Online market research

Jasal Shah, CEO of Bangalore-based Markelytics, an offshore market research service provider speaks to Priyanka Akhouri about online data collection, how online market research methodology works and how e-surveys are more accurate. Excerpts

How is online market research different from traditional market research, and what are the different methods of collecting data through this research?

It’s not different. Online Market Research deviates from the traditional research only with the methodology of data collection, where the respondents give out their opinions/views through the internet rather than face to face.

Instead of methods, there could be different types of research that could be conducted over the Internet that is quantitative as well as qualitative.

How does the online market research mechanism work?

To understand these let’s take an example. When the need of the research is to speak to consumers based on a certain age, gender, location, or other demographic criteria, we get to our panel database where we already have basic demographic details of Indian respondents and filter them based on the current need. To be doubly sure, we add some screen out questions and this method is called a ‘double-blind’ screen. Based on the need of the research this method gives us only those respondents who are genuine and best suited for this method.

With this refined set of people, we send a link which has a pre-loaded questionnaire. Just to let you know, this questionnaire would be programmed at Markelytics and hosted at our partner server in the Netherlands. After the respondents go online and check their mail, they would respond by clicking on the link and filling up the questionnaire in their free time. For us, the response rates would be higher than normal e-mail blasts or spam because these respondents have already known us while we asked their permission to send them these survey requests. Once the entire data collection is over, we would send out the incentive that we would have promised for people who take up and fill in the questionnaire.

Is the data collected through the online method more accurate than the traditional survey methods?

Yes and no. Ceteris paribus, quality or the accuracy of the data is not an issue in either method. The advantage of online is that the respondent does not have what we call an “interviewer bias” – which is affected by the way the question is asked, respondents’ perception of the interviewer etc. Also, when the data is passed on from the respondent to the interviewer to the data punching team there are three human transfers of the same data which might sometimes have a ‘Chinese whisper’ syndrome. In addition, due to the division of work between teams across centres or localities, achieving quota split to the last digit is seldom achieved in the traditional method – This adds to the cost and time.

Even these minor loopholes are warded off in an online method where the respondent directly enters data in his/her free time. Hence there are no issues of Chinese whisper or interviewer bias. Also, since the quota is controlled by the system we would not face any weighting issues during analysis and hence we can say that the quality of the data is better online.

Won’t this method of conducting market research be inhibited by the low penetration of high-quality broadband in India?

Online research methodology can be effectively used in many instances without having any bias due to the lower penetration of broadband. The surveys are quite simple to the respondent and do not need high speeds to complete them. A simple dial-up also can suffice the need.

What technology does Markelytics use to function?

We use the best of the technology available in the market. We use the top-up third party tools for the back-end programming and hosting. The study links are hosted from a server in the Netherlands and hence there is double security for data and protection against any local server/hardware issues.

How do you plan to reach out to the masses? How do you define the sample in online market research?

Apart from our ongoing initiative to add more numbers to our already huge panel of online consumers, we would be setting up terminals in say a public primary care centre or schools – the choice of these centres is to make sure we spread across the centre as evenly as possible. This would be done on a need and study-to-study basis. By this, we can reduce the time taken in traditional interviews and have our people at the terminus enter the responses of the respondents online. The respondent need not be of the online profile. By this, we can reach the mass and even people.

Defining samples in online research becomes much easier with this initiative. We can define the samples as we do in traditional research and go ahead without any glitches. Of course, this methodology gives us additional reach to people who do not have access to the internet but would marginally increase the cost owing to the setup and people.

What are your plans for tapping the Indian market?

We already have a community of 225,000 Indian consumers on our panel. A panel is a group of people whom we have solicited to register with basic details (which are cross-checked), and these consumers have agreed to give their opinion when contacted in future based on the need of the research. Add to this our core strength of in-house facilities and personnel who can deal with all aspects of online research from design to programming and from a data file with statistical tools to valuable insights in the form of a report.

We plan to cater to clients in India and abroad with their need for any type of research and analysis need. Within the first month of the formal launch of our domestic division, we have begun our relationship with big names in media, telecom, aviation, healthcare, security systems etc

We intend to pass on the time and cost advantage of online research to clients and adopt online research wherever possible – based on the research objective and the target audience. Nonetheless, we would be quick to guide the client to adopt traditional research wherever we feel that the quality of results would be hampered even marginally by using the online methodology.

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