Internet and email research

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Self-completion questionnaires have been taken a step further by the introduction of direct computer interviewing via the Internet or associated e-mail systems. Here the respondent works directly with the computer, following instructions presented on the screen. This technique has also been transferred to telephone research, where responses generated via the telephone keypad initiate the next phase of the interview. The questions are prerecorded. The growth of wireless and cable networks, and applications such as interactive television and mobile telephony on Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) or third-generation mobile devices, means that the potential for development in this area is large. However, the impersonal nature of the process means that some respondents find this interview method intimidating, or simply beyond their level of technological know-how.

Growth to date has been steady, although this is changing. The advantage of direct response by electronic means compared with postal systems is clearly speed. The major problems in using the Internet as a data capture tool are similar to those associated with postal methods. E-mail address lists are even less reliable than some postal mail lists and e-mail users may have multiple e-mail addresses, so there is a lack of suitable responders. On the Internet those who do respond are a self-selecting sample. Currently, home use of the Internet is skewed towards a younger, wealthier and predominantly male audience. In business-to-business research the levels of Internet penetration are much higher and this means that research using the Internet is perhaps more representative. This is still a young and emerging area of marketing research, which clearly has a great deal of potential. However, the same methodological rules about sampling and representativeness apply. With the reach and potential of this medium these rules are often neglected, and this can produce seriously distorted results leading to the wrong management decisions being made.

A different situation applies to panel research and to research based on a known population, for example a company's existing customers. In this case, the use of the Internet or e-mail can generate excellent information, very quickly. This is particularly the case in dot-com companies or companies whose products and services are distributed or supported by the Internet or e-mail. Rather like fax research several years ago, the method also has the advantage of being relatively new to the market and response rates can be higher than using mail. Several companies have developed online panels, and these are outlined in Chapter 4.

In the 2002 Market Research Society (MRS) Research Buyer's Guide 60 organizations had the capability of offering computer-assisted web interviewing (CAWI) and 211 could administer online or e-mail surveys. Before conducting research using these media it is advisable to contact these companies for advice.

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