As briefly mentioned in the Internet section, there are both advantages and disadvantages of using the Internet to conduct marketing research. This section will focus on the disadvantage.
- Representation - Although approximately 40% of U.S. households have Internet access, it is suggested that the elderly, poor, uneducated and rural residents are underrepresented. This could bias the results. However, this should be less of a concern in the future as more and more people get online.
- To combat this situation, one company, InterSurvey, provides its panelists with Internet connectivity and hardware at no charge so they can respond to several web-based surveys each month.
- Interactiveness - Because the Internet is 2D, participants cannot interact with products as well as they can in real life. There is no touching, smelling or tasting. Also, the essence of a focus group is lost using a computer screen. Body language and expression cannot be seen...most of the time. Northstar Interactive includes nonverbals (pictures showing facial expressions and gestures) in its software so that those involved can convey how they really feel about something.
- Anonymity - Despite being mentioned as an advantage, anonymity can also be a drawback. Who is to say that the person who agreed to participate is actually in front of
the monitor and not someone else? And even more extreme, the person at the other end could be working for a competitor trying to get the inside advantage.
- Privacy - Unlike phone numbers, e-mail addresses are not published in the same way and are considered private to the user. As such, it is frowned upon to send mass, unsolicitated e-mails as a means of recruiting. It is also discouraged among reputable firms to send future e-mails to participants to encourage them to buy products or get personal information from them using Spiders and spambots without their consent.
This matter has been of great concern. In 1999, four bills were introduced in Congress to limit or ban spamming. Furthermore, the Marketing Research Association developed a Code of Ethics for Marketing on the Internet. In addition, a new association was developed, the Interactive Marketing Research Organization, to help deal with this issue as well.