COVID-19 and its Impact on Market Research

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COVID-19 and its Impact on Market Research

COVID-19 (a.k.a. Coronavirus) is certainly impacting nearly everything in society, from cruises, public transportation, and other travel, to large events, and even toilet paper! This is a serious topic and at EMI, we are all working remotely indefinitely. You should not see any disruption in service from us or any of our partners. We are all following the recommendations from the CDC. For more information, click here.

But what about its impact on survey research? Keep in mind that we focus on online quantitative research. The impact is obviously very different to other forms of research, including any in-person or qualitative research.

We aren’t experiencing disruptions to service due to the virus. While many of our partners are global and offices in higher-risk areas, such as Italy and China, we have yet to experience any service issues and do not expect to. All our sample partners have remote-working policies that will help manage this and nearly all have been working remotely with no disruptions to service. We do not expect this to change and in fact, service should improve as we all get used to this. 

But what about from a respondent perspective? Will response rates vary, and more importantly, will there be changes in survey responses because of this? We have experienced increased response rates on nearly all consumer and B2B studies.  For healthcare studies, it has been more sporadic as you would expect.  We do expect response rate changes in hard-hit areas like China and Italy and elsewhere. However, we have still seen increased response rates in some harder-hit DMAs such as New York City, where we have interviewed thousands of respondents about the pandemic in the past couple of weeks.

Elsewhere, the answer (per usual in market research) is “it depends.” Response rates will certainly fluctuate due to Coronavirus and will be less predictable than normal. It’s possible that response rates will continue to increase in some cases and down in others, which could impact incidence rates, quota management, and project timelines.  We will be monitoring this very closely with our partners.  The next question is ‘where are the increases in response rates coming from’?  This is still to be determined and is very important to understand as it can have an impact to the survey data. 

A common question we have received is if researchers should adjust the email invitation text or the survey introduction text. There are a few different scenarios in which we recommend different actions:

  • An email to a physician or other healthcare professional – We do recommend an acknowledgment that their time is extremely valuable while mentioning how important the research is. The HCP can determine if they want to respond to the survey. We do recommend doing whatever is possible to improve the respondent experience, in this case, and all cases.  Ensuring the respondent is all-device friendly, shorter surveys, and the most ideal targeting to ensure the highest incidence rates are always a best practice.
  • Questions surrounding ‘normal’ behavior – we have seen a lot of questions surrounding what someone would typically do, not what they would do under the current quarantine situation for most of us. If the objective of the research is to capture what someone would typically do, we strongly recommend being very explicit about these instructions and ensuring that a respondent will notice them – either with a bold or different color for text. 
  • All other questions – we do not recommend any additional changes at this point. In general, we recommend continuing with the same invitation text and survey text in all cases other than the above scenarios (in online quantitative research). 

The more important issue surrounds survey responses and if they will be different because of the current situation – will respondents have different attitudes and stated behaviors? Will the data be different? For any healthcare-related studies, it should definitely be taken into account as this topic is dominating the news and the overall conversation. Any data collected at this time should be marked/noted accordingly and used for context.

However, the current situation is impacting all other industries, particularly service-based industries. People are likely to eat out less, which can impact incidence rates. With a near inability for consumers to eat out, shop as normal, or do most entertainment-related activities, obviously attitudes and behaviors are going to change and it should be acknowledged and flagged in the data. This does not mean that the research should not occur. 

Additionally, there could be increased anxiety (for both health and financial reasons, and perhaps even safety reasons), which could come across in any survey asking for opinions on nearly any topic. Many brands and researchers should use this as an opportunity to learn more about situations like this and the impact on survey research on a brand’s KPI. An interesting question to add at the end of surveys could ask about awareness/concern of COVID-19 and then segment the respondents. As clients start to question the data, it will be better to get ahead of any possible data differences.

Our economy is currently undergoing a shift as more people work from home and adjust their behaviors, which may become long-term habits.  Our industry is uniquely positioned to measure and leverage this. 

We hope this is only a short-term impact, but we will continue to monitor the situation from a best practices standpoint.  Feel free to reach out to Brian Lamar at Brian.Lamar@emi-rs.com Finally, ESOMAR put out some best practices in terms of research and they can be located here. Here is a quick summary:

Like every business sector in the world, the data, research and insights sector is being impacted severely by the necessary and essential government measures to manage and slow the spread of the Coronavirus to levels that can be managed by the world’s health systems.

As a sector that depends on the voluntary participation of individuals, the social distancing measures that are being rolled out by an increasing number of countries have a serious impact on the advisability of conducting types of research that require people to be in close physical proximity with each other.

Essential research should be encouraged to continue, and where possible shifting to digital methodologies should be employed. There are 3 key rules that should be followed:

  1. Is the research essential?
  2. Can it be done online?
  3. If it is essential and it can’t be done digitally, follow all local authority guidance in conjunction with ESOMAR guidelines.

Physical proximity to be avoided at all possible costs. Where unique and exceptional circumstances apply, abide by ALL local guidance.

The Insights Association recently appealed for help to the Federal Government during the COVID-19 crisis. See here for more information.