By Tamara Irminger Underwood
With our work lives disrupted due to COVID-19 shutdowns, we’ve written a number of blogs about how to continue with projects by shifting to online market research. Even though in-person methodologies aren’t currently possible, researchers have a number of methodologies that can easily be shifted to virtual platforms.
Many organizations and companies are scrambling to better understand how shopping behavior has changed in a pandemic and are hiring nationwide market research firms to gain insights into how consumers’ patterns are changing. Qualitative research methodologies such as focus groups and in-depth interviews can readily be done virtually, but to get the most from virtual formats, researchers need to do additional prep work to ensure maximum value.
By now most of us are familiar with Zoom. There are a number of other online platforms that researchers can use, but with so many people using Zoom, it is often the go-to choice to host online qualitative market research studies. Moderators will tell you that hosting online market research studies can be frustrating when inevitable technical glitches arise or the extra energy and finesse required to get participants to be as open and share insights over an online platform vs. in-person. Rather than jump straight into a virtual focus group or in-depth interview, researchers are adding an additional layer to online qualitative research studies so they can better understand the nuances behind the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of consumers’ behaviors.
Before hosting an online focus group, participants may be asked to participate in a mobile diary study that can capture ‘in the moment’ thinking that can then be explored in more depth during a focus group or in-depth interview. The benefits to adding this layer to a qualitative study include:
- Data is captured over several days giving researchers more time to get to know the participants
- Participants record what they do as they do it. Because of this real-time capture, there aren’t any post-rationalization biases.
- The data is contextualized: participants will use their smartphone to capture videos while engaged in the activity being probed in the study. For example, while cooking supper or shopping online (instead of recalling their most recent experience cooking or shopping)
- When participants are capturing their behaviors or thoughts, researchers can see how they behave or think without a ‘researcher effect’ influencing their responses
With this additional data, researchers have a much broader and contextualized understanding of what drives consumers’ actions and can then spend time during online focus groups or in-depth interviews probing these areas.
Even when it becomes safe to resume in-person qualitative studies, many researchers will continue to incorporate mobile diaries into their studies, as they add another dimension to the study that would not be possible to capture otherwise.