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7 Reasons Your Research is Expensive… And What to Do About It

Conducting primary research should be a great experience, yielding results that can lead to great products, organizational change, and increased market share.  However, one thing that all projects have in common is that everyone would like them to be less expensive. But there may be some ways you can reduce the cost of your next project. Here are seven reasons your research might be expensive- and 7 ways you might be able to sneak one more research project out of your budget:

1) Your Sample Size is Too Large

When it comes to quantitative research, bigger sample sizes are always better.  However, bigger sample sizes might not always be necessary. Since sample is typically a large percentage of the project expense, talk with your research provider about what your minimum sample size needs to be. At some point, the law of diminishing returns begins to kick in. For example, if the share of preference is at 20%, the margin of error looks like this:

Solution: As you can see, the gains from adding 200 to the sample size each time diminish the larger you go. It may be worthwhile to trade off the extra 1 percentage point in the margin of error in favor of a couple of thousand dollars. Work with your provider to make sure you have the right sample for the anticipated results.

2) Your Research Target is Hard to Find

One of the great things about a good screener is that you can find hard-to-reach potential consumers by starting with the right list and then filtering them out with well-written questions. However, the more specific your requirements, the harder it is to find these people. Imagine how difficult it would be to find a needle in a haystack. Now imagine trying to find not only more needles, but more haystacks. The amount of time and effort equates directly to the cost of the project.

Solution: In certain cases, such as finding those who have recently purchased your brand new product, might be necessary but quite difficult. If so, look to the following solutions:

  • Get a list – Do you have a list of product registrations from the client? Does someone else already have a list?
  • Reconsider timelines – does ‘recent purchase’ really have to be the past week? Can it be 3 months?
  • Reconsider the scope – depending on your goals, maybe your research can include those who bought a similar product to yours
  • Increase your search time – the more time you have to find your respondents, the more conventional and inexpensive methods you can use. Urgent = expensive


3) Your Survey is Too Long

One of the strongest temptations that our clients have when starting a new survey is to throw in “the kitchen sink” – after all, finding our customers is expensive and we’re finally getting to talk to them, why shouldn’t we ask them everything that we wanted to know for the past couple of years!

Here’s the most important reason why you shouldn’t do that: we want respondents to stay on task. Asking 5 questions about their purchase motivators, then shifting gears to how much they like banana bread can really throw off the respondent. Of course, a second reason: the longer the survey, typically the higher the cost.

Solution: Ask yourself this regarding each question on your survey:

  • Is the survey flow clear: would this survey confuse your mother?
  • How will the data be used?
  • What decisions will be made?

If you do not have a good answer, perhaps that means that the question is unnecessary?

Besides helping with cost, a shorter survey also has the benefit of higher quality data.  Respondents will be more attentive and less subject to fatigue as they take the survey.

4) Your Analyses are Unnecessarily Complex

While we are big fans of acronyms like LOGIT, ANOVA, or CBC, there’s one that we prefer: KiSS– Keep Statistics Simple. Multivariate analysis is often a useful tool and it needs to be used for some analyses, but complex statistical analysis takes more of your supplier’s time and expertise…and, therefore, adds cost.

Solution: Before engaging your supplier in these types of analyses, have a discussion on what types of analysis they think will be most relevant. When a crosstab will do, use it. “Research by the Pound” might be a tempting proposition, but remember to stay focused on quality, not quantity.

5) You Selected the Wrong Methodology

In another post, we’ve outlined some of the differences and uses of both qualitative and quantitative research.  We’ve also reminded you that each has its place and you can almost never replace one for the other. While qualitative research can be a very important tool to gather learning, it can also be much more expensive than quantitative research. In some cases, you may have enough institutional knowledge to skip the qualitative and head straight to quantitative research.

Another common concern is surrounding internet research. Some clients are wary of online panels and insist on phone surveys. While traditional phone surveys used to be productive, we’ve seen declines in the effectiveness of modern phone surveys. If you insist on a phone survey, make sure your study is well suited to that methodology.

Solution: Consider if you need the qual or can go straight to quant.

If the qual is needed, consider methods other than traditional in-person focus groups.  For example, online focus groups can provide a high-quality learning at a lower price.

And with quant, if you are not doing it online make sure there is a good reason.  Phone research (or in person!) is much more expensive and difficult to complete.

6) You are Conducting your Survey Too Often (tracking surveys)

The nature of tracking studies is that they need to be conducted regularly and consistently over time to measure changes in the marketplace.  These studies will help indicate the effectiveness of your, or competitors, marketing activities.

However, the impact of such activities may take time to be felt, and you could draw incorrect conclusions about your efforts if you don’t allow enough time for the impact to be visible on the metrics you’re measuring. With that in mind, fielding your tracking study every month or every quarter might be too much. In some cases, you’ll spend a lot of money, see no changes in the key metrics you are tracking, and potentially incorrectly conclude the marketing initiatives had no impact.

Solution: Consider what is realistic regarding expectations of movement on key metrics and field your study accordingly. If you can reduce the frequency of your survey, you’ll save quite a bit of money on your costs.

7) You’re Not Getting Competitive Bids

If you were shopping for a new car, you would shop around. It’s no different with market research projects. Not only do multiple bids on a project allow you to compare prices, but they also provide a variety of thinking regarding your project’s potential design. There are many ways you can develop a stellar relationship with your supplier – and once you have found one you trust, you may not need to get those competitive bids for projects they’ve handled in the past. However, getting some new perspective on old problems can yield some helpful information.

You don’t necessarily have to take the lowest cost, as price should not be your only consideration.  But at least you will have some perspective to ensure you are not paying significantly more than need be.

Solution: With trusted suppliers, let them know you’re getting a couple of competitive bids every once in a while…and do it. They’ll understand – just make sure that you’re open to new ideas and the possibility of a new supplier.

With new suppliers, always get at least one (most researchers get 3 total) competitive bid. Don’t hesitate to let your suppliers know that the bid will go not to the lowest cost supplier but the supplier who can deliver the best results at the highest value.

Market Research Made Easy | TraQline

Market research can be expensive in some cases, but it makes sense to do the projects in the most efficient way possible. The market research experts at The Stevenson Company can guide you towards the most efficient and effective research methods available. By keeping in mind the above facts, you may just have enough budget for another project in the last fiscal quarter! If you need help reaching your target market, TraQline offers the consumer insight you are looking for. When you are ready to have the industry information and consumer data you need at your fingertips, contact our experts to get started.

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TraQline's Dave Stevenson, PH.D President & CEO
Dave Stevenson, PH.D
President & CEO

Before launching The Stevenson Company in 1995, President and CEO Dave Stevenson managed worldwide research for product development, distribution, advertising, and customer satisfaction. His roles, first as head of the marketing section of General Motors’ worldwide product planning group, and later as director of GE Appliances’ global economics and market research team, give him extensive experience in consumer as well as business to business marketing solutions. Mr. Stevenson holds a Ph.D. in statistics from Southern Methodist University.