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How Internet Technology Benefits Market Research Essay

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Today's Internet technology and applications development process is replacing many traditional research methods. Some of the most notable changes are taking place in traditionally low-technology areas. One such area is market research, which encompasses many activities that can be improved through the use of new technology. Conducting market research traditionally has been painfully slow and labour intensive, requiring a significant investment by manufacturers. By using the Internet as a research delivery mechanism and data collection tool, manufacturers can expedite the market research process and reduce costs. Innovations offered by the Internet may give device manufacturers greater reason to consider market research as an integral part of the product development process. The main way to perform market research through the Internet is e-mail. It potentially offers researchers many advantages such as easy access to world-wide samples, low administration costs (both financially and temporally) and it is unobtrusive and friendly to respondents. Moreover, response rates to e-mail questionnaires appear favourable as does the ease of distribution and response times. However, e-mail's application as a research tool is constrained by its, as yet, limited and biased population of users (in terms of age, income, gender and race).

Technology-based tools, such as the Internet, can provide benefits at each stage of the market research process. For example, the full-time accessibility of the Internet facilitates effective communication between market research organisations and survey panels or focus groups, participation can be maximised, and the time required to complete research can be minimised. By increasing accessibility, greater efficiency can be brought to many market research programs. Generally, market research process can be categorised into four basic task areas: survey and focus group design, recruitment of subjects, data collection, and data analysis.

There are many advantages of using the Internet / e-mail as a research tool. In particular electronic communication sets up a 'democratisation of exchange' that eludes more conventional research methodologies. As Boshier arguesE-mail appears to provide a context for the kind of non-coercive and anti-hierarchical dialogue that Habermas claimed constitutes an 'ideal speech situation', free of internal or external coercion, and characterised by equality of opportunity and reciprocity in roles assumed by participants (Boshier 1990, p. 51)In this way e-mail goes some way to transcending the traditional biases that beset interviewing techniques. As Spender (1995) argues, the concepts of race, gender, age and sexuality do not necessarily apply when communicating electronically. Furthermore, the potential for asynchronous communication that e-mail offers is attractive feature when considering its use as a research tool (Thach 1995). Subjects are not constrained to synchronous communication but can respond when and how they feel comfortable. In short, e-mail's primary advantage is its 'friendliness' to the respondent.

Another advantage of using the Internet (email) to collect research data is that certain problems can be controlled more effectively by Internet-based systems than with conventional paper-based survey methods. For example, respondents to Internet-based surveys are allowed to select only from the given responses to each question. Survey participants cannot write in another answer or select more than one answer. Furthermore, respondents are not able to skip ahead (as is possible with a printed survey). Use of an Internet-based format yields surveys that are more complete and eliminates biases that can develop if participants are able to look ahead at question topics.

The Internet also provides a foundation for conducting focus groups on-line using a virtual facility that all participants can access from their own personal computers. This can reduce costs because a considerable part of the expense of conducting focus groups is the compensation that must be paid to participants who travel to a particular location for the session. Participants in an on-line focus group are compensated only for the time that they are participating; there is no travel associated wit...

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