Market research becoming smarter

By Heidi Dietzsch

As smartphones have changed our lives in a myriad of ways, so have they influenced market research.

Data collection through smartphones can supplement more traditional research methods, but it is also a significant methodology in its own right. Due to their ubiquity, smartphones are able to reach extensive, globalised audiences. In 2017 it was estimated that there were 2.32-billion smartphone users worldwide and that this number will increase to 2.87-billion by 2020. In South Africa there were 18.48-million smartphone users last year and it is expected that there will be more than 25 million users by 2022. In May 2015, Google announced that, for the first time, more searches are coming from mobile phones than from desktop computers.

Smartphones are our primary source of contact, information and social interaction. That is true for business people as well as general consumers – although the indigent would probably not have one and researchers need to take that into account. An estimated 30% to 40% of all online surveys are completed on a mobile device and that percentage is growing. Therefore, if you want respondents to participate in your survey, you’re going to have to make sure they can take it on a smartphone.

One of the biggest advantages of smartphone research is that it is convenient and easy to use. Smartphone surveys can be completed from just about anywhere, anytime. Survey fatigue is one of the most predominant problems in market research. The slight effort needed to participate with a smartphone that is already in someone’s hand can persuade even the most unenthusiastic respondent to respond positively.

With the help of smartphones, ethnographic research can be conducted without having a researcher in the same environment as respondents. For example, respondents can fill in a daily blog or journal or upload photos, videos and audio recordings, while reporting their feelings and experiences at the moment of interest. In this way, businesses can discover a great deal regarding consumers’ daily habits and responses to their products. Respondents are also likely to feel relaxed when carrying out these everyday, freeform activities, leading to authentic and insightful feedback.

It is inconceivable for mystery shopping being conducted without smartphones. Mystery shoppers need to notice a variety of things during their excursions, such as the amount of time spent in a queue, the number of people in a shop and the attitude of a shop assistant. Smartphones provide an easy way for mystery shoppers to record the key points in a discrete manner so that they don’t have to rely on memory – or write notes, which can look suspicious. Using technology in this way provides a more accurate result for the client and a less onerous task for the mystery shopper.

Smartphone data collection guarantees more context – respondents can, for instance, report on the atmosphere, the weather and the look and feel of their immediate surroundings. Findings can be recorded at the time and place respondents interact, encounter, participate and experience. Live commentary can be collected from people who have just purchased a certain product, also allowing the capturing of more volatile facts such as emotions, moods and sensory impressions as opposed to perceptions based on memory. According to Gartner Research, immediate feedback is 40% more accurate than recall-based feedback.

Another advantage of smartphone research is the GPS technology it offers. This enables researchers to invite respondents to participate in a survey based on their location. For instance, a business can send people a survey when they are near a particular business being targeted, a transport hub or some other location where feedback might be required. This way targeted people will find the content of the survey relevant, which increases the chances of them completing it.

Despite all the advantages that smartphone research offers, it also has some challenges. Data might be skewed due to wireless network availability that differs from area to area. For instance, network services are usually better in cities, which means that responses from rural inhabitants might be limited. Also, many low-income earners and the unemployed might not have smartphones or data plans and therefore other methods, such as face-to-face interviews, need to be employed in these instances.

When a smartphone survey is designed it is important to create a mobile friendly interface that guarantees a similar experience for respondents, whether they use a smartphone, tablet or computer. Designers should create a questionnaire that fits perfectly onto a small screen device with the question layout in exactly the same format as it would be on other devices. It has been found that results vary considerably on different devices if the question layout differs. Also, it’s frustrating if a survey on a smartphone requires considerable scrolling up and down and left to right. That will result in many respondents abandoning the survey. Such a survey would also take longer to complete than on a computer, which should never be the aim of a smartphone survey.

Smartphone market research is here to stay and offers endless possibilities that other methods lack, and its capabilities will continue to evolve. Market researchers need to fully embrace this technology – they can’t afford not to.