Most research utilizes some form or variation of survey or polling. It has the advantage of gathering input from large groups of consumers quickly and relatively inexpensively. This research approach assumes that consumers know their likes, dislikes, and preferences and will be forthright in expressing them.
The method is premised on random selection of consumers within a target market. Where this market is the U.S. population at large, the survey or polling typically focuses on carefully selected communities that, taken collectively, proportionally represent the various constituencies comprising the broader community. Where the market is more product-line-specific, a select group of consumers in a given demographic or socioeconomic group becomes the focus. For example, parents of young children might be surveyed to check cereal or other food preferences.
The survey and polling methods themselves are wideranging. Selected consumers may receive a survey by mail, may be visited at home by an interviewer, may be telephoned, or may be computer-accessed by the Internet. Other consumers may be surveyed within a grocery store or a shopping mall. They may be asked about a specific product, sizes, colors, textures, and shapes. They may be asked to come into a mall-based test room where they express actual preferences of products or features. Or, in the case of food items or personal hygiene products, they may be asked to try different samples and register preferences. Logical consumers of a given product (e.g., mothers with infants, where the product is baby-care-related) may be gathered in focus groups to determine product features and preferences.
Rapid technological advances have brought prominent growth in surveying by Internet and the prospect of virtually instant response via integrated systems combining cable, computer, and television. Although the technologies will rapidly change, the basic principles underlying surveying and polling will remain constant—principles of random sampling within representative general or targetmarket populations.
In notable instances, polling or surveying will target those consumers who have purchased a given product or brand. What attracted them to the product, why they selected it, how satisfied they are with its features and performance, and related questions hold central interest for the company whose product was selected or, in some instances, a competing company who seeks to win the consumer in the future. The questionnaire may come in the just-purchased box of shoes, radio alarm clock, or computer. Purchaser surveying is the only consumer research method used by Japan. It is their belief that random surveying within the broader consumer population is too capricious and subject to change.
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