anywhere

If you’re using an online survey as part of your research, your participant sample could be potentially made up of people anywhere around the world.

It can speed up pilot research

The convenience sampling approach is particularly useful for pilot data collection, as it helps give managers the data they need to make decisions more quickly.

Limitations of convenience sampling

While it’s great to know about the benefits of convenience sampling, as with any sampling method, there are always going to be some drawbacks. So, it’s useful to be aware of these upfront, so you can be better informed about whether to use this approach.

Sampling bias

One of the biggest potential drawbacks of convenience sampling is sample bias. This is because participants were chosen more for convenience, rather than their randomness and representativeness for the wider intended population.

Positivity bias

The problem with recruiting sample participants on convenience alone, is that you may experience positivity bias. This can be a particular problem if the people you recruit are too close to you personally and know you want certain results, or you're surveying people from your workplace who may want to please you.

Lack of representativeness and validity

Any sample generated with this sort of sampling may not be representative of the greater population due to the non-random selection of its participants. It’s an issue that may damage the external validity of any research findings.

Limited control over sample characteristics

Unfortunately, convenience sampling offers little control over the characteristics of your sample. Such lack of control can impair your ability to make conclusions or create causal linkages between variables.

Use case examples of convenience sampling

Considering the advantages and disadvantages of using convenience sampling, you’ll probably want to know if you should use it in your own business.

Well, the answer to this is yes. This is because there will always be times when you don’t have the investment or resources to carry out full scale research, including the time required to seek out the right participants for your survey. There will also be times when the speed and more minimal approach of convenience sampling will better suit your research requirements.

Consider the following use case scenarios:

New product survey on high street

Let’s say you wanted to get a quick insight into the customer preferences for a new consumer product.

You might decide to set up a kiosk on the main shopping high street in your town and approach shoppers who are conveniently available and willing in many cases to participate in your survey.

Using this method can potentially get you a lot of responses in a relatively short space of time.

Workplace interviews

Another use case could involve your employees at work and getting their feedback on something, such as their suggestions for a revamp of their staff room where they can go for lunch and other staff breaks.

By asking staff who currently use that room, you could find out what they think of the current facilities, while gaining their ideas about how the revamped space could be improved for the future. This could help you to identify things that could enhance the user experience for current and future users of this room.

You could issue a link to an online survey in a company newsletter or a QR code on a poster on the wall of that room, so people can see and respond to it. In addition, you could get someone to stand outside the room during the busy lunch period to get employees’ feedback.

A pilot study

As we’ve already mentioned, there may be times when it’s too risky in terms of time and resources to carry out full-scale research on something, where a pilot study using convenience sampling would be a lot more cost effective.

Consider the scenario where your manager wanted you to test out a theory or gain initial primary data from people, to give them a ‘sense’ of what the target market wanted and how they should react.

Using convenience sampling as part of your pilot study could provide great results that are quick and easy to translate, providing clear information that helps you to make data-driven decisions. And if the pilot was successful, it could if required help you to get the budget and backing to conduct a full-scale research project.

Concluding thoughts

Ultimately, when random sampling isn’t possible or practical, convenience sampling can provide you with a really helpful research tool. It’s simple to use, accessible and useful, which makes it a good method for exploring research or studies where resources are more limited.

However, researchers must always be aware of its limitations, particularly sampling bias and the lack of representativeness, and take account of that when interpreting the results. When used wisely and with other sampling methods, this type of sampling can help answer many important research questions and improve knowledge in many fields. So, if you’re not already using it, it’s a useful method to include in your portfolio of research tools.

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While it’s important to be using the right methods and techniques for your research, you’ll still need the right survey tools if you’re to effectively engage participants and successfully analyze and gain valuable insights from their feedback.

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