Pros and Cons of Online Market Research Panels

Survey - online research panel

In order to recruit participants or respondents for a market research study, researchers often turn to online panels.

An online research panel includes a group of pre-recruited participants who have signed up to participate in future market research studies such as online surveys, focus groups, and in-depth interviews.

Before choosing a panel vendor as a sampling source, learn more about the advantages and disadvantages below!

What is an Online Research Panel?

Online research panels are a group of people who have signed up and are interested in participating in market research studies such as online surveys and focus groups.

These panels are often used by market research companies to gather insights and opinions about products, services, and ideas from consumers.

Members of an online market research panel may be recruited through various means such as social media, email campaigns, or targeted advertising.

They are often incentivized to participate in surveys or focus groups with rewards such as gift cards, cash payments, or entries into sweepstakes.

The Process of Using an Online Research Panel

Online market research panels allow companies to quickly gather feedback from a large and diverse group of consumers.

The data collected from these panels can be used to make informed business decisions, improve products and services, and develop effective marketing strategies.

Luckily, the process of working with panel vendors is pretty straightforward.

Provide an online market research panel company with the following information:

  • The type of study
  • Goal number of completes
  • How long the survey takes to complete in minutes
  • Number of survey questions
  • Target audience
  • Target geography
  • Incidence rate
  • Quotas

With this information, the panel vendor will create a cost estimate for the market research.

After selecting your choice of vendor, you can launch your online survey and begin collecting responses.

The process seems pretty simple, right? Sometimes it is easy and other times it is more difficult. It all depends on the type of methodology or study and how difficult it is to reach the desired audience.

Advantages of Using Online Research Panels

Ready to learn why market research panels are a huge part of the market research industry? Online panels offer several advantages to market research buyers and suppliers including:

1. Higher project feasibility

Targeting capabilities offered by online research panels drive down the overall cost of a market research project.

Oftentimes, market research seeks feedback from specific types of people. A client may want feedback from specific types of job functions/titles, industries, demographics, and habits.​

For example, a client may want feedback from people who live within a 50-mile radius of Minneapolis and drink at least 2 cups of coffee every day. Seems specific right?

Some online research panels gather information like this about their members.

This allows them to target survey invites more effectively. Targeting invites limits the payouts they process to survey respondents to encourage engagement.

Remember! Happy survey respondents = happy data analysts.

2. Easier to sample respondents

The ability for market research panels to target invites can also make gathering responses easier.

Online research panels have the resources to manage quota requirements and process incentives. Processing incentives can be tricky, but online research panels make it easy because they handle the entire process.

Some online panels also give respondents points for gift cards, cash per survey, etc.

3. Lowers market research costs

Online research panels have resources and partners which help decrease costs.

Other sampling methods such as online ads or purchasing email lists can be costly if they do not produce the expected return.

However, panel vendors provide customers with a full cost breakdown so you can understand the cost for each survey complete.

4. Automates data collection

Project managers for online research panels can control data collection.

This can include managing quotas, conducting the fieldwork in batches, and pausing fieldwork after a quota is met. This saves time for research analysts.

5. Better solutions for respondents

Another huge benefit of online research panels is respondents know how it works (i.e., how to log in, how to access surveys, how rewards are processed, etc.). This diminishes the ambiguity of how to reach survey respondents since online research panels manage that process.

Disadvantages of Using Panels for Marketing Research

There are some sources of caution when using a market research panel. Our online survey agency explains those disadvantages below.

1. Population must have internet access

First, using an online research panel to gather responses for an online survey means participants have internet access and it's likely easily accessible.

This is somewhat common in the U.S., however, it's still limiting survey completes to people who have easy access to the internet rather than everyone.

Depending on the target audience for the survey this may make sense.

2. Greater bias

Bias is a bad word, especially in market research. Research analysts try to avoid bias at all costs.

When using an online panel, it's important to add effective screener questions to help diminish bias or low-quality responses.

Here are 5 types of bias in market research.

3. More professional survey takers

Be sure to look for duplicate respondents whether you plan to use one or several online research panels. Oftentimes, online research panels have partners they work with.

While most try to avoid duplicates, it's important to review the data to remove duplicate respondents.

In addition to assessing bias and removing duplicate respondents, there are several data-quality checks to assess before closing fieldwork.

This includes reviewing whether routing worked properly, reviewing all open-ended questions, checking for speeders, checking for straight-lining, and more.

For more insight, here's a data quality checklist for market researchers.

Recommended Reading: 4 Ways to Spot a Poor Quality Survey Respondent

Alternatives to Online Research Panels

Brands and researchers are not limited to online panel vendors when sourcing sample for their studies.

For example, our market research company utilizes both paid Facebooks ads and our in-house research panel. 

1. Paid Facebook ads

Utilizing social media platforms like Facebook can be more beneficial than hiring a panel vendor. It has greater access to real consumers who are not privy to what may or may not qualify them for a market research study.

Panel lists are full of professional survey takers who know how to game the system in order to qualify them for a paid study.

Additionally, there are detailed targeting capabilities similar to an online research panel where you can find your specific audiences such as age, gender, geo, and more.

Check out this webinar clip with members of our market research team discuss Facebook ads as a sampling source in more detail. 

For more information, I recommend reading our Ultimate Guide to How to Use Social Media to Find Research Participants.

2. Market research company panels

Lastly, similar to a panel vendor, market research companies like Drive Research have their own in-house online panel.

They typically consist of the firm's past participants who have signed up to be notified about future market research studies.

This is a great option if you want to work with a full-service research firm that can also help with survey design, fieldwork, reporting, and more.

3. Customer email lists

For studies such as customer surveys, email lists are a simple option when sourcing sample, as much of their information is already in the database. Because of this, companies can save time obtaining initial information. 

What’s more, email lists also ensure the respondents are familiar with a brand–an additional time saver. 

Final Thoughts

Online market research panels can be a powerful tool for gathering valuable insights from targeted audiences in a cost-effective and timely manner.

They provide easy access to large pools of respondents who have opted-in to participate in surveys, focus groups, and other research methodologies. This can save businesses significant time and resources that would otherwise be spent recruiting and screening participants.

However, as discussed in this article, there are pros and cons to consider when using online market research panels.

The quality and representativeness of the panel may vary, and there is a risk of bias or fraudulent responses. It's important to choose a reputable panel provider and use best practices to minimize these risks.

Contact Drive Research to Collect Survey Responses

Drive Research is a full-service market research company located in Upstate New York. Our team believes better data leads to better decisions and better strategies -- and that all begins with sourcing the best quality sample. We can recommend the best approach to collecting survey responses based on our experience. 

Ready for help? Here are 4 different ways to reach our market research team.

  1. Message us on our website
  2. Email us at [email protected]
  3. Call us at 888-725-DATA
  4. Text us at 315-303-2040

emily taylor about the author

Emily Taylor

As a Research Manager, Emily is approaching a decade of experience in the market research industry and loves to challenge the status quo. She is a certified VoC professional with a passion for storytelling.

Learn more about Emily, here.

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