Online vs. Traditional Qualitative Research

Mar 19, 2020

The global Coronavirus outbreak has forced businesses around the world to rethink their entire operating strategy. The pandemic is causing complications across every department and impacting every business function, with market research being no exception.

While everyone is practicing “social distancing” and limiting travel to only when it’s absolutely necessary (and rightfully so), businesses can’t rely on traditional qualitative research methods like in-person focus groups and interviews. In times like these, organizations need to be agile and adapt to the situation at hand. Because even though the world is working through a public health crisis, you still need to gather the insights that will help you make more informed and effective decisions going forward.

The Need for Deeper Understanding

Qualitative research has come a long way in recent years thanks to technological advances. Unlike quantitative research, which focuses on numerical insights and variables, qual research seeks to understand consumers on a deeper level. Instead of just determining what consumers think, it tries to understand why they think or act in a certain way.

From humble beginnings, which started with informal and random interviews on the street and other public spaces, qualitative research evolved over time to encompass much more defined processes and ethnographic practices of discussions and observations.

Today’s traditional qualitative research includes methodologies like:

  • Focus groups: A small, diverse group of people brought together in one setting to discuss and provide feedback.
  • Personal interviews: The most similar to quantitative research and where quant got its start, these are in-person, in-depth interviews.
  • Phone interviews: Strictly verbal conversations between a market researcher and one respondent.
  • Shop-alongs: First-hand observation of actual consumer shopping behavior, often paired with an in-depth interview following the shopping trip.
  • Observations/Experiments: Direct or indirect observations of consumers in a specific natural or fabricated environment.

Online Qual Reformats Traditional Methods

Compared to traditional qualitative research, online qual research is relatively young – only a couple of decades old in fact. While online qualitative research can certainly mimic the traditional methods listed above, the actual execution of surveys is a key difference. Instead of being administered in person and by hand, processes are reformatted and methodologies are modified to optimize the experience for online respondents who can take surveys when it’s most convenient for them.

Many researchers are still trying to develop offerings within the online qualitative space, but it requires a unique platform and process to conduct surveys with the same rigor and high level of quality as traditional methods. That includes:

  • A software platform to support the interactions between respondents, researchers, and various qualitative methodologies.
  • An analysis and reporting process built from a framework that consistently delivers quality insights.
  • Optimized technologies including video responses, image uploads, and mobile capabilities that counteract the lack of facial or observational research in online qual.

Besides the execution, other differences between traditional and online qual research include aspects such as typical sample sizes, timing, analysis, and observations.

Blog image with traditional qual compared to online qual listing the pros and cons of each in a table

Both online and traditional qualitative research seek to understand consumers on a deeper level. However, with the help of significant technological improvements that have been made in recent years, online qual research can gather insights faster and with the same amount of rigor as traditional methodologies – which is particularly helpful in times like these.

If you’re interested in learning more about online qualitative research to gain the consumer and market insights you need to make smarter decisions, reach out and schedule a demo with our team.

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