Looking Ahead: The “New Normal” of Qualitative Research
09 Jun 2021

When the world shut down at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, every industry rushed to make adjustments to their protocols and procedures. In response to stay at home orders and social distancing, many industries shifted to a work-from-home setup. For researchers, this meant conducting what would normally be in-person qualitative research, such as focus groups and in-depth interviews, in virtual formats.

As the world comes closer to a sense of familiarity, there is also talk of the creation of a “new normal.” This is to say that some changes that came as a result of COVID-19 may not disappear too quickly, if at all. As of January 2021, over half of Americans were still concerned about shopping in person and many prefer shopping online even if they are comfortable going to a store. Regarding companies and industries, many have shifted to permanent work-from-home or hybrid formats, as workers realized the extent of what is possible without coming into an office.

At some point, focus group centers will reopen, in-person interviews will be possible, and some sense of normalcy will return to the research industry. But when this happens, will virtual versions of these methods become a thing of the past? Here are some reasons why we believe virtual qualitative research is in it for the long-haul.

See participants in their natural settings

By definition, qualitative research is meant to provide a deep look into the minds, thought-processes, and lives of consumers. Focus groups and IDIs provide this by asking open-ended questions and follow up questions, and by allowing moderators to analyze participants’ emotions and expressions. Virtual versions of these methods add a new layer of possibilities. Researchers can see participants in their own homes and environments. This allows the analysis to include notes on lifestyle factors that would not be seen in a facility location. You can also tell a person’s interests based on belongings that are caught on camera. Additionally, participants may feel more comfortable and responsive in their own familiar surroundings.

Research a larger variety of markets with ease

Qualitative research is a common step in introducing a product or service to new markets or even new countries. However, conducting focus groups in a facility means either traveling to the prospective locations or skipping out on attending  in person. This can be a time consuming process, especially if your company is considering multiple markets. With virtual focus groups, you can run a session in London one hour and a session in New York the next! Researchers can even mix different markets within the same focus groups (for example, you can include people from all over the East Coast of the US in one group). Virtual tools open up qualitative research to these possibilities that were difficult, if not impossible, before. 

Fit qualitative research into your plans on a smaller budget

Qualitative research can run up a significant tab and take up a large portion of a project’s budget. Aside from travel expenses, focus-groups and IDIs require renting facilities, provide a large enough incentive to entice participants to commute, and more! Virtual focus groups can reduce or even eliminate many of these costs. There is no room rental and participants are willing to join for a lower cost. These reduced costs together with the lack of travel needs can open up qualitative research to companies who, until now, have not been able to fit it into their budgets.

The world may be on it’s way back to normalcy, but in many ways we should learn from the past year. We can reflect and appreciate what we learned in both the way we live and the way we work. Some of what we have implemented over these months should continue, as they open up doors that we did not previously know existed. This surely applies to virtual focus groups and IDIs.

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