Are Online Surveys Accurate?

Recent Hart research indicates online surveys mostly give an accurate picture except when the questions are about information use and purchasing habits. If these two topics are of interest to your business then consider doing offline surveys or interviews.

Information Use Questions

  • Where do you get how-to information?
  • Where do you get creative inspiration?
  • Do you use Facebook?
  • Do you take workshops or seminars?

These questions yield different results depending upon whether the survey is online, printed and mailed, or done as an interview. Online respondents will of course emphasize online information and learning sources. Interestingly, both online and printed survey respondents may emphasize information use because the survey itself is a “test” of reading interest. If you need to survey people who are less reading oriented, try conducting the survey as an interview or a short and simple printed survey and offer a good participation incentive.

Purchasing habits questions

  • Where do you buy creative supplies?
  • What information sources do you look at before making a purchase?
  • What store attributes are most important to you?

Online survey respondents will report higher rates of buying online, using online purchase information, and even magazine reading about products. In contrast, in-store respondents will  be more likely to say they buy mostly in stores and don’t consult much information before making a purchase. These in-store respondents are more representative of the general population. (Side note: only about 5% of U.S. overall retail sales are online.)

So where should you survey?

Conduct a survey online if your business’s market is information-oriented people or your business is online, such as a publisher, online store, or e-learning site.

Conduct a survey in stores if you are a brick-and-mortar store or a supplier to them. This could be done as an interview or a short-and-simple printed survey to be completed in the store. If the cost of an in-store survey is a significant issue, however, you may have to survey online. If that is the case, don’t take the results at face value – Interpret them knowing the responses are higher than they should be around information use and online purchasing.