Online focus group discussions with consumers
The focus group is one of the most used and deserved types of qualitative research. However, technology is not standing still, and in recent years online focus groups as a full-fledged analog of FG have gained considerable popularity among researchers.
The method of online focus groups is perfect when it is physically impossible to place participants in discussion in one room or when respondents’ presence is limited for some reasons (work schedule, residence in another country, disability, or illness). Also, this research method is notable for its economic efficiency, because holding group discussions in several cities do not require a long trip of the moderator, specialized rooms for FG, etc.
The principal difference of this method is exclusively technological, from the methodological point of view online FG is carried out in full compliance with the principles applied to face-to-face groups. As well as in the classical FG – it is a discussion of representatives of the target audience of a product or service to study consumer opinions. The principle of homogeneity is also applied to invited respondents of each group. An experienced moderator is necessarily present during the conversation, who leads the discussion according to the guide (script), directing the discussion in the required direction.
Benefits of online focus groups
The method of online focus group discussions has several advantageous advantages over the classical methodology:
- No dependence on the geography of the research – if your goal is to study the opinions of consumers from different regions (or countries), there is no need for long flights and business trips of the moderator;
- Video-recording – as the discussion is in video format already, there is no need for a specialized focus-room for video-recording, and the obtained screen recording of the conference will allow studying behavior and reactions in each group in detail;
- Specialized software – online communication between participants and moderator is mainly by voice, but additional tools appear as well: text chat (where it is convenient, for example, to send a link to a web resource or ask respondents to give a meaningful text answer to a task), possibility to show the screen by moderator (allows to demonstrate tested mocap or advertising video clip);
- Ability to be present during FG – usually the presence of customer representatives is incognito, with the opportunity to write to the moderator directly during the FG additional questions that he can clarify to the respondents;
- Comfortable time of the FG – the group call can be organized outside of working hours, convenient for the participants of the discussion.
One of the convenient and popular research topics in online focus groups is the testing and examination of Web sites and digital products. The group can be allowed to study and test a prototype site, web service, or any other service. And in the process of research, observing the successes and challenges of the product can easily identify potential barriers, technical shortcomings, or non-intuitive interface elements.
Of course, there are drawbacks to online focus groups, but they, like the method itself, are technological. Respondent participation can be disrupted due to Internet problems, poor connection, or a lack of connection in general (for this reason “spare” respondents are always invited). Unlike a regular call-in interview, when working with focus groups, rescheduling the discussion may be difficult due to a mismatch of participants’ schedules.
Also, if it is necessary to test any physical aspects of a product (e.g., conducting a tasting or evaluating tactile properties), this does not seem to be a problem in a classical FG – respondents are introduced to the products in the focus room. For online focus groups, respondents do not have such an opportunity. At the same time, there is a solution that is suitable when the products being tested are not of high unit cost and large size – samples can be delivered to each respondent’s home in advance.
Otherwise, the procedures are not fundamentally different from conducting face-to-face focus groups.