Less than a year since its introduction, millions of iPads have been sold. It already appears to be cannibalizing sales of low-end laptops and is set to bypass sales of netbooks. And there is a lot more to come… availability of iPads in Best Buy in time for the Christmas season, a variety of Android based tablets from other manufacturers, and who knows what else. This is just the beginning of the Tablet Age
Ok, so we’ve heard all this before, about how tablet computers are going to shake up market research. But there has never been a product quite like the iPad. It’s affordability, ease of use, long battery life, scalability, and sheer beauty are truly revolutionary.
So what does this mean for market research? Here are my guesses.
1. Personal Interviewing Reinvented
There will be a resurgence in face-to-face interviewing in homes, stores, malls, workplaces and anywhere else where we can go to the consumer rather than have her come to us. This type of interviewing has been on the decline because the tools are costly, slow, and antiquated (paper questionnaires, data entry, tab specs, report time). And, let’s say it, personal offline surveys have not exactly been seen as the sexy side of market research in recent years. With the iPad as a virtual clipboard, the process gets out of the way of the interview. The device takes care of questionnaire navigation, data entry and real-time results, in living color.
2. Increased Respondent Co-operation
Connected to this, the iPad has the potential to more fully engage the respondent. Just imagine, a face-to-face interview with an intercepted respondent who has NOT opted into a panel with the expectation of being paid! There have been reports of much higher respondent willingness to participate once they see that the interview will be conducted on an iPad rather than the ubiquitous clipboard. Of course, the initial novelty may wear off. But I have to believe the interviewing experience using a tablet like the iPad will beat the paper questionnaire every time.
3. Multimedia Interviews
The iPad will change the personal interview into a multimedia event. Questions flow smoothly, not only as text but also as beautiful graphical images. The interviewer can show the respondent a video of a new ad, or some fully realized concept boards or illustrations of alternative packages. No need to carry these materials separately – they are embedded in the program, along with the rotation and skip patterns. And if the stimuli need modification, or copy rewritten, or a question added, this can be done in real-time from a remote location.
4. Responses Beyond Text
But this works both ways. In addition to gathering responses by having the interviewer or respondent herself touch the appropriate boxes, the device can also be programmed to record simultaneous audio to pick up open-ends in the respondent’s own voice, with her tone and emphasis, and time-code these as open-ends. Add to this, the ability to transcribe this audio and use sophisticated coding software AND “professional listeners” (who might very well be those data entry people you laid off), and voila!
5. DIY Market Research
Of course, this will also make it much easier for small businesses to do their own market research. DIY market research is destined to grow when more survey apps are developed for both the iPad and Android platforms. At first, these will be fairly generic, on-size-fits-all apps that can be easily molded to the subject at hand. But soon, there will be apps that are customized for surveys for specific businesses, with simple templates for restaurants, retail stores, doctors’ offices, hairdressers, etc. – the kind of businesses that had been priced out of access to market research in the past.
6. Embedded Market Research
With the iPad, market research can become part of the overall customer experience. Think of a restaurant of the future. The menu is now in the form of an iPad like tablet. I can browse the different selections, see photographs of today’s dishes, their nutritional information and ingredients, even customer reviews. I can order from the pad, and when my meal is over, I can rate what I have eaten and the service. If I want to, I can enter my responses as additional comments, in text or audibly. This can be done while I am paying my bill, also on the tablet… and all this in less time than I used to spend waiting for my credit card to be processed. You’ve enhanced my experience, reduced communication errors between front-of-house and the kitchen, and done a little market research without adding cost beyond the initial set-up.
7. Online Qualitative
But what about online qualitative? Here the iPad will have a huge impact. Currently the online qual video options are somewhat clumsy and fraught with risk, especially if there are technical failures in real-time. The respondent needs to pretest the equipment and connection, and may need to install a web cam expressly for the purpose of the interview. The iPad will change all this with the future introduction of face-to-face video conferencing – currently available on the iPhone4 and new iPod Touch. A few years from now, easy video conferencing will be standard on all smart phones and tablets. It will be as natural as the telephone is today. And we are not just talking about talking heads here. Screenshots and screen sharing will also be common, opening up all kinds of possibilities for real-time mobile market research.
8. Expanding Online Samples
Before I get tangled in the weeds, I need to make a point about how the iPad and tablets in general will bring many of the non-techie online stragglers into the market. I did a small study among seniors, and found them to be very excited about the iPad and eager to own one. (Though many of them ARE waiting until they are sure “the bugs are out’). This is a device that appeals to both the tech-savvy and the tech-challenged. It requires little knowledge of computing beyond point & click – or swipe & touch. What could be more appropriate for market research surveys? We may finally be able to expand online reach to include a representative sample of over-55 year olds.
9. The Decline of the Web and Web Research
Another big point needs to be made here. Changes in the use of the Web itself are inevitably going to have an affect on the market research industry… and those changes are being brought about by revolutionary devices like the iPad. Many people may not realize that use of the Web is on the decline and is likely to continue to decline. I’m not talking about Internet use here – that is growing both in number of hours online and the percentage of our day. But the Web is only one part of the Internet. It is the part you need a browser to access. With the iPad and smart phones, people will increasingly use apps rather than go to web sites via a browser. When they are not using apps, they will be using email, streaming Netflix, and eventually live tv. What does this mean for market research? Well, one possibility is that the demand for web usability studies may decline along with use of the web. And since apps are so much more focused, static and constantly reviewed by users in app stores, chances are there will be less interest in doing market research on new apps… especially when the app developer is a high school kid with no budget.
10. Changes in Shopping Patterns
Less web, less browers, less browsing? There are already apps from the leading retailers, ebay, craigslist, etc. It will be interesting to see how the shift from website shopping to app-based shopping will change shopping patterns and decision making. Will shopping be more focused, less comparative? Chances are the iPad shopper will modify her behavior in some ways – but we have yet to understand how.
Well, these are my first thoughts on the subject. Obviously I’ve guessed about what is to come and may have missed a lot. What about you? How do you see tablet computers like the iPad changing market research in the future?