The coronavirus crisis affects us all, regardless of the industry. The market research industry is no exception. The conduct of qualitative market research, in particular, has been impacted, since qualitative interviews or focus groups can now only be conducted remotely. A prospect asked me last week about the methodological adjustments resulting from the Coronavirus crisis. Virtualization is, of course, the first answer and it is recommended by ESOMAR. But are remote qualitative interviews still as effective? How is communication affected by distance? A publication by my friend Dr. Emmanuel Tourpe gave me the excuse to answer this question.
Remote qualitative research
Containment raises the question of the continuity of activities and in particular qualitative studies. Ethnography, participatory observation, and Design Thinking projects are no longer possible under the current conditions. Unless, of course, you are interested in what consumers are doing in their homes, in which case the timing is ideal.
But what about focus groups and other face-to-face interviews? ESOMAR’s guidelines are clear: on-line methodologies should be used whenever possible. We already carry out a lot of remote interviews via Skype, WebEx, or other equivalent means. But for focus groups, it’s a different story.
Concretely and precisely, I doubt that a semi-structured or “free” qualitative interview can be conducted with the same result on-line. The lack of physical proximity is inevitably felt on the interviewer’s ability to put his interlocutor at ease, to have his complete attention, and to deepen the subjects with the same efficiency. On the other hand, I think that guided interviews can be conducted online without any noticeable loss of quality.