Qualitative Research, face to face or online?

I am often asked by clients whether a particular research project should be done remotely online or in-market face to face. As we offer both, the answer is always that it depends.

In our case, because we have a specialist technique, face to face research requires that our moderators travel to the location and this, along with subsistence expenses, adds cost. However, there is no substitute for sitting in the environment with the consumer, for meeting them in person and having the opportunity to visit their homes, their marketplaces, their shops etc. just being in the same climate and environment as your consumer helps your understanding of why they say what they say and why they do what they do.

Being in market and running research groups face to face also gives you greater scope to flex your methodology and especially your use of samples as your learning progresses, and, because you have direct control of your samples, blind testing becomes much easier. Getting blinded samples to consumers when you are not there can get quite complicated and expensive.

But face to face research, especially when travel is required, is often a little more expensive and can take a bit more time.

Online research saves on travel and subsistence expenses. But, however much you work on it, interviewing online is not as intimate as face to face and some value is lost.

We have found over the years that online groups are a waste of time and always work 1 to 1 online. This means that projects are often not much quicker online due to the number of interviews required. We also need to pay respondents additional compensation to go out and purchase any required samples. These two factors often mean that online interviews are often not as much cheaper or quicker than as the client expects them to be. This notwithstanding, online research does tend to be quicker and a little cheaper than face to face groups and our researchers are happy because they do not need to leave home.

As an old fashioned research purist, I would like to argue that face to face is always better but, in fact, with respondents now so much more used to using Teams/Zoom etc. and with the amount of learning and experience we all gained during COVID, online research interviews are getting very nearly as good results as in-market face to face.

So, if you are trying to decide between online and face to face, speak with your research provider about the requirements of your specific project. Online will probably be a little cheaper and maybe a little quicker while in market face to face is likely to get you a little more depth and richness of understanding and gives the researchers more flexibility in regard to methodology and sample handling. And, if you want blind testing, who will be handling the complications of getting blinded samples to respondents on the other side of the world?