Rethinking Mobile’s Impact on Research

By Lou Ciaccia, Director – Research Operations

For the past decade, we’ve all been talking about “mobile research” and asking “should we be doing it?” and “what does it mean for my sample frame?” However, while we were discussing mobile, our respondents have been shifting to mobile on their own and in their own way.

Initially, the focus was on Research Approaches for Mobile Devices – what unique methodologies can we create now that respondents have data, video, and image capture access on-the-go. Approaches that are designed specifically for respondents with smartphones have added depth and context to data collection, especially in the qualitative space, continuing to grow with new technologies.

Now the conversation has shifted, and so have our respondents. Regardless of how an online study is designed, many of our respondents are using mobile devices to participate. What’s critical now is that all online research becomes Mobile Optimized Research.

The Unintentional Mobile User

According to Melanie Courtwright, EVP, Global Client Services at Research Now, the number of online surveys started on a mobile device is nearing 30 percent, up from 10 percent just three years ago.1

The majority of these respondents are Unintentional Mobile Users:

“Respondents who receive a traditional email invitation to a study designed and tested on PC, but choose to complete the survey on a mobile device.  They have not been selected as a mobile user, or to take advantage of mobile’s capabilities, but they are self-selecting to complete on a mobile device.”

Panel companies are obviously big advocates for mobile optimized online surveys. They are working to protect their biggest assets, and ultimately ours, in an effort to reduce attrition and retain those that opt-in via a mobile device. Mobile Optimization includes high level items like:

  • Being mindful of scale length: 10pt scales are harder to execute on mobile versus 7pt, for example

  • Keeping your surveys short: maximum 10-12 minutes

  • Using responsive programming: can be viewed and taken equally well across device types, and does not include grids

What does this mean for our industry?

The idea that we can all snap our fingers and instantly start writing only 10 minute surveys with 7pt scales is not feasible; incremental improvement over time is more achievable.

If we are mindful of the survey experience, we will design a better study. If it’s painful to read, edit, or test on a PC, it’s likely nearly impossible to take on a mobile device.

We must become advocates for survey takers so that they will continue to participate on panels and give us their opinions and feedback.


Look for more to come on this topic including: data quality and variability implications, programming do’s and don’ts, & sampling best practices.

Download Melanie Courtwright’s presentation from IIEX NA 2015, “It’s Not Me, It’s You: Research Participants and Data Speak on Mobile Design and Data Quality” here.


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