Innovate or … become obsolete?

Findings of the Annual Technology Survey

By Tim Macer

The accompanying infographic portrays the profound effect that technology has had on the day-to-day business of market research during the past decade. Though online research was well beyond its infancy in 2006, and had already replaced CATI as the dominant mode, nevertheless CATI was still the second pillar of fieldwork. Beyond CATI, paper occupied third place. Together, these three accounted for 88% of quantitative fieldwork at that time.

Roll forward ten years, and we now need to include four methods to cover 88% of quant fieldwork. Web has increased its share, while CATI has diminished. But in a break with the past, paper has dropped out entirely, overtaken by CAPI and ‘mixed mode’.

Perhaps surprisingly, mobile research has not yet made it to the top tier despite the attention it has attracted at events and in the research media. It means CAPI’s coming of age has slipped by almost unobserved. If current trends continue, CAPI will be displacing CATI as the second method very soon.

This quiet transformation has been driven by the advent of tablets and smartphones as consumer devices, which have brought down the price of equipping fieldworkers with CAPI-capable hardware. This, coupled with the growth of cheap, reliable data communications, has tipped the cost/benefit balance for face-to-face in favour of CAPI.

The demise of CATI has been a topic of speculation for at least the last ten years – yet it is only in the last four years that this annual survey has observed a sustained downward momentum, dropping in stages from 23% in 2011 to 13% in 2015.

The noise around mobile is not undeserved – this is a method that represents both an opportunity and a threat to market research. In this study, ‘mobile research’, i.e. surveys designed for mobile, has edged up from virtually nothing in 2009 to 5% of volume in 2015. Yet every year, this figure has been dwarfed by the number taking traditional online surveys on their smartphones, and the gap appears to be widening. Based on what people have told us in previous years of this study, many surveys are not optimised for mobile research. Furthermore, it would be hard to make them all conducive to mobile delivery, given their length and other overriding design factors such as the use of stimulus materials, and – to take a less positive view – the sheer wordiness of many survey questions.

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