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Using online market research panels

Using market research panels The main source of respondents for internet research among consumers are online panels. Panels are pools of willing participants who have opted-in to do surveys in return for an incentive of money or points. The panel provider sends out an invite to randomly selected panel members in the appropriate target group, which then links them to the online questionnaire.

Panels can also be used for specialist audiences, such as physicians or medical practitioners, some business professions and other hard to reach groups. Panels also make the co-ordination of international research far easier, though there are still issues of culture and behaviour to consider.

Consumer panels

For consumer research, online panels provide a quick and easy method of getting in contact with a sample of consumers in the general public. Panel providers such as Dynadata, Lightspeed GMI, Toluna, ResearchNow, SSI, Netquest and many others offer access to millions of prospective respondents, with the possibility of either putting a survey on their site or linking an external surveys and collecting consumer responses.

Specific demographic and geographic areas can be specified, with the possibility of other filters depending on the panel provider. In addition, the panels are large enough, that for specialist or more targeted groups of consumers, a short screener questionnaire can be used to filter down to very specific groups (eg buyers of a specific product) that would be uneconomic using other research methods.

Sample is charged according the specificity of the group and the incidence rate (what percentage of the population are in the target group), combined with the length of the questionnaire - which drives the incentive required.

Typically respondents are rewarded in terms of a voucher or points or a prize draw to complete the survey based on survey length. The use of incentives can encourage rogue respondents. There is a temptation for respondents to sign up under a number of different names and email addresses, or for scammers to use bots to sign up and take surveys.

Quality market research panel providers have a series of screening checks in place and will monitor a series of data-points to weed out rogue respondents and duplicated contacts. Lower quality panels have fewer checks. Even so, there is still a risk of individuals gaming the system, so responses should also be checked for quality.

Modern panels require double opt ins and have strict ethical recruitment practices. However, it is still possible to find fly-by-night internet firms out there, that use spam email lists, or that prey on panellists by asking consumers to pay a fee to join panels. No research company will ever charge for someone to become a panellist.

Good research panels take care over the quality of their respondents and will be very happy to share details of their quality procedures.

In use, panel providers do not provide direct access to their panellists. Instead, their panellists will be given links (via the panel providers website). For closed surveys - where access needs to be controlled, we provide a list of valid IDs that can then be used on the links to ensure that only genuine panellists take part. This ID system, also allows us to flag problems from our own quality checks which can catch rogue participants that the panel provider missed.


Specialist panels

Specialist research panels are often found for healthcare and pharmaceutical market research, where access to doctors, physicians and other health care practitioners is otherwise difficult. Panels are also available for a range of business specialisms and roles, for example in business-to-business markets, IT or telecoms professionals.

The recruitment method for these types of groups is often more sophisticated and more expensive than a straight consumer panel as it will typically involve a telephone contact with the respondent either at the outset, to invite someone to join, or subsequently, as a verification step to confirm bona fides.

In the healthcare market there are also strict ethical rules over factors like honoraria used for incentives.

For this reason specialist panels are much more expensive than consumer research. However, they are still comparatively less than the equivalent telephone interview, and being online it means that interviews can be carried out at the time and place of the respondent's choosing.

For help and advice on carrying out on-line research contact

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