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Surveying Tomorrow: 4 Futuristic Research Tools & Their Challenges

Originally posted on
the Field Agent blog.
Survey Research in the
era of ‘The Internet of Things.’ As emerging technology continues to give birth
to new, Internet-enabled research tools, the future of survey research looks
very promising. Yet as promising as tomorrow looks, it also promises
uncertainty and challenge. To demonstrate this duality, the promise and
challenge of future research opportunities, we recently surveyed 500 consumers
to gauge their attitudes toward 4 hypothetical, futuristic survey
Few words hold so much promise and, yet, so much uncertainty
as tomorrow. 
This is particularly true in the field of survey
On the one hand, we can expect emerging technology to
continue to produce a steady stream of new and promising research tools. Most
of these tools will, of course, be enabled or enhanced by the Internet in some
way. On the other hand, the advent of such tools will likely raise new
questions about everything from consumer privacy to survey fatigue.
For a few minutes, we’d like to invite you on a quick trip
into the research world of tomorrow, where we’ll attempt to demonstrate this
duality’that is, the promise and the challenge’of survey research in the
More specifically,
we’d like to introduce you to 4 exciting and promising futuristic product
concepts as well as the research possibilities and challenges that could arise
out of them. Toward the end of the article we’ll also offer 3 quick takeaways
from the study. 
With this end in mind, Field Agent recently conducted a
mobile survey of 500 consumers across the country. Who better to ask, we
thought, about the potential of tomorrow’s consumer products, consumer
research, and consumer apprehensions than consumers themselves?
The sample was divided evenly between males and females. We
further limited the survey to what might be called “future
generations,” in this case, to consumers ages 18-44. Respondents in 48
states completed the survey.
Marketers have long realized that receptivity toward new
ideas and products varies drastically among consumers, with some being more
open to innovation than others. Consequently, at the end of our survey, we
asked a single question that allowed us to categorize respondents into five
groups, the structure of which we adapted from Everett Rogers’ work
on the “diffusion of innovation”: innovators (among the
first to adopt a product), early adopters (before most people), majority (at
the same time as most people), late majority(after most people), and laggards (among
the very last). This allowed us to interpret the data more responsibly and more
4 Futuristic Products
& Research Opportunities
Virtual In-Store Personal Shopper
You’re on aisle 8 at your favorite grocery store, lingering
as you try to decide between three brands of corn flakes. The smartphone in
your pocket buzzes. A message from the store has been delivered to your phone:
‘Do you need help deciding on the right breakfast cereal,’ it asks. You respond
‘yes,’ prompting an interactive conversation with what amounts to a virtual
personal shopper.
No doubt retailers and brands would sense potential in such
an innovation. But, of course, it can only fly as high as consumers allow it.
Will they find this virtual personal shopper appealing?
We asked 500 consumers this very question. Only 27% said
they’d find such virtual assistance either ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ appealing.
Compare this with the 38% who said they would find the personal shopper ‘not at
all appealing’ or only ‘not very appealing.’ The X factor in this case might be
the middle 35%, who said they would consider it ‘somewhat’ appealing. 
They could, after all, tip the balance.
Responses followed a fairly predictable script throughout
the survey. Innovators and early adopters demonstrated greater openness to the
virtual personal shopper as well as the other products to come. In fact, 45% of
innovators and 33% of early adopters said they’d consider the personal shopper
either ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ appealing. Only 11% of the late majority and 16%
of laggards responded likewise.
May I Help You?
Now imagine the virtual personal shopper has been so
successful that the grocery store and the brands it carries decide to use it as
an opportunity to collect in-the-moment consumer insights.
You leave the breakfast cereal aisle and enter the pet
section. You recall that your dog, Fido, is out of dog food, so you throw a
mammoth 50 lb. bag into the shopping cart. Again, your smartphone buzzes. This
time the message asks, ‘Why did you choose Brand X dog food,’ and a list of
choice options appear on the screen.
We first gauged whether consumers would be willing to
respond to the survey. Only 21% of respondents fell in at the upper end of the
option range, answering that they would be either ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ likely
to respond to the survey. Practically double this amount, 43%, answered either
“not at all likely” or “not very likely.” 
Unsurprisingly, innovators (34% extremely or very likely)
and early adopters (25%) were more willing to respond to the survey than the
majority (17%), the late majority (9%), and laggards (11%).
And what about their general comfort level the survey?
Combined, 39% said they’d be either “very” or “somewhat”
uncomfortable receiving this type of survey while they shopped, one point
higher than the 38% who indicated they’d be more or less comfortable with the
Consequently, it seems, upon initial impression anyway, that
many shoppers would be somewhat or severely apprehensive about responding to a
survey of this nature while navigating and shopping a store. Learn more about
the Point of Influence??. 
The Really ‘Smart’ Washing Machine
You just purchased the latest and greatest washing machine
on the line. Among other features, this smart washer has a compartment for
holding your laundry detergent. When the detergent level gets low, this
Internet-connected washer has the ability to automatically reorder your
favorite detergent brand. There is no need to go to the store to pick it up;
the washer can have a new bottle delivered directly to your door.
By and large, consumers in our survey were excited about
this product concept. 69% responded ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ when asked whether
they found the concept appealing, and only 3% answered ‘not at all appealing.’
Innovators (72% extremely or very appealing) and early adopters (56%) once
again led the pack with their enthusiasm, while the late majority (24%) and
laggards (32%), well, lagged behind.
An Inquisitive Washer
Then, one day, you try a different brand of laundry
detergent, which you place in your washer’s detergent compartment. The washer
instantly detects the new brand and sends a short survey to your phone asking
you why you decided to switch brands.
Would you respond to such a survey? Among our sample, 31%
indicated they would be ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ likely to respond, yet only 15%
said they would be completely closed to the idea (‘not at all likely’).
Innovators (54%) showed the highest willingness to respond, and laggards showed
the lowest (21%).
But what about their comfort level with such an inquisitive
washer? Only 19% said they would be ‘very comfortable’ with the idea while
an additional 26% said they’d be ‘somewhat comfortable.” Together, 28%
were “very” or “somewhat” uncomfortable.    
Consequently, consumers appear to be a little more open to
the idea of a smart washer that poses survey questions than a virtual personal
shopper working on behalf of a store. Context matters. 
Wearable Health Monitor & Alert System
An alarm sounds: beep, beep, beep. The signal is coming from
the Internet-connected device on your wrist. The point of the device is to
monitor key health measures such as pulse and blood pressure. After detecting a
series of unusually high blood pressure readings, the device has sent you a
message informing you of the fact and advising you to visit a doctor.
Appealing? Our sample thought so. Altogether, 69% said
they’d find this health monitor and alert system either ‘extremely’ or ‘very’
appealing, while only 7% responded ‘not very appealing’ or ‘not at all
appealing.’ A strong majority of innovators (81%), early adopters (74%), and
even the majority (71%) registered responses at the high end of the option
range (extremely or very appealing).

See also another study on the Staying
Power of Smartwatches.
Taking Your Medicine

Suppose this same health device had the ability to monitor
your medicine intake. It noticed you had taken only one dose of a prescription
you’re supposed to take twice daily. The device then sent you a survey asking
if you’d be interested in a new medication that works as well as your present
prescription but that only needs to be taken once a day.
We asked our sample of 500 whether they’d be willing to
respond to the question.
Significantly, 44% said they’d be ‘extremely’ or ‘very’
willing to answer the short survey, and only 23% said they’d be ‘not at all
likely’ or ‘not very likely’ to respond.

Compare this 44% rating to the 21% (virtual personal
shopper) and 31% (smart washer) ratings from the previous two discussions.
Consumers appear more willing to respond to surveys when the focus is something
as important as their health or, perhaps, when the survey questions pertain to
something as expensive as prescription drugs.
Respondents also demonstrated higher comfort levels with a
survey of this type. 55% said they would be ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ comfortable
receiving the question from a wearable health monitor/alert device, while only
37% felt this way about the personal shopper survey and 45% about the smart
washer survey. Regardless of the reasons for their greater receptivity toward
the health survey, once again, it seems context matters.
Remote Atmospheric Control System

You’re four days into your summer vacation when you start
fretting about your home: Did I leave the thermostat too low? Has anybody
tried to break in? Fortunately, your home is equipped with an
Internet-connect atmospheric control system that allows you to change your
home’s temperature and/or lighting level using nothing more than an app on your
smartphone. You turn down your air conditioning’saving you money. You turn on
your lights’leading potential intruders to think someone is home.  
Our sample considered this concept highly attractive. In
fact, wholly 87% said they’d find it ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ appealing. Only a
modest 2% responded with either ‘not at all appealing’ or ‘not very appealing.’
Predictably, innovators found it comparatively most alluring (71% responded
extremely appealing), while laggards found it comparatively least alluring (42%
extremely appealing).
Anybody Home?
This atmospheric control system detects that you’ve been
away for some time. It sends you a survey asking if you’re on vacation and, if
so, to tell it about your vacation
planning and spending.
Though consumers were enthusiastic about the product itself,
they were less so about its surveying capabilities. Respondents admitted they’d
be apprehensive about answering such a survey. Almost half (47%) said they
would be ‘not at all likely’ or ‘not very likely’ to respond. Compare this with
the 31% who would be ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ likely.
Seemingly always open to new ideas, innovators showed
relatively high willingness to respond to the question posed by the atmospheric
control system. A whopping 61% indicated they would be ‘extremely’ or ‘very’
likely to respond, while even the early adopters (normally a close second to
innovators) registered only 35% on the same measure.  
Nor was the sample particularly comfortable with the
prospect of a system that would monitor their coming and going and pose
questions about their vacation planning and spending. At 24%, the highest
single response category was ‘very uncomfortable.’ In all, 44% said they’d be
either ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ uncomfortable, in contrast with the 37% who said
they’d be more or less comfortable receiving such a survey.  
Conclusion: 3 Quick
As we gaze into tomorrow to consider the
possibilities for survey research, context really does matter.
As seen, consumers will likely be more willing to respond to
surveys when they think they’ll derive a meaningful benefit from their
participation. A survey that rewards the consumer with, for instance, truly
useful information or significant cost-savings will receive a warmer welcome
from consumers than one perceived as a disruptive marketing tactic.

As new survey tools emerge, companies and
research firms should consider first developing the tool among, and perhaps
even exclusively targeting, those consumers most open to new ways of doing
As witnessed time and again in this study, innovators and
early adopters are generally more responsive toward innovative surveying
methods. Consequently, companies and research firms may find distinct
advantages in focusing their efforts on these two comparatively receptive
consumer classes before trying to reach markets at large.
A promising future for survey research also
promises challenges.
As this article demonstrated, the future should present
researchers with many opportunities to piggyback off emerging,
Internet-connected products, affording new avenues for collecting consumer
insights. But caution is advisable. As seen, consumers will often relish the
products themselves, yet look on their potential in-built surveying
capabilities with apprehension or disapproval.
Ultimately, survey researchers should embrace the future
boldly. New technologies will produce new and perhaps better surveying methods.
Yet we cannot forget the consumer in ‘consumer research.’
The survey tools of
tomorrow must account for the attitudes and behaviors of consumers’if they are
to realize their promise. 
Mobile research and audits from Field Agent combine mobile
technology and crowdsourcing to
reduce the costs, wait times, and other limitations of traditional methods’all
without sacrificing quality
. Whether you need accurate in-store
information or rich consumer insights, call on mobile research and
audits by Field Agent. 
About the Author:  Renee Brandon is the Vice President of
Research at Field Agent, where she provides leadership and direction to a team
of research analysts. She works closely with clients to clarify their business
problems and to determine the research solutions best suited to their needs.  With more than 20 years of experience as a
market research executive and strategist, Brandon provides expert advice to
Fortune 500 clients across many sectors, including retail, consumer package
goods, technology, healthcare and not-for-profit industries. She specializes in
consumer insights, shopper insights, research methodologies and survey data
analysis. Brandon has a Masters of Arts in History from the University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Bachelors of Arts in History from Austin College.
Like what you’ve
read? Hear Renee Brandon and other industry leaders speak at the OmniShopper
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Behavioral Science Lab
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Big Lots
Bigelow Tea
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Burke Inc
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Field Agent
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Graphic Packaging International
Hallmark Cards Inc
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Red Bull
Research Now
Reynolds Consumer Products
Saatchi & Saatchi X
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SAU Arkansas Small Business & Technology
SC Johnson
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Target Corporation
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The Future of Retail is Here

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Radisson Blu, Chicago, IL
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