It’s often the most discussed variable before a market research study begins. It’s often an unspoken goal of all market research studies in the industry. It may be the single most rewarding statistic when it comes to survey projects. It provides you with a 0% margin of error for your analysis (if your sample equals your population). It, of course, is the 100% response rate.
Although this statistic is often strived for, unfortunately it is nearly impossible to obtain on a larger scale. For example, if you are surveying five customers, there is a greater chance of getting everyone to respond than if you were to survey 500. Sometimes, no matter how much effort is put in to engage customers, you may not even obtain five completes from a pool of five customers.
Many factors impact the response rate for a survey such as prior relationships, if the survey is blinded or not, seasonality, and confidentiality to name a few. All of these contribute to why someone will or will not respond to your survey. To further temper your expectations regarding a 100% response rate, let’s take a look at the most common survey form in the country – the U.S. Census. In 2010, the U.S. Census website indicated that 74% of households in the United States filled out and mailed back their 2010 Census questionnaire (this matched the response rate from the 2000 Census). Keep in mind participation in the 2010 Census was required by law. It’s a crime not to answer the decennial census and authorizes the courts to impose a fine of up to $5,000 for failure to respond. However, the Census Bureau views this approach as a last resort. Also, keep in mind the 2010 U.S. Census form was a rather short form with only 10 questions that asked very basic personal and household information.
So where does this 100% response rate ambition come from? First and foremost, it’s just human nature. If you put a lot of time into a topic and create a survey to address the topic, you hope that each and every person in the target audience will care as much about it as you do. Although very difficult to attain, a 100% response rate is possible under very specific circumstances. Circumstances such as a controlled environment where the survey administrator has control over engagement (think focus group participation packets or a classroom of students where the professor administers the survey). If the administrator is on-site to control responses to the fieldwork, you run a stronger chance of a high response rate. Unfortunately, with more mass scale methodologies (online surveys, mail surveys, and telephone surveys) – you automatically lose control and influence on enforcing a response. Typically telephone surveys have higher response rates than mail or online surveys because of that personal influence.
Response rates are one of the toughest aspects of market research to predict. The 74% response rate reached by the U.S. Census took numerous months and cost $13 billion dollars. Clearly a lot of time and money went into obtaining that astronomical response rate. In most cases, a market researcher will be content with a much smaller response rate. In some realms, even a 5% response rate is considered above average (depending on the study).
For more literature and tips to improve response rates, check out some other of our blog posts here:
- A Closer Look at Non-Responders
- 7 Questions to Consider Regarding Survey Response Rates
- Increase Online Survey Response Rates
Do you have questions about your study’s response rate or what to expect? Click on the ‘Have a question’ box in the top right corner and send the Bunker an email. We’d be happy to help!