Challenges and Opportunities of Smartphones for the Market Research Industry

Fieldwork Tips | 08 Aug 2012


We all know that increased smartphone and iPad / tablet ownership is posing new opportunities and challenges for the market research industry – the subject was even discussed in this month’s Research Magazine. But how fast are things changing? And how should research companies respond to the challenge?


Growth in Smartphone usage

For us the growth of mobile could mark the end of the dominance of the desktop/laptop as a means of online data capture. At YouthSight, we’ve been measuring the pace of change for some time. For instance, in 2006, 99.34% of the surveys we scripted were completed on either a desktop or laptop. By 2010 that figure had only moved slightly to 97.66%. This year, on average, 87.18% of surveys were completed on a laptop or desktop. However, the pace of change has quickened further.

Our most recent surveys in July 2012 were registering 76.5% of respondents using non mobile devices (see graphic below). Based on my reading around we’re at the leading edge in terms of non laptop / PC survey completion. It’s my understanding that most panels appear to be seeing around 10-15% smartphone / tablet survey completion, so we figure our panellists are ahead of the curve. There’s probably a simple explanation for that. Our panellists tend to be young because we run the UKs largest youth student and young professional research community.

Mobile vs. Desktop for online research


The impact on survey deployment – less is often more…

We also noticed that our members we’re using a multitude of mobile devices and systems; each with their own specs and capabilities. So we learnt quite early that when it came to engagement and functionality less is often more. Doing the simple things right made all the difference. For instance, we have a policy of never using Flash in our surveys; meaning that respondents using Apple iOS (which lacks Flash compatibility) don't have any problems completing surveys.

Also, for any internally scripted survey we try and severely limit (and ideally ban) the deployment of grids - respondents on desktop PCs already find them tedious so you can imagine how respondents doing surveys on their mobiles feel. We also try and limit the length of our surveys to a maximum 15 minutes (15 minutes is pretty long for the PC but on a mobile device it’s just unreasonable – luckily our panellists can stop surveys and pick up from where they left off on two more sessions).

Earlier this year we also implemented dual routing so that respondents using smartphones and other mobile devices are routed to a template suitable for their systems. This has meant that we’re able to optimise the experience for both desktop users and mobile users simultaneously. Mobile users are now provided with a simpler but equally as engaging version of the same survey.


Desktop online survey A desktop optimised survey question



Mobile survey The same survey question, optimised for mobile


It’s these simple steps that have made many of our panellists comfortable to access our surveys on a mobile device and I believe have led to the exceptional growth in mobile use. Personally, I’m still surprised at the number of online surveys I’ve done for other panels on my iPhone which use Flash or do not fit my screen properly. What’s the point in making a survey that looks great on desktop or a specific model of phone if not everyone can do it properly?

The message I’m trying to convey here is simple – let’s not forget about engagement and frequently it boils down to making surveys accessible for everyone, even if that means they have to be slightly simplified in order to fit a mobile operating system.


The future of data collection

What excites me most about advancements in smartphone and mobile device technology is how it’s changing what research is, and can be. A great deal of research may start moving away from being a highly reflective process (as it currently normally is) to a far more immediate one, in which decisions, emotions and actions can be reported in near real time. Researchers are now able to track the respondent experience more quickly and effectively; and do this on a much larger scale.

For instance, the ubiquity and permanent accessibility of mobiles means they can be turned into awesome data collection tools; able to track consumer behaviour via polls, comments, photos, videos, voice recording, location mapping and other amazing tools. Most significantly, mobiles are able to allow respondents to describe and explain their world in real time.

I believe that when the future comes, ‘in the moment research’ will be prevalent and what we’ve learnt along the way will stand us in good stead. We’re developing some great new products so watch this space! Meanwhile, rest assured that surveys we script will be easily accessible to respondents whether they want to respond at their desk, in front of the TV or on the bus!

Let us take the stress out of your research project.

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