Market research challenges amid a global pandemic

 By Timothy Sithole.

Covid-19 has removed the ability to conduct qualitative research because face-to-face interaction is mostly impossible. Despite the strong rise of online research techniques – driven by their efficiency and turnaround times – face-to-face data collection is still the most preferred research method as it enables the researcher to fully engage with participants and gain key insights.

The lockdown has enforced fieldworkers to be recalled and some research to be stalled. The role of a market researcher constantly needs to be evaluated to analyse key trends and ensure adaptability to produce the best research with minimal effort.

Market researchers must be intuitive and find new ground-breaking research that they can take to the public. Covid-19 threatens that process and it’s necessary for research houses to come up with new strategies to remotely source data and produce reports without use of traditional formats.

The most prevalent pieces of research we’ve seen related to Covid-19 are centred on the financial implications on households and people’s ability to conduct work. Because the virus will be around for some time to come, research ideas need to focus on other areas as well – as would be the norm.

I recently came across an article [1] that highlights how people are spending less on personal grooming products, instead buying more cleaning products and disinfectants. Key insights can be gained from this that can be used to help the company deal with losses.

This begins by identifying why people are not buying as much deodorant – obviously, working in isolation you don’t need it as much, but in future they must get back to the routine. That’s where strategy research comes into play, to come up with ways to deal with that in the future.

Because it is impossible to conduct face-to-face research or focus groups to gain more insights into the issue, we need to turn to online research. Trusting technology is at the heart of doing this research.  Online research is exceptionally good for quantitative studies: quick surveys, creative concept tests, product testing and, pricing. [2] But by understanding the nature of your research, it can also be used for qualitative research purposes.

Covid-19 has presented us with the opportunity to deal with the imminent future of a digitalised world. It’s a trend not only for research, but one that most business sectors are facing. From having virtual offices to online focus groups through Zoom or other platforms, this is the future of the world and we need to reimagine market research.

Technology not only makes our lives easier, but it is efficient, cost-efficient and introduces more data efficiency. At the end of the day, it is still the human (you) who ensures that the data is collected and analysed correctly.

Out of a population of 59,62 million,[3] only 40% [4] of South Africans own at least one smartphone and use it at least once a month. Out of that 40%, not all of them will have access to data or be knowledgeable enough to use online meeting platforms.

This is obviously a huge disadvantage in gathering sufficient data from people in the periphery – but a research strategy has been developed in Kenya that could possibly combat the problem. A group of researchers in Kenya [5] have advised their respondents to write up a journal answering questions that normally a researcher would be asking.

These are collected at an appropriate time by a researcher, and this remedies a situation where like in South Africa not everyone has a smartphone to do it online. For those who do have access, voice or video elicitation has been suggested and seems to be working efficiently for now to source data.

Researchers need to maintain a strong connection with respondents. [6] Promoting a stable relationship with respondents will help develop trust, while it assures them that they’re playing an instrumental role in the topic being covered. This also helps in ensuring that they are free to express their views in whichever way they need to. The interviewer must be ready for different outcomes, especially during research that happens frequently.

The first step to ensure that researchers get the best possible data from respondents is trying to include everyone that was originally defined as the sample frame. For example, with South Africa, the 60% of people who do not have smartphones will need to be accessed through telemarketing techniques.

This includes but is not limited to SMS surveys and phone calls to get the data and record it to transcribe later. Here, the number of open-ended questions must be minimised to ensure the researcher gets the best out of the interview.

An attitude and usage survey [7] would work in an opinion-based study – for example, to answer how many parents are comfortable with sending their children to school during the pandemic. The survey would only ask the key questions through calls or SMS. Note that, should there be a need to reach more people, a twitter poll wouldn’t work here.

The future of market research was always going to be different to traditional research. We must adapt, put more trust in the technological advances thrown at us and ensure work continues.