FEATURE28 July 2014

The hard cell


As mobile devices become integral to our daily lives, Richard Thornton of Cint discusses the barriers to carrying out mobile research and what best practice could look like in the future.

After undertaking an examination of the current state of mobile uptake by market research firms and professionals, we became curious about what research participants themselves think about being surveyed via their smartphones and tablets. As the market research industry scrambles to catch up with the depth of mobile-friendly solutions seen in other industries, are participants prepared to embrace this new way of being approached, and how can the transition be facilitated?

In an in-depth report on the challenges of mobile research, Decipher recently offered several illuminating statistics drawn from client projects on the level of participation in mobile surveys, along with design considerations to enhance participation levels and ensure consistent results across devices. The study found that while 80% of surveys were started on desktop computers, mobile penetration continues to grow with 13% being initiated on smartphones and 7% on tablets.

Noting that the majority of its client base does not yet optimise surveys for mobile, Decipher set out to analyse the possible effect this was having on the dropout rates for surveys on smartphones and tablets. It found that the smaller the screen size, the lower the completion rate; in particular, smartphone users abandoned surveys at around 1.5 to 2 times the rate of desktop users.

Intrigued by these findings, we decided to put them to our own test and explore further the reasons why mobile survey participation seems to be lower than in other areas of life. We sent out a set of questions on a recent omnibus survey in the UK, receiving responses from 1,066 research participants between the ages of 15 to 80.

Desk is best

Aligned relatively closely to Decipher’s findings as far as desktop preference was concerned, our results revealed that 84% of respondents prefer to complete surveys on desktop computers. However, we found that tablets were the next popular option at 8.8%, followed by smartphones at 6.6%. While these numbers for tablets and smartphones differ from Decipher’s findings as far as initiation rates are concerned, they are aligned with the assertion that completion rate drops according to screen size – if users prefer the larger screen of a tablet to a smartphone, they are logically more likely to complete the survey on that device. This result could also be linked to the fact that the larger screens on tablets mitigate some of the frustrations experienced when trying to complete a survey that hasn’t been optimised for mobile, such as needing to zoom or scroll to be able to view content.

When we broke these results down by age, things got even more interesting. In the 15-22 age bracket, a survey high 13.4% of respondents chose smartphones as their preferred option. This reflects a broader trend seen across different industries, as younger people are the most comfortable with using smartphones for a variety of tasks. However, knowing this, it is possible that researchers are subsequently targeting this age group more often with surveys designed to work on smartphones.

As the lowest smartphone participation group (a mere 0.6%), respondents aged 56-80 reported not only the highest percentage of desktop participation ( 88.5%), but also the highest percentage of tablet preference at 10.9%. This also aligns with other findings showing that seniors are more likely to own tablets than smartphones. Those aged 23-35 represented the highest levels of mobile device adoption as a whole.

Sub optimal

To understand why the majority of respondents prefer desktop over mobile when it comes to answering surveys, we designed our next question to provide further illumination. We asked respondents to tell us what percentage of surveys they answer seem to be optimised for smartphones and tablets. Almost a third of the respondents ( 29.7%) chose the option representing the lowest perceived level of optimisation, stating that only 0-10% of the surveys they participate in seem to be mobile friendly. Further insight can be gained by looking at the breakdown of responses by age group. Fewer respondents ( 16.2%) in the 15-22 bracket chose the option representing lowest level of mobile optimisation, while more respondents ( 41.6%) in the 56-80 age group chose it, which gives further credence to the idea that, in comparison with the older age groups, the younger age group is more often approached with mobile-optimised surveys. However, the numbers as a whole indicate that the vast majority of surveys received by respondents do not seem to be optimised for mobile devices.

When queried about the most annoying aspect of trying to complete surveys that were not optimised for mobile viewing, a majority of respondents replied that needing to zoom in was the most frustrating, followed by questions being too long or requiring too much scrolling, then typing answers, and lastly the overall survey being too long. These pain points differed slightly in prominence according to age group.

However, a significant overall percentage ( 40.2%) said they didn’t know or had never taken a survey on their mobile phone. This rose to 69.3% of the 56-80 age group and dropped to a low of 14.8% for those aged 15-22. Paired with the rest of the results, it seems that younger age groups are the most comfortable with participating in mobile surveys, which parallels mobile usage statistics as a whole, but again highlights the possibility that these age groups are more often targeted with mobile-optimised surveys.

Best practice

While the results underline the fact that the market research industry still lags behind when it comes to harnessing the power of mobile engagement, there are also hints that the public at large is not as comfortable taking surveys on mobile devices in comparison with other tasks that have seen a significant shift from desktop to mobile, such as conducting local searches or spending time on social media. This means an element of education might be in order, along with initiatives to make surveys more suited for completion on a variety of devices.

Overall, these findings corroborate those of Decipher’s study, and underline best practice recommendations for mobile design, namely:

  • Designs should be responsive to the challenges of smaller screen sizes to eliminate the need for zooming and excessive scrolling. This can be achieved by employing larger fonts, using shorter text, and breaking grids down into touch-friendly buttons.
  • Requiring users to type in answers on their mobile devices, which is often more difficult than on desktop computers, can cause frustration. For best results, input should be limited to actions native to mobile devices: swiping and tapping the screen.
  • Mobile survey respondents are likely out and about, have less time to complete a lengthy survey, and experience more distractions to limit their attention spans. Curtailing survey length accordingly could improve completion rates.
  • Offering real-time completion incentives redeemable in the respondent’s current location could help to emphasise the benefits of answering surveys on the go.

Richard Thornton is global sales and operations director at Cint.


6 years ago

Surprised to see that the following does not feature in the results: Mobile phones tend to have less reliable Internet connections than the other two device types tested. Usability and survey length are only relevant if the survey can be accessed.

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6 years ago

I think it would be also interesting to analyse in which "locations" the different target groups are ready to fill in the mobile surveys... I just started a local survey in New Orleans: Http://www.appsstrategy.com All my best, Bernhard Apps Strategy LLC

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