Article by Ryan Moore, RMS Research Coordinator

At a Glance:

What’s the Difference?Qualitative research studies opinions and attitudes using non-numerical resources like interviews and observations. Quantitative research uses numerical data to find patterns.

What is Qualitative Research? – used to understand people’s beliefs, experiences, attitudes, behavior, and interactions.

Qualitative Research Methods – Examples include: Focus Groups, In-Depth Interviews (IDIs), Intercept Surveys, Mystery Shopping.

What is Quantitative Research? – studies numerical data to identify trends or predict outcomes.

Quantitative Research Methods – Examples include: Mail/Paper Surveys, Online Surveys, Telephone Surveys, Mixed Mode.

Combining Qualitative and Quantitative Research – A Mixed Methods approach to research draws upon the strengths of both numerical data and participants’ first-hand narratives and descriptions to gain more comprehensive insights.

What’s the Difference?

When conducting market research, there are two main approaches. Qualitative research is used to get an understanding of respondents’ experiences, opinions, and attitudes through open-ended methods such as interviews and observations. Quantitative research uses numerical data and statistical analysis to measure attitudes, behaviors, and outcomes. Both approaches are important in market research, as they provide insights into consumer behavior and preferences, enabling businesses and organizations to make informed decisions and improve their offerings. Knowing the distinction between qualitative and quantitative research methods can help determine which will be the most effective in eliciting valuable information and insights.

What is Qualitative Research?

Qualitative research is conducted primarily through description or observation which is more unstructured and subjective as opposed to research designed to collect straightforward numerical data. By providing the participant more freedom in their response, qualitative research can gather more in-depth and nuanced information than the closed-ended quantitative method. Unlike quantitative research, which relies on statistical comparisons, qualitative research will identify patterns and trends in data by analyzing and interpreting the meaning behind participants’ responses. Qualitative data is often descriptive in nature and may include narratives, quotes, and other non-numerical forms of data.

Market researchers can use qualitative research for things such as:

  • Discovering thoughts, feelings, opinions, and perceptions
  • Testing new products
  • Validating concepts
  • Understanding strengths and weakness
  • Learning purchase-decision dynamics

Some advantages of qualitative research include:

  • It’s an open-ended process. (The interviewer can often probe deeper and request more detail.)
  • It offers very specific insights.
  • Smaller sample sizes can be used effectively.
  • It provides data that is useful for practical application because it uncovers the “why” behind the “what”.
  • It uncovers themes from individual experiences.

Qualitative Research Methods

Focus Groups – A focus group is a small number of people (often 10 or less) brought together to participate in a discussion led by a moderator. The discussion focuses on specific products, topics, or services, and follows a pre-determined focus group moderator’s guide. The guide outlines the questions to be covered, as well as the topics for which the moderator should expect to probe deeper for additional information.

In-Depth Interviews (IDIs) – IDIs often take the form of a one-on-one discussion between the interviewer and participant. The interviewer typically follows a semi-structured interview guide, developed prior to the conversation, to direct the discussion. It is common for IDIs to be completed in-person, over the phone, or online using video conferencing software.

Intercept Surveys – An intercept survey is a very brief interview with a participant who is approached in a public location, such as a mall, park, or busy street corner. The interviewer will ask the participant a set of pre-determined questions, related to their experiences or behaviors. For example, the interviewer might approach individuals leaving a retail store and ask them a few questions about their shopping experience.

Mystery Shopping – Mystery shopping is used to measure the quality of a service, compliance with policies and regulations, or to gather specific information about products and services. This method allows the client to obtain competitive information without being directly involved in the process. Mystery shoppers often gather information through telephone calls or by visiting the store and posing as a customer.

What is Quantitative Research?

Quantitative research uses numerical data to identify patterns and trends using closed-ended questions.  For example, a client may conduct a survey asking respondents how many times per week they go shopping for groceries. as Another method could use a Likert Scale to rate customer satisfaction with a product on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being very dissatisfied and 5 being very satisfied.

The research is then collected and analyzed to provide the client with numerical data to determine the overall satisfaction level of their customers and identify areas for improvement. The data can be used to inform product development, marketing strategies, and strategic business decisions. This structured approach to research is different from the more conversational approach used in qualitative research.

Market researchers can use quantitative research for things such as:

  • Generalizing large populations
  • Investigating relationships
  • Examining cause-and-effect
  • Finding averages
  • Making predictions

Some advantages of quantitative research include:

  • It’s reliable.
  • It’s repeatable.
  • It allows for benchmarking and tracking.
  • Data can be collected quickly.

Quantitative Research Methods

Mail/Paper Surveys – A paper-based questionnaire that can be distributed via mail or in-person. This is great for populations without computer access, but typically results in a lower response rate than other methods.

Online Surveys – A digital version of a questionnaire that can be accessed through a link in an email or social media post. This method is convenient for participants and typically results in a higher response rate than paper surveys.

Telephone Surveys – A survey that is conducted over the phone in which the interviewer takes the participant through the questionnaire one question at a time. In this type of survey, the interviewer has the opportunity to prompt the participant to elaborate and generate further explanation in case there are any qualitative questions included.

Mixed Mode – A research approach that utilizes multiple data collection methods, such as phone, online, and paper surveys, to reach the target population effectively.

Quantitative research can gather a large number of responses, making it easier for researchers to draw reliable conclusions from the data analysis. This method uses structured questionnaires with limited-response options to measure consumer feelings, satisfaction, and other factors in a quantifiable way. It’s an ideal option when clients have assumptions about their target audience and want to test them further.

Combining Qualitative and Quantitative Research

Often, researchers may choose to use a mix of both qualitative and quantitative modes to get well-rounded feedback from participants. For instance, if a client is conducting a feasibility study to decide whether to open a shopping mall in an area, it would be useful to know how often a research participant goes shopping. This could be found out through a simple multiple-choice question that would result in a numerical answer. Additional useful information may then be obtained by asking qualitative follow-up questions about what products they shop for and why. That would give the client an idea of their potential market size in the area, or what kind of stores and businesses would perform well among their clientele. By giving participants freedom to describe their experiences and opinions more thoroughly, researchers can derive useful and specific information that can inform marketing decisions.

Both qualitative and quantitative research modes are important tools for gaining insights into consumer behaviors and attitudes. For the most accurate, representative, and reliable data, it’s important to choose the research method that best fits the client’s objectives.

At Research and Marketing Strategies (RMS), we customize each questionnaire to the needs of the client. Many of our questionnaires follow a structured outline and contain a mix of qualitative open-ended questions as well as quantitative closed-ended questions with predefined response options from which the participant may choose.

RMS is a full-service market research firm located in Baldwinsville, NY. If you are interested in learning more about our research capabilities, please contact Sandy Baker, our Senior Director of Business Development & Corporate Strategy at or by calling 1-866-567-5422.

Relational RMS Blogs:

Recruiting the Right Participants for Your Focus Groups Best Practices
How to Design Your Next Feasibility Study
How to Overcome Common Barriers to Employee Satisfaction Surveys

About the Author – Ryan Moore

As RMS Research Coordinator, Ryan assists the analytic team with managing projects, including designing surveys, survey programming, interviewing, analyzing data, and summary reporting. He works within the research department to interpret primary and secondary data, helping to identify key findings and trends. Ryan also assists in project recruitment.

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Contact our Vice President of Corporate Development, Sandy Baker at or call 1-866-567-5422.

About RMS

Research & Marketing Strategies, Inc. (RMS) is a full-service market research firm in Central New York. Formed in 2002, RMS helps organizations that are looking to know more about their customers and/or potential customers. They conduct surveys, focus groups, mystery shopping, studies and analysis. Each project is customized and gets personal attention by the best in the business. RMS has a reputation for getting results and offers an independent means to conduct telephone, on-line and mail surveying, In-depth interviews, intercept interviews, and participant recruitment as well as focus group hosting through QualiSight, its onsite call center and focus group facility. Taking advantage of the region’s reputation for being a great market study barometer, RMS recruits and moderates for focus groups, community forums and town meetings.