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Market Research in Times of Crisis: COVID-19


Holly Carter and Wale Omiyale

Holly Carter and Wale Omiyale

Author Bio

Holly Carter, Director of Product Marketing and Wale Omiyale, SVP Market Research

Author Bio

Pros and cons of continuing surveys at a time of crisis.

The global raise of COVID-19 has many businesses struggling and confused on what steps to take to minimize the economic impact. Although we have seen past crises – natural disasters, business crises, and even health-related issues – the recent global pandemic and its rapid spread is an unprecedented challenge facing today’s businesses.
 
As such, we don’t have any absolute guarantees or best practices. With new information emerging each day, this is a very dynamic scenario, to say the least. Still, we can look to history for some hints. History shows that every major crisis involving economic uncertainty – the Spanish Flu, World Wars, the Great Depression, and 2008’s Great Recession – has changed consumer behavior.  
 
In the not too distant future, research buyers need to consider - what will the new normal look like? What long term changes can we expect in consumer expectations? And how will all these changes impact businesses?
 
Consider just a few possible long term changes:
  • With the population now realizing the risk and ease of getting infections, will measures for social distancing have a long term impact in restaurant seating design? Or change the way we queue in stores?
  • With many non-essential stores closed and online shopping providing the only means of accessing some goods, will we see an even more rapid shift toward demands for improved digital consumer experiences?
  • With large gatherings and events taking on significant blame for the rapid spread of COVID-19, will we see shifts in consumers’ desire to attend large scale events and gatherings?
  • Will some essential goods see long term changes in consumers’ desire to buy in bulk?
  • Will some “non-essential” goods lose value in the eyes of the consumer in the long run?
 
Yes, there are many unanswered questions relating to how this will change consumer behavior in the long term! These are questions, however, that Market Research can answer. And businesses need to be prepared to get these answers sooner rather than later.
 
The question, however, remains, should companies continue surveying right now during the COVID-19 global pandemic?
 
Of course, there are pros and cons to any decision and with your help, Market Research buyers will need to consider what’s best for their business and their customers. Research buyers will need to think about the current state of affairs in their industry and the purpose/desired outcome of their research. For example, with consumer emotions running high and purchasing decisions skewed based on availability rather than preference (yes, toilet paper, I am talking about you), there’s a high risk of in-the-moment respondent bias. For some, on the other hand, researching right now makes perfect sense.
 
Before research buyers decide whether research makes sense, they should consider the pros and cons. While this is not a comprehensive list, here are a few things to consider:
 
Consider these pros:
  • In times of crisis, communication and knowledge exchange can be a powerful thing – so keeping ongoing, continuous programs running can be a critical practice for the business.
  • Understanding the nuances of general perspective, opinion, and appropriateness of action could be a huge differentiator.
  • Many respondents are still connected/online/working from home, so are still accessible.
  • Even when continuing surveys, some acknowledgement of the current situation (mentions in the invitation or introduction, special communications in advance via email, etc.) is likely to be viewed as caring, empathetic and appreciated – be careful that it comes across as genuine and sincere, but not hollow or dispassionate.
  • Some “normal” business work may have slowed a bit, so respondents may have more time to respond – although generally, response rates do suffer (at least initially) based on past historic crises.
  • Desire to keep things as normal as possible (amidst so much uncertainty and doubt) reinforces the need to keep things operational.
  • Depending on survey audience and the reason for the survey, surveying would be viewed as kind, thoughtful, and helpful. For example in education and healthcare, business may choose to leverage surveys to assess respondent’s needs and the accessibility of vital resources. Not only can this help the business to understand their customer needs and improve response times, it can help the end customer with their planning efforts though this uncharted territory.
 
Consider these cons:
  • For some audiences, it may be “too soon” to ask direct questions about the COVID-19 crisis, since so much is uncertain.
  • Some surveys should be delayed since this is certainly a very atypical time and opinions would be far from typical.
  • Depending on survey audience, surveying may be viewed as inappropriate under the circumstances (travel/hospitality/dining, entertainment, businesses where respondents are displaced from their normal workspace and largely inaccessible).
  • In certain circumstances, respondents are distracted, busy, focused on the emergency of now, and unable/unwilling to respond – surveys would likely get lost in the shuffle.
  • Organizations should consider if they are able to currently act upon the feedback received – if resources, time, and effort are stretched thin and little will be done with the information – consider postponing it until it can and will be acted upon.
 
This is a very uncertain time and there are many questions relating to the best short term actions and long term impact of COVID-19 on business. If you and your research buyers do decide that it’s best to discontinue surveys at this time, it may be worthwhile to seek alternative ways to encourage feedback via unsolicited channels (websites, pop-ups, feedback links, etc.). But it’s important to remember, whether it’s now or later, there are going to be a lot of questions that need to be answered. The good news for Market Researchers is no one is better positioned than you to help restore businesses’ certainty in these uncertain times.
 


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