Face-to-face research is coming back, but will it be the same?

Qualitative research
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The pandemic ‘forced’ a lot of qualitative research online, but now that the world has started to open up again, what is its current state? Will it return to the pre-pandemic status quo? Should it?

Many research agencies and insight leads were put in a tough situation during the pandemic and had to move their qualitative research online, in turn facing the pros and cons that this brings as a methodology (which were explored in Asia Research Q3 2021).

However, as countries are opening up and travel restric­tions are lifting, what is the current state of face-to-face research? Are we back to the status quo, and if not, what has changed? Is there anything else we need to consider as a result?

Here at 2CV we have spoken to several of our specialist recruitment and research partners from across the region to understand their perspective on the current and future state of face-to-face qualitative research.

In some markets, COVID-19 is sadly far from over

As many markets across the world started to open, the rise of case numbers in Shanghai meant all face-to-facework ceased operations (at time of writing at least).

This demonstrates the delicate state of the industry – how quickly things can change and how there needs to be contingency plans in place for the future. Countries will likely be quick to act in the future for further COVID-19 outbreaks or other pandemics should they need to, and we will forever need to be mindful of this when thinking about future research plans.

“At the moment, only about 5–10% of projects are con­ducted face-to-face and we only agree to them if respon­dent participation is imperative to the study… Japan has been slower in their transition [to normality] than other countries.” – Partner, Japan

In others, face-to-face never stopped and is now gaining momentum

In markets where full government lockdowns were not implemented (e.g. South Korea and some states of Aus­tralia), face-to-face research continued, albeit at a much lower rate than before.

Markets are now seeing demand for face-to-face re­search slowly return, but not to the level seen pre-pan­demic.

Online alternatives continue to dominate and look like they are here to stay, leaving it unlikely that face-to-face re­search will ever return to pre-pandemic levels.

“Face-to-face is definitely back but there’s no doubt on­line is here to stay as an alternative to face-to-face be­yond COVID” – Partner, Australia

Face-to-face participants are returning, but at what cost?

A big part of any successful research is, of course, the people who take part. Therefore, the big question is whether they are willing to take part in face-to-face re­search or not.

“Not really [harder to recruit respondents]. But we are of­fering slightly more incentives to attract them to face-to-face compared to pre-COVID, and I do not believe this will now go back to the level before.” – Partner, South Korea

Speaking to our partners, the view is that there is not necessarily a reluctance to take part but rather a need to be rewarded further for taking part in something less convenient to them. They have become accustomed to taking part from their own homes and this is something researchers have helped accommodate through the im­plementation of various tech solutions. It is rare in 2022 to meet someone who does not have Zoom ready to use!

Another critical consideration is the safety and well-being of all people involved. Continuing to wear masks, limiting the size of groups, and sanitising common areas are all best practice. While these practices are not mandatory, they should be sought after and are in the best interests of researchers, participants, and clients alike.

Restricted travel and inefficiencies

One of the more insightful parts of face-to-face research is being in-market with your customers and really ‘walking a mile in their shoes’. However, for a lot of clients (and agen­cies) this is still limited and may continue to be so.

The restricted and hassle-full nature of travelling to and from some markets remains an issue. Besides this, in­sights teams have not had to budget for travel for the last couple of years and may be reluctant to spend that money again when online work has proven effective. There are a lot of time efficiencies to be gained by not travelling – another benefit clients and agencies have got used to.

“It would be good to travel again, to meet consumers, meet colleagues… we’ll need to work it into budgets next year.” – Client

Travel will likely pick up as the cost of it (in terms of both money and time) reduces; however, it will likely be less frequent than before – perhaps limited to key projects or markets. Much like the participants, clients and re­searchers have perhaps become more comfortable with now-familiar online viewing methods.

A final word

As the world starts to return to normal, the option for doing face-to-face research has returned. Here at 2CV we have already seen this slow return to normal happen over the last year across the region.

The flexibility in methodology is once more allowing agen­cies to propose any solution to answer the client’s objec­tives.

However, the advancements in technology and fine-tun­ing of the online research methods have brought partic­ipants, clients, and researchers many benefits. It should therefore be no surprise that, despite the returned sense of freedom, online methods will remain prominent.

By: James Redden LinkedIn, Managing Director-Asia Pacific and Chris Oatey LinkedIn, Research Director, 2CV

This article was first published in the Q2 2022 edition of Asia Research Media

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