Online vs. offline collection, which offers better quality data?

In one form or another, market research and efforts to obtain high-quality data have been around for centuries. Today, thanks to advances in technology, research methods have evolved by leaps and bounds. This means lots of people are trying to figure out if collecting data online is better than collecting it offline.  


Below, we’ll see the implications of each methodology, as well as their main advantages and disadvantages. 


Mistrust: a barrier to using new methods to collect high-quality data 

As we know, the goal of data-gathering is to produce reliable analyses that help us make informed business decisions. Essentially, we’re looking for information that will help guide an organization as it navigates various choices. Thus, it’s essential to make sure our research enables us to gather high-quality data. 


That said, oftentimes agencies and organizations alike limit themselves to using only those methods that have worked so far. 


Why is that? Why should we only place our trust in what we already know? Staying in our comfort zone and employing the same old data-gathering practices can blunt innovation or cost us our competitive edge. This is doubly true when technology is constantly equipping us with new tools. 


While this reluctance is usually due to negative experiences in previous attempts to gather digital data, it’s important to bear in mind that methods have evolved and that today, there are new professional actors who can help us reach the necessary samples. Thus, it’s useful to examine the pros and cons of these methods. 


Historic evolution of data-gathering methods 

There’s no doubt that the market-research sector has benefited from technological development. The field has moved from data written with a pencil and paper, to enormous computers that processed information, up through mobile devices with integrated tools (a camera, microphone, GPS, etc.). 


Today, in addition to having more advanced methods for gathering high-quality data at our disposal, we’re also able to gather it faster than ever before. Needless to say, this is the case because technology has streamlined researchers’ jobs and facilitated more active involvement on the part of survey-takers. And most important of all, today, we can gather data in real time. 


Gathering high-quality data offline 

But despite the benefits described above, it is undeniable that traditional offline data-gathering is still an important and oft-utilized approach. Below are some of the methods used today: 


Pencil and paper 

Objectively, this method remains current, because there are places that digital technology—which requires electricity and an internet connection—cannot reach.  


That said, this method’s main disadvantage is that it always requires subsequent logistical handling so that data can be processed. Furthermore, printing material can be costly and environmentally unfriendly. 


Self-administered surveys 

This involves conducting surveys in which participants complete forms themselves, either with a pencil and paper, a computer, or a mobile device. In the case of mobile devices, the information remains stored on the device until it is uploaded to the database. 


One of the main challenges in this kind of survey is crafting questions that can only be interpreted in one way, so that the respondent won’t get confused and we will still obtain high-quality data. 


There’s also a logistical challenge, since these surveys must be submitted by the respondent and picked up by the researcher after the survey is complete. This slows down the data collection and capture process. 


Not to mention, using this method with the support of a computer or mobile device can become problematic if:  


  • the participant isn’t familiar with the technology in question 
  • the researcher doesn’t remain passive during the data collection process, which opens the door to biased responses 


Computer-assisted survey information collection  

Call centers and F2F (face-to-face) researchers use this kind of survey. Its main advantage is that it allows us to use audiovisual resources to support questions (when possible). This makes the surveys more dynamic and fluid. 


On top of that, the surveyor or operator inputs information directly into collection software, which makes later processing far faster. That said, in the field, surveyors may need access to electricity in order to charge their device. Not to mention, they are exposing themselves to theft and loss of the data gathered. 


Furthermore, when these surveys are conducted by phone, it’s impossible to use the same media as are employed in F2F surveying. Not to mention, many people are less likely to participate in surveys conducted by phone. Even if they pick up, the calls often must be quite short.  


Gathering high-quality data online 

Now, before we dive into the digital world, it’s important to remember that online data-gathering methods are those that use data-capture platforms on the internet. This means responses are automatically captured online. The most common forms are: 


Proprietary databases 

Businesses and institutions regularly access proprietary databases, as they are an affordable alternative that offers a direct communication dynamic with their customers. They are useful, and they may have preidentified certain interest behaviors, such as consumption volume.  


That said, the response rate tends to be very low since, typically, customers aren’t interested in participating in these surveys. 


River sampling 

This involves attracting attention from internet users when they interact with websites, platforms, apps, or social media through ads that invite them to participate in a survey in exchange for rewards. 


However, this method has distinct disadvantages. For example: 


  • Even though it expands the population of possible participants, costs also increase, depending on the country 
  • It competes with programmatic advertising 
  • Interest in participation tends to be low 
  • There is no quality control with regard to each participant’s suitability 
  • It is difficult to achieve participation from multiple contacts, and to reestablish contact 


Snowball sampling  

This method aims to grow the sample through referrals. This helps researchers reach very specific, complex targets that can be more difficult to access through other online techniques. 


Even so, depending on third-parties’ willingness to participate, information-gathering can be slow. This also makes participant-quality control challenging. 


Assess panels 

This data-gathering method has several notable advantages. Businesses that offer this service act as data providers and integrate comprehensive incentive programs to help maintain a genuinely interested participant database. Consequently, they usually have higher response rates relative to proprietary databases. 


The data-capture process is also far swifter. But most important of all, their seal of distinction is how reliable the high-quality data they gather is. 


However, on some occasions, the quality of the data they collect is not homogeneous. This can be due to process issues, such as:  


  • Failures in quality control with regard to panelists 
  • Failures in the execution process 
  • Poor incentive-type selection 


Fortunately there are some panels, like Netquest, that conform to ISO 20252, which ensures greater reliability as it pertains to panelist management, processes and, therefore, the quality of the data gathered. 


Market Research metodology


So, what provides the best high-quality data? Offline or online collection? 

After studying the information above, it should be clear that thinking data quality depends on whether it’s collected online or offline is a mistake. It’s important to consider how well the research objectives are suited to each method, as well as the proper construction of a tool that enables us to collect good data. 


In either case, it’s important to review total understanding of the questionnaire to ensure that, above all, the survey fits the respondents, since they are those ones whose participation constitutes the target of interest. 


In response, it is clear that organizations must invest sufficient resources in deploying mechanisms that will guarantee their data’s reliability. This is why it’s so important to have validation processes, and why it’s important to look for companies that adhere to the technical quality norms such as ISO 20252. 


Don’t miss: Audio-matching: A revolution in audience measurement 


Online methods reaffirm their importance 

Ignoring the past as you move confidently into the future is counter-productive. The same is true of ignoring the future when your goal is to obtain high-quality data. Online methods have remained effective through years of successful implementation, and they are here to stay. 


Thus, the market will continue offering both online and offline alternatives. This enables companies to select the methodology that best fits their projects. 


Even though resistance to change is nothing new and some research agencies are reluctant to shift to online data-collection—contending that they’re doing this at the behest of their clients—the reality is that most companies already use online data-collection tools. 


At Netquest, for over 20 years, we have been revolutionizing the world of market research in order to offer high-quality data that can be leveraged to make high-impact decisions and deploy high-impact strategies. Our secret? Real people, who enable us to get real insights. Get in touch so your company can stand out! 

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