OPINION17 January 2022

Quality time: What does 2022 mean for research?

Opinion Retail Trends UK

Last year saw an incredible amount of innovation due to the market research industry having to adapt to ongoing disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. With all the momentum the industry has witnessed recently, it remains to be seen what market research leaders can expect over the next 12 months, as Jim Longo outlines here.

Laptop with a supermarket trolley and boxes for online shopping

The demand for online qualitative research had ebbed and flowed since the great recession, but these past two years have changed all that. Today, online qualitative research is not only lowering overhead costs by virtue of being virtual, but it’s also providing more value – it brings quantitative data to life, provides a window into consumers’ homes and lifestyles and is a key aspect of agile research methodologies. 

This recent wave of interest is unique and not likely to reverse course anytime soon. In fact, online qualitative research is only increasing its importance as the technology and functionality of insight extraction have advanced, providing single platform solutions for customer experience (CX), user experience (UX) and insights teams. 

Here are three key consumer trends that have led to online qualitative innovations:

  •  An increase in online shopping → mobile UX research. We all know that retail has been transformed under the pandemic, with laptop screens and mobile devices providing the window shopping once reserved for the mall or parade of shops on the high street.

    What’s different today is that more consumers are valuing convenience, more now than even before Covid-19. According to a recent report by Salesforce, online spend accounts for 37% of total retail spend, up from 27% pre-pandemic. 

    Digital shopping and ecommerce have become such a stronghold that it makes little difference to consumers if there are still pandemic-related barriers to shopping in person.  According to a report from Deloitte, nearly three out of four consumers felt comfortable going into a physical store as of May 2021, an increase in sentiment of 34% over the previous year.

    With fewer physical touch points leading up to the point of sale, retailers have needed to identify new ways of enhancing the customer experience, constantly checking the pulse of the consumer. Online qualitative research tools that can enable mobile shop-alongs allow researchers to ‘look over the shoulder’ of consumers to see what that shopping experience is really like for them.

    In this unpredictable and competitive landscape, it’s imperative that organisations use every UX tool they can to have a window into consumers’ perspectives, opinions and attitudes as, ultimately, consumer closeness is the key to thriving in this environment.
  • Remote, virtual lifestyles the integration of live and asynchronous feedback. The way that people have adopted digital lifestyles, from online education and Zoom work meetings to remote family gatherings and health consultations, has directed the flow of business to serve people where they are. 

    The pressure of a changing business environment, one that has seen companies accelerate the digitisation of their customer and supply-chain interactions by three to four years – according to McKinsey – has had a ripple effect on market researchers, growing the need to innovate and offer further avenues to connect online.

    In the spirit of this transformation, online qualitative feedback platforms have grown to integrate both live video and asynchronous (or self-captured) conversations. While asynchronous research has been around for the past few decades, researchers can now integrate self-captured feedback with live conversations to drive deeper insights.

    With single insights platform solutions, respondents can engage in multiple virtual touchpoints: they can fill out a survey or write a journal entry on their own time, then take part in a live, online conversation – all for the same qualitative research project.

    Just like a virtual doctor who gives patients the option to fill out online medical histories ahead of their appointment, researchers can give respondents “homework” ahead of an important focus group or in-depth interview. And just like telehealth, qualitative research providers are working hard to gather information in a way that is most convenient for people’s daily lives. 
  • CX as a differentiator qualitative analytics

    Through supply chain and pandemic-related disruptions, labour shortages and more, last year proved that strong CX is a business imperative. With the rise of customer feedback through both online channels and qualitative research, consumers have developed stronger expectations of the brands with which they interact.

    A company in this environment can only win their loyalty through proactive customer service and a seamless purchasing journey. For businesses to continue winning over customers and earning their loyalty, strong CX has become a brand differentiator, as well as a key performance indicator. 

Quantity and quality unite to offer deeper insights
The challenge of making customers happy can all be tracked back to empathy and understanding. I’ve said it dozens of times and I’ll say it a dozen times more: there’s no better way to understand customers than to gain closeness through qualitative research.  The difference is, with insight extraction built to scale, qualitative analytics can turn unstructured feedback into structured data, providing critical information for evidence-based decision making at the highest levels.

This convergence of quantitative and qualitative research has been a long time in the making. Market research teams have evolved to incorporate both methodologies – within the past year, 50% of all research projects run have had a qualitative component.

And with the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) to the qualitative research space, unstructured qualitative data can be analysed quickly with less human error, driving reports that feature strong video clips to bring the voice of the customer to life.

This combination of intelligence gathering – from mobile UX research, asynchronous capabilities and qualitative analytics – enables deeper context on consumer behaviour that leads to greater understanding and empathy. It also brings qualitative insights across the entire product journey from innovation and concept and message testing to UX, product launch validation and CX.

In this era of a post-pandemic society, online qualitative research has been transformed to better serve people by listening to their experiences and turning them into insights more efficiently and effectively.

Jim Longo is chief strategy officer at Discuss.io.