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In market research, a panel refers to a group of pre-recruited individuals that share similar traits and have agreed to provide feedback in exchange for certain incentives (whether they be monetary or non-monetary). Research panels are particularly used in longitudinal studies: a type of correlational research that involves studying certain variables over an extended period of time, whether that be weeks, months, years, or even decades.
This is because panel research gives you access to respondents for a longer period of time, allowing you to collect feedback from the same subjects at different points in time. This allows researchers to identify changes in behaviour, attitude, and sentiment over an extended time period.
An online research panel is a particular type of panel that consists of pre-selected individuals that are willing to participate in market research studies specifically conducted through online channels. This can include online focus groups, virtual interviews, and online surveys.
Research conducted through online panels is often cheaper than research conducted through panels that use offline channels. Additionally, due to the pandemic, online research panels have become more popular over the last year and a half as they facilitate the collection of data without the risk of contact.
Online panels can be categorized into the following groups:
Business to consumer online panels are the most common type of panel. These panels usually consist of a company’s target consumers or end-users to collect feedback on products, services, messaging, and concepts. B2C online panels allow organizations to acquire data that helps optimize decision-making processes by making them more customer-centric.
Business to business online panels refer to panels that comprise business owners, business decision-makers, and other business professionals that can provide knowledgeable and accurate responses. This type of online research panel is used when businesses are expanding and require help and guidance from business professionals to enhance the decision-making processes.
This is a niche category of business panels that can include medical practitioners, licensed medical professionals, and patients as well. When such panels are used, it is usually either to collect information on patients’ condition and treatment or doctors’ diagnosis and prescriptions.
The following are a few key advantages of conducting research using online panels:
When you conduct research using online channels, it gives you the opportunity to utilize multimedia while asking panel participants questions. This media could be in the form of pictures, videos, or even audio. Multimedia can help respondents understand the question better by providing more context to it. This will help acquire answers that are better-informed and hence more accurate.
When surveys and questionnaires are conducted using online channels, the data is centralised and is easier to manage. This makes the process of data collection, evaluation, and analysis fast and frictionless.
Panel research is known to make the process of obtaining participants quick and simple as you can decide which characteristics you want your sample to have and only the individuals who fit these characteristics will form your panel. Online panels also enjoy this advantage but on an even larger scale as it is easier to reach and survey the right group of participants using online channels as it provides access to a larger network of panellists.
Online panels ensure that you obtain refined information as they give you access to the right audience.
As participants in panels have been pre-selected and have already agreed to provide responses, the data collection process is much quicker. This allows data to be evaluated and analysed at a much faster speed.
Although technology has made the process of market research easier and quicker, it has also made it easier for respondents to provide fraudulent survey responses. Some respondents may create multiple fake profiles in an attempt to get incentives from online surveys. They may use many different tactics to provide fraudulent survey responses such as using bots to automate responses or using different IP addresses to avoid detection.
Therefore, screening and managing research panellists is an integral part of managing online research panels. Without it, the insights collected through online panels may prove to be inaccurate and unreliable. There are different measures researchers can take to verify panellists including checking cookies and IP addresses when respondents are answering surveys.
Another aspect that researchers need to focus on and manage is the panel attrition rate. This refers to a reduction of panellist participation in a study. There are many factors that can contribute to panel attrition including survey design, length of the survey, and amount/type of incentive. Each of these factors must be managed effectively so as to minimize panel attrition.