Is mobile the future for market research?

MOBILEMarket research has been aided hugely by the development of the internet, allowing large groups of respondents to be targeted in a cost-effective fashion requiring a relatively low level of human interaction. Developments in smartphone technology are now creating further opportunities to extend this area of research. Consumers are now able to provide responses on-the-move; providing increased flexibility, opportunities for innovation and higher response rates.

Mobile – an extension of online market research

Mobile is now the fastest growing research category, moving ahead of more traditional online methods of survey completion. While online technology clearly underpins the mobile research category, a distinction can be drawn between traditional desktop survey responses and newer mobile engagement.

Providing consumers with an easy-to-use, on-the-move format for completing market research, while they are waiting for a bus or lazing in the park, can provide higher response rates than surveys constrained by fixed locations.

Mobile research also allows providers to capture locational information using GPS functionality, allowing data to be defined by region or sub-region. Growing improvements in app and mobile interface designs are also likely to make research opportunities more interactive and innovative, encouraging engagement and response rates further.

Tablet devices can also help to complete face-to-face interviews, providing large, clear screens and fonts capable of providing complex questioning and capturing and submitting data via the internet.

Mobile format can also give face-to-face surveys an opportunity to include video stimulus content, or capture a respondent’s oral submissions for analysis. Respondents can also review things like website design and banner advertisement placement directly from the device.

When asked about what research techniques they would choose in order to promote their firm, the 2013 GRIT The Market Research Firm of the Future survey showed a clear demand for mobile surveys:

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Source GreenBook

In another line of questioning, the survey also showed that “using sophisticated research technology” and “understanding consumer communication channels and technologies” were key future selling points.

Reasons for caution

Limitations exist with the relatively short lengths of mobile surveys, with consumers generally unwilling to spend large amounts of time answering surveys when they could be doing things like social networking, which could lead to limitations in the detail and depth of answers:

“There’s been a lot of industry discussion about survey length and how it impacts data quality and respondent satisfaction…You just have to do much shorter surveys on mobile, you don’t really have a choice,” says Kristin Luck, President at Decipher.

Survey providers also need to ensure that mobile technology allows for representative samples which reflect other research formats; after all, the demographic of smartphone users is likely to be slanted towards younger age brackets and higher disposable incomes.

Other difficulties exist, particularly in respect of the provision of visual stimulus; for example, product packaging images or branding choices. Different mobile devices will ultimately have varying qualities of screen, which could result in inconsistent image quality and unreliable survey data. This could also cause problems related to the answering of text questions:

“If in an online survey, a question is constructed as a grid and then because of the screen size on a mobile device is shown as five individual questions, this can result in a different response behaviour as the stimulus will not necessarily have the same effect with each person surveyed,” said Winfried Hagenhoff, Managing Director at TNS Infratest.

Mobile users also generate surveys through their chosen internet browser, which can create variations in how surveys are viewed and displayed. Poor network coverage could lead to breaks in communication, which could frustrate respondents and inhibit their ability and motivation to complete the survey.

The future of mobile surveys

With mobile research proliferating, operators must be sure to design surveys with the end user in mind – they should therefore be created to suit a range of different mobile devices and platforms.

There are now a variety of different operating systems available to smartphones, including Google Android, Apple iOS, Blackberry and Nokia Symbian, which have differing programming features and require tailored applications. With such a wide variety of devices and formats available, integration will be required in order to provide a consistent approach:

“As the Mobile Research segment is growing very rapidly, it will become impossible to maintain an overview of the number of solutions that are available on the market. There will be a call for the expertise to make the right, requirement-related selection until such time as individual solutions have achieved a high degree of maturity,” said infried Hagenhoff, Managing Director at TNS.

Mobile surveys still represent a relatively small area of the research market; large brands are likely to make the largest impact in this area, with high levels of social media exposure and higher familiarity with consumers. Retailers also have the advantages of greater experience in consumer surveys and online ordering, which puts them at the forefront of future development.

Going forward, social media is likely to play a more crucial role in how respondents engage with research, with social communities interacting and providing on-going brand commentary. In the meantime, research firms will need to be ready to adapt to what is a rapidly growing market.

logo-formicThis article was written by Formic, a leading provider of fast, accurate audit and patient experience surveys.


  1. The last data I saw was that marketer usage of geo-location services was actually declining in incidence. My reading of the GRIT findings was also less flattering than your carefully selected table suggests. Indeed many marketers clearly have serious reservations about the technology and fit for market research applications. The clunkiness of handsets, small screen sizes, variable formats, etc tells you mobile survey potential is riddled with genuine technical concerns among potential users. The GRIT survey if read carefully is hardly flattering on mobile applications, even in this yea saying survey.