Online Panels – A Cost Effective Way To Conduct Distance Market Research

In this digital age, the online research is king. The opportunity to access your target market without paying travel expenses or reimbursing people for their time makes for a highly attractive proposition for market researchers seeking to conduct large-scale surveys. One way in which agencies work is to use online panels to gather together respondents in a way that’s cost-effective and easily accessible.

What is an online panel?

Also known as an internet access panel, an online panel is a group of carefully selected and pre-screened individuals who have agreed to participate in either online surveys or customer feedback sessions. Screening will include the collection of demographic data on potential panel members to find out about their age, employment status, family set-up, hobbies and interests and the kinds of products that they tend to use in order to build a picture of where they will be most useful in carrying out research in a particular market.

Panels can range in size from a few tens of people up to many thousands and give market researchers the opportunity to pick and choose the people whose views will be most relevant to the area. The ability to reach people around the world with similar interests can be a huge boon to market research agencies when attracting clients seeking opinions on their products.

How panels are used

There are many ways in which online panels can be used to support the work of market researchers in profiling markets for their clients. From the very beginning of product design, panels can be invited to give opinions on the concept and use of the product and could even be used for early prototype testing depending on the products in question.

Before going to market, and sometimes before seeking investment, larger panels can be used to forecast sales volume and compare against other comparable products in the market. By offering panellists the option of the new product compared to those already in existence, choices of price or other benefits, market researchers can offer companies detailed information on their likely market position and the value placed on their product by their targeted market.

For existing products where companies are seeking to grow market share, panels can be used to investigate opinions and attitudes towards the product when compared to others in the same sector. Offering a clear picture of a product’s position in the market and feedback on what consumer’s value about a product’s competitors is very useful when planning development and marketing activities.

Benefits and drawbacks for the client

Outsourcing market research to an agency that maintains online consumer panels makes perfect sense for companies looking for speedy and cost-effective access to their market. Since panels are maintained at all times, when a firm is looking for information there will be a panel that already exists and fieldwork can be carried out extremely quickly. There will also be a pre-arranged sample awaiting your instructions. Whatever market you’re looking for, there will be a panel from which that group can be targeted.

There are a few drawbacks that will need to be borne in mind. Panellists, far from being altruistic souls who want to help you solve your product-to-market conundrums, are most likely in it to gain extra cash. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with this, it does mean that people are somewhat practiced at giving the answers they think market researchers want to hear and may click the first answer in the survey just to complete as quickly as possible and earn the bucks for participating. However, market research companies are wise to these schemes and data quality checks are put in place to ensure that panel databases are regularly cleaned to remove people who frequently give suspect answers.


On the whole, online panels give clients the chance to quickly access a wide range of consumer opinion in a relatively short timescale. There are some drawbacks that may come from the nature of the way panels are populated, but choosing a reputable market research agency such as 2 Europe Market Research will help to overcome many of these concerns.

Image Credits:  NoWin and Ed Yourdon.