I got excited glancing at the cover story in the latest issue of Quirk’s. The theme of the issue is international research and I just knew the cover story—a case study about how Platinum Guild International used qualitative research to help launch a new website—was going to read like a success story in using online qualitative research tools to reach geographically dispersed respondents quickly, easily and without spending too much on travel.
But I was wrong. In fact, the study was all in-person. QRi Consulting, the London-based research firm they worked with, conducted 32 in-person interviews in the United States, Japan and China—three of the guild’s biggest markets.
Now, despite our obvious affinity for online qualitative research, we’ll concede that it’s not always the best choice for every qualitative research project. Yes, there are some cases when in-person makes more sense. But, after reading the article, I’m torn on whether I agree with their reasoning for doing the interviews in-person.
“The subject matter is deeply personal,” Simon Patterson, CEO of QRi Consulting, told Quirk’s. “Jewelry, especially bridal jewelry, is something precious. It’s intimate and emotional. We didn’t want to try to capture such a significant experience online, when being there in person could maintain the humanity behind the whole experience.” Patterson also notes that being there in person helped overcome the obstacles inherent in multinational research—namely cultural differences. That’s why he sat in on each interview. (Hello, frequent flier miles!)
As an aside, that may not have been the best idea either: At the ESOMAR conference in Vienna last week, researchers from India presented on the extreme bias that can occur in some cultures when the moderator simply shows up. Those cultures attached a high status to those moderators. Therefore, they do not behave normally and, often, even answer to please the moderator. Caution should be taken when anyone, particularly a westerner, shows up to do research.
But let’s get back to the issue of online vs. in-person. The article explains: “The in-person interviews created an opportunity to clearly observe how respondents navigated the site. Patterson could see their posture, body language and facial expressions. This up-close experience allowed for observations of personal and cultural attitudes and behaviors and it also allowed for conversation and probing to dig deeper into the respondents’ thoughts as they navigated the site.”
Do you see why I’m torn? There’s nothing in that description that today’s online research software couldn’t overcome.
Here’s the real reason I think they did in-person interviews: “The Platinum Guild and QRi Consulting agreed from the beginning that doing the interviews in a face-to-face environment was very important for the study,” explains the article. The client wanted it done that way, and sometimes that’s reason enough.
What are your thoughts? If you were the researcher on this project, what would you have proposed?