Cost, Leadtime and Sustainability of Face-to-Face and Internet Focus Groups

The traditional approach to focus groups involves recruiting participants in locations representative of the target market, hiring facilities in each location, and traveling to each location to interview the participants. The alternative Internet approach, on the other hand, uses either instant messaging or a bulletin board to interview the participants. This article will compare and contrast these two methods from a cost, leadtime and environmental sustainability standpoint.

Let’s pick a typical example where a single moderator based in Chicago will run multiple focus groups in three cities, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. Using the traditional approach, the respondents for the study are recruited using email or mail or telephone. The moderator runs the first groups in Chicago, then flies to New York for the second group, and then travels on to Los Angeles for the third group.

Cost, leadtime and sustainability of traditional method

To estimate the cost of the traditional approach, we will assume that the 10 participants in each group are paid $100 each for their time. The cost of recruiting is $2000. We will assume that each participant is paid $100 for their time so the cost of incentives is $3000 for all three cities. The moderator is paid $6000 for her services including the time spent traveling. The room rental is $600 in each city for a total of $1800. The moderator’s travel costs are $2000 for airfare, $900 for hotels, $400 for car rental and $500 for meals. The total cost of running three traditional focus groups in this example is $16,600.

Using this approach we will assume that the Chicago group is Monday, Tuesday is a travel day, New York is Wednesday and Los Angeles on Thursday. The transcript would typically be available by Tuesday of the following week and the moderator would prepare the final report by Friday. So the report is available nine days after the project started.

Now let’s look at the carbon footprint of the traditional face-to-face focus group approach. The moderator travels 713 air miles from Chicago to New York, 2451 miles from New York to Los Angeles and 1745 miles from Los Angeles to Chicago for a total of 4909 miles. A common rule of thumb is that one-passenger mile is responsible for 0.23 kg of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere so the total impact of air travel is 1129 kg.

Let’s assume that the moderator drives 150 miles in each city for a total of 450 miles and that each participant drives 50 miles roundtrip to reach the session for total of 1500 miles. One gallon of gasoline generates about 9 kg of emissions and if we assume the cars get 20 miles per gallon each mile of driving will produce 0.45 kg. The total driving distance of 1950 miles is multiplied by 0.45 kg, resulting in 877.5 kg of carbon emitted.

Finally we will assume that the facility consumes 15 kilowatt/hours per session for a total of 45 kilowatt hours. Generating one kilowatt hour produces approximately 1 kg of carbon dioxide for a total of 45 kg. The total carbon impact of the traditional face-to-face method is thus 2051.5 kg.

Cost, leadtime and carbon footprint of Internet focus groups

Now let’s look at the cost, leadtime and carbon footprint of the Internet focus group alternative. The focus group is held either via live chat or a bulletin board. In the live chat approach, the moderator and participants all log in at the same time. The moderator asks questions and the participants each type in their answers. The participants also comment on each others’ thoughts. The session typically lasts 1 to 3 hours, about the same amount of time as a face-to-face focus group.

The bulletin board approach is similar except that discussions unfold over extended time frames. Participants might be asked to log in twice a day during the three day duration of the study. This is more convenient for participants so they often share their thoughts with greater clarify and depth. The moderator logs in frequently to review comments and encourages further discussion by asking participants additional questions.

Let’s calculate the cost of the online and bulletin board approaches. The cost of recruiting and incentives will remain at $5000. The room rental cost is eliminated as are the travel expenses. So the total cost of running three online focus groups is reduced to $12,800, a reduction of about 25%.

Using the online focus group approach, the three focus groups might typically be done on three successive days, Monday through Wednesday in this case. Using the bulletin board focus group, the three groups would be run simultaneously from Monday to Wednesday. All communications take place online so they are captured, eliminating the need for the transcripts. Using either an online or bulletin board approach, the moderator would prepare her report on Thursday and Friday, so the results would be available in five days, 44% less time than the traditional method

The online footprint of the online or bulletin board focus groups is nearly non-existent. No travel and no room rental is required so the carbon emissions attributed to the traditional focus group are eliminated.
Figures 1, 2 and 3 summarize the cost, leadtime and carbon footprint of the traditional, online and bulletin board focus groups. They demonstrate that Internet focus groups can provide substantial savings in cost, leadtime and environmental impact compared to traditional focus group methods. This helps explain why just a single Internet focus group supplier has run over 11,000 groups, generating huge savings in all three areas for clients all over North America.

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