How are the data collected

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There is very little difference in the way in which online and offline data are collected. The usual techniques of survey, depth interviews and focus groups are used online. The key difference is the mechanism by which the data collection instrument is delivered and information returned.

Survey questionnaires may be delivered by e-mail or through a link on a website (Figure 14.5). Cold e-mail questionnaires (i.e. those not expected by the recipient) will almost certainly need to be incentivized to achieve adequate response rates.

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Figure 14.5: Example of a drive to a questionnaire, delivered via e-mail

This is due to the proliferation of unsolicited e-mails or Spam. 'Warm' surveys, or surveys to existing customers or known individuals will achieve greater levels of response and the incentive may be more appropriate to the nature of the relationship. In delivering surveys by e-mail the researcher must be careful in using rich techniques such as HTML. As mentioned earlier, only around 60 per cent of e-mail users can read HTML e-mail. E-mails may deliver the questionnaire itself, or automatically link through to the Internet site holding the questionnaire via a clickable icon on the screen or a hypertext link. Examples of web-based questionnaires are shown in Figure 14.6.

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Figure 14.6: Web-based questionnaires. Source: Research International

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Figure 14.6: Web-based questionnaires. Source: Research International (continued) Web-based questionnaires. Source: Research International

Questionnaires may also be delivered as pop-ups or interstitials on a website. Dell is a good example of a company that uses ratings scales to judge browser satisfaction with the website. As the browser scrolls over a small icon, a rating scale pops up asking for ratings on a five-point scale. There is also the opportunity to make comments. This system is administered by Opinion Labs (Figure 14.7).

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Figure 14.7: Example of comments and rating scale for web pages from Opinion Labs. Source: Dell/Opinion Labs

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Questionnaires are now being delivered in Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) format, using the increasing bandwidth available to mobile networks (Figure 14.8).

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Figure 14.8: Questionnaire delivered to an I Mode Mobile device in Japan. Source: Research International

Qualitative group work and depth interviews are described above. However, there is one other way in which observation research may be carried out. Non-participant observation may be carried out by joining user groups and chat rooms. These may deliver some very interesting data about the company's goods and services.

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