Focus Groups vs. Online Surveys: Making The Right Choice

Focus groups vs surveys

When it comes to understanding what your customers or target audience really wants, you've got options.

Two popular types of market research are focus groups and online surveys. But how do you know which one is right for you? Don't worry, we're here to help you figure that out.

In this article, our market research company takes a closer look at focus groups and online surveys.

We'll break down what makes each of them tick, what they're good at, and where they might fall short. By the time we're done, you'll have a clear idea of which tool is the best fit for your business needs. 

Focus Groups: What are they?

A focus group is when a selected gathering of people participate in a discussion together.

Typically, the objectives are to learn about perceptions of a particular product, company, or idea.

Focus groups are led by a moderator who asks questions to participants and often encourages discussion between the participants.

Focus group facility

Focus groups are not created to bring the participant group to a consensus or decision. The goal of focus groups is to identify thoughts, feelings, and perceptions that can help a company strategize.

This type of market research can be conducted in-person at a focus group facility, or online via video conferencing technology such as Zoom.

Online focus groups are growing in popularity because they allow companies to reach customers from across the United States without having to host several different group discussions in each part of the country.

Recommended Reading: Traditional Focus Groups or Online Focus Groups: The Choice is Yours

Online Surveys: What are they?

Online surveys are a popular method for collecting data about the general population or a specific demographic.

Surveys simply are a series of questions individuals answer, whose results can be collected and analyzed. Data collected from surveys can be generalized and expanded to represent a larger target audience.

Online surveys include two key features:

  1. Sampling
  2. Questionnaires

Sampling is used when a specific subgroup of the target demographic is selected and given a survey filled with questions.

For example, a produce company wants to survey grocery shoppers who purchase apples at least two times a month.

Questionnaires are the actual survey draft or questions asked in the research.

Looking for survey tips? Here at the top 5 market research survey tips.

Pros & Cons of Focus Groups

Focus groups are a great way to collect in-depth insights from your target audience. But, there are both pros and cons that may steer your choice of methodology. 


  • Rich qualitative data: Focus groups allow for in-depth exploration of attitudes, perceptions, and opinions. Participants can elaborate on their thoughts, providing rich insights that might not be captured through quantitative methods alone.

  • Diverse perspectives: Focus groups can bring together individuals from different backgrounds, demographics, or experiences, providing diverse perspectives on the topic under discussion.

  • Flexibility: Moderators can adapt the discussion based on participant responses, probing deeper into interesting areas or redirecting the conversation as needed.


  • Group bias: Group dynamics can sometimes lead to conformity or "group bias," where participants may feel pressured to agree with dominant opinions or withhold dissenting views.

  • Limited generalizability: Findings from focus groups may not be representative of the broader population, as participants are usually a small, self-selected group. To combat this, we'd recommend conducting online focus groups to cast a wider net.

  • Logistical challenges: Organizing and conducting focus groups require careful planning, including recruitment of participants, venue selection, and scheduling, which can be logistically challenging.

  • Higher cost: Compared to some other research methods, such as individual interviews or large-scale surveys, focus groups can be more expensive, especially when targeting specific demographics.

Pros & Cons of Online Surveys

Online surveys are beneficial for collecting quick, cost-effective insights from a large sample of people. It is perhaps the most common market research methodology. Though, they do  carry some perceived drawbacks as well. 


  • Cost-effective: Online surveys typically require fewer resources than traditional methods like phone or in-person interviews. There are no printing or postage costs, and data can be collected and analyzed digitally.

  • Wide reach: With the widespread use of the internet, online surveys can reach a large and diverse audience, including people from different geographic locations and demographics.

  • Convenience: Participants can complete online surveys at their own convenience, which can increase response rates compared to other methods that require scheduling appointments or phone calls.

  • Quick data collection: Online surveys can be distributed rapidly, and responses are typically collected in real-time, allowing researchers to gather data quickly and make timely decisions.

  • Ease of analysis: Data collected from online surveys are often automatically compiled into a digital format, making analysis easier and more efficient compared to manual data entry from paper surveys.

  • Customization: Online survey platforms often offer a range of features for customization, including branching logic, skip patterns, and question randomization, allowing researchers to tailor surveys to specific needs.


  • Response bias: Participants may not always provide accurate or thoughtful responses, leading to response bias. Factors such as survey length, question wording, and respondent motivation can influence the quality of responses.

  • Limited demographic information: Online surveys may lack the ability to collect detailed demographic information compared to other methods like phone interviews or face-to-face surveys, potentially limiting the ability to analyze results by demographic variables.

  • Technical issues: Participants may encounter technical issues while completing online surveys, such as browser compatibility issues, internet connectivity problems, or difficulties navigating the survey interface, which can affect response rates and data quality.

  • Potential for survey fatigue: With the proliferation of online surveys, participants may experience survey fatigue, leading to decreased response rates or lower-quality responses, particularly if they receive multiple survey requests from different sources.

Focus Groups vs. Online Surveys: Which is better?

The short answer is, it depends on your objectives. 

The long answer...

Take a look at key components of your study. 

  • What is your budget?
  • What type of feedback are you looking for?
  • Who is your target audience?
  • How many people do you want to participate in your research?

If you are looking for fast, less expensive data from hundreds of respondents, online surveys are the choice for you.

Focus groups require a lot of set-up time, compensating a moderator, booking a focus group facility, and compensating participants.

However, surveys can be executed quickly and sent out through email and/or shared online, keeping costs down.

If you are looking for in-depth feedback in an intimate setting where moderators can ask for more detail, then focus groups are for you. While a focus group will likely never be as low-cost as online surveys, there are ways to cut costs.

Reach out to a market research company, like Drive Research, to learn what methodology they'd recommend within your budget.

Contact Our Full-Service Market Research Company

Drive Research is a national market research firm offering a wide range of marketing research services.

Our market research team has experience conducting focus groups and online surveys to help companies answer questions that influence decision-making and strategy.

When done correctly, market research will result in a greater return on investment (ROI).

Questions about how Drive Research can help? Talk to our team today.

  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

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