Are Traditional Online Research Panels Dead?

I write this feeling like I have one foot in the past/present and another foot squarely in the future.

Let me explain.

I've been a part of market research panels for YEARS.  In fact, I have to admit that because of my years of experience of actually calling respondents on the phone as well as sending mail surveys and now online surveys -- I always feel obligated to take the time and effort to go through any survey that is offered me.  I suppose you can call it paying it backward rather than forward.

$2 just isn't enough for 20 or 40 minutes of my time.

The last two panel survey requests I've received offered me $2 for between 2o and 40 minutes of my time.  I had prepared myself by taking the survey on a Saturday morning over coffee.  And then about 2 minutes into the survey -- I just bailed.  I tried not to -- but I just couldn't keep answering long matrix questions on attributes for a company I had NO experience with.

I also have to admit that this is not the first panel survey I bailed on -- I've bailed on several over the last month or so primarily because they are too long -- even online and even over lunch, I just can't seem to dedicate 30 minutes to answering stupid questions.  And the questions have terrible logic - I can absolutely understand asking me questions about a product, service or company that I used.  But if I'm not a user and have no experience - it doesn't work to ask me 50 questions about the detailed attributes on the subject.  It's fine and fair to ask me say 5 or 10 questions -- but anything more than that is just too frustrating.  As a respondent I hate having to repeat "I don't KNOW" and then not have an option for N/A.

Does the panel you paid for REALLY represent your target audience?

Anyone can sign up for a panel.  Anyone can be any demographic in a panel.  In the survey I bailed on, they were offering $2 for 20 minutes.  After going through the first 15 questions, I could see that their target audience wasn't going to spend the time required to give them the quality answers they wanted.

So are they getting the good data that they need from their target audience?  I don't think so.  In fact, I think they are paying $5 per respondent for garbage.

Yet I have to think that there is value in these old fashioned online panel studies.  I'd love to hear from the online panel research folks and have them explain the logic here.

Mobile market research panels are better, cheaper, funner

Over the last several months, I've been playing in the mobile market research panel sandbox and I have to say the experience is EXPONENTIALLY more engaging, valid and valuable to the company doing the research.

  • Real people.  When you use a mobile smartphone to answer a survey, your demographics are locked in.  We know who you are.

  • Location focus.  Your smartphone also has GPS feature that shows where you are.  This makes geographic targeting much easier,.

  • Super short surveys.  Only one to 5 questions per survey means you are in and out in an average of 30 seconds.

  • More fun.  The mobile survey panel questions occur as much more fun and engaging.  I'm not sure if it's how they are worded or the fact that the surveys are short.  I can only say that people like taking them.  You can take a survey in the grocery line, waiting at the doctor's office or during a boring meeting.  Either way, you feel part of a community and it doesn't take up much of your time.

I don't think online research panels are dead by any stretch of the imagination.  I think that we will see the use of panels increase.  But I certainly hope that the long surveys are done and over with because at this stage of the game, I'm not sure that any customer worth having will have the time or attention span to complete a survey that takes any more than a couple of minutes.


  1. I agree with you and I especially agree with your analyse of the reasons why mobile research panel should produce more reliable data. Best regards.


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