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4 things market researchers need to think about in the time of COVID-19

As the true scope of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, there is a question that’s top of mind for many market researchers: to field or not to field?

We asked our internal brain trust of XM scientists to outline key considerations for anyone facing this choice. Below are four things to keep in mind, based on what we’re seeing with customers, published research, and our collective experience fielding studies under a variety of circumstances.

1. Do not collect tone-deaf data.

Don't do market research at the cost of your reputation. Know your customer, know your brand, and don't be out of touch with what’s on everyone's mind. For example, you shouldn't begin collecting data on travel rewards or destination weddings when there is a travel restriction in place. On the other hand, gauging consumer and employee brand sentiment as you navigate store closures, working from home, and/or new social impact initiatives would be both relevant and appropriate.

Anticipate systemic issues at the category level, where certain categories will be unlikely to give an accurate reflection of the market outside of this time frame. For example, you would expect that the likelihood of someone to travel or to have recently traveled would be suppressed. You also might see that usage of hand sanitizer or other CPG categories would be artificially high, or that attitudes towards health insurance would be skewed at this time. At best, your data will contain more errors. At worst, you'll lose customers and lose trust in your brand.

In addition to evaluating your questionnaires for appropriateness during these times, consider whether your screening criteria may have changed and make adjustments accordingly.

2. There is no need to abandon your longitudinal data collection (tracking) right now.

Many things can change during a crisis. Careful monitoring via longitudinal data collection can help you understand what’s changing - and what isn't - over time. In particular, if you’re taking action or intervening with certain segments, you have an opportunity for natural experimentation, which allows you to identify causal inference. You'll gain insight into what actions caused changes in trends, and be able to better prepare for the future.

If you’re worried that your longitudinal data collection will feel out-of-touch given the current climate, consider issuing an explanatory note as to why your research is continuing to take place (e.g., "We want to hear from you, in good times and in challenging times, so we can continue to monitor ...").

3. Expected response rates remain unchanged, so far.

Online studies are generally a personal activity completed from a participant’s home or mobile device. As such, we’ve not seen any difference in expected response rates at this point. One source even told us that they were experiencing higher year-on-year survey completes during March 2020.

Of note, sample targeting plans may be impacted more in some geographic locations than in others, depending on the relative number of confirmed COVID-19 cases. We recommend consulting with your internal teams and partners before moving forward with sampling in highly impacted areas. If your strategy includes any face-to-face recruitment or in-person response, please be sure to reference guidelines from relevant public health authorities before deciding whether and how to proceed.

4. Attitudes and behaviors during crisis matter.

We have reason to believe the impact of COVID-19 on people’s behaviors and attitudes will be long-lasting. This includes buying patterns that may not revert back to what they were before the outbreak. As consumers are exposed to new brands and new products due to budgetary constraints or supply chain challenges, they may find new habits that better suit their lifestyle.  For example, people may try out "remote" behaviors (e.g., grocery delivery, online clothing rental) to avoid being in public places, end up loving them, and then continue using the service even once the "need" is gone.

While responses collected during the crisis may not be indicative of how people will feel once this situation has passed, we can still gain valuable insights into where shifts in behaviors and attitudes are heading.

Of course, every study should be considered on a case-by-case basis. If you still have questions about your research plans, our Research Services team can help. You can also find more information on how Qualtrics is helping organizations navigate and respond to the unfolding COVID-19 situation at

Brad Smith // Senior Manager, XM Science

Dr. Brad Smith leads Qualtrics’ team of Experience Management Scientists supporting our CoreXM, BrandXM, and Research Services offerings.

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