offline market research

Understanding Offline Market Research and Determining if You Need It

Understanding Offline Market Research and Determining if You Need It

offline market research

Have you ever considered using offline market research? Like its online counterpart, it too can be used to conduct both primary and secondary market research.

While we always tout market research online surveys, it is critical to understand all forms of market research. This way, you’ll always have various options on hand, which you can consider using when forming a major research campaign. 

So how exactly is this industry faring in terms of revenue?

The market research industry has grown more than twofold since 2008, exceeding $76.4 billion in 2021 alone. Clearly, businesses are seeing the value in conducting this research for various business matters.

As such, we cannot stress the importance of market research enough. Again, studying just one facet of it is not enough. Thus, we suggest you get acclimated to offline methods of market research.

This article investigates offline market research, presenting the various methods used to carry it out, comparing it with the online variety, and ultimately, determining if you need to conduct it.

Understanding Offline Market Research

This is a kind of market research, except unlike most of the kinds of research performed in the current day, it is conducted entirely offline, as its name alludes.

Like its online counterpart, offline research has various methods that make it up. These methods can be far-ranging as well as of the subtype variety (for example, there are different types of ethnographic research or different types of surveys).

Offline research entails that the researcher has to do all the work to gather the research information, whereas, with online research, many of the tasks associated with obtaining the research are automated.

As such, offline research involves scouring through various sources and locations in order to find relevant information. This may include libraries, bookstores and newsagents. It may also require speaking with people with knowledge of particular subjects.

It, therefore, tends to be more time-consuming and may require traveling to come across the information.

Offline market research methods have been around for a long time, far exceeding the existence of online market research, for obvious reasons. Some of these methods are still in use to this day. 

When used correctly, these offline methods are proven to yield results. As such, if you only use online market research methods, it may be worth considering offline strategies as well. 

The Main Types and Methods of Offline Market Research

Offline research methods are a diverse mix and can thus cater to the needs and preferences of all researchers. Many of these methods are still around and can be used in tandem with online research methods. 

Here are some of the most prominent offline methods for conducting market research: 

In-Person Surveys

When surveys are conducted in person, they are considered to be interviews. Specifically, in market research, these are known as IDIs, or in-depth interviews. After all, when you speak with someone in person and face to face, there is a greater opportunity to collect as much information as possible.

This is due to the fact that such a setting allows for conversation, whereas written and online surveys are limited to the questions included in their questionnaire. 

You can conduct in-person surveys in a twofold way: they can be preplanned or spontaneously / on the spot.

With the former approach, you would have to seek interview subjects and ask for their consent to participate in an interview. The interview would take place at a designated facility or a location most convenient for the participant.

With the latter approach, you can do so in public places that get plenty of traffic. 

Many businesses prefer conducting these interviews in malls since their customers and target market members go there to browse products and shop. This method is advantageous, in that you can show your customers your products and have them form their opinions immediately.

As such, this method is especially useful for B2C businesses. However, it can also highly benefit B2B businesses, but these interviews would then be conducted at tradeshows or other events B2B companies frequent. They can also be conducted in-office or at your place of work (showrooms, stores, etc).

In IDIs specifically, a moderator spends between 30 minutes to over an hour having a comprehensive discussion with their participants one-on-one. IDIs are thus one of the most intimate and information-yielding approaches you can take with the survey route.

Snail-Mail Surveys

This is one of the oldest market research methods and though it may seem dated, it is still used in the present, especially to gain insights from older generations. 

Snail-mail surveys are sent to respondents via the mail, for them to fill out the surveys and send them back to the researchers.

This approach can appease many older customers, especially if they aren’t physically capable of going to an in-person interview or aren’t adept at using computers to take an online survey. 

These surveys are useful, as they show which customers are more likely to remain customers or buy from your business. Otherwise, why would they take the time to complete your survey, and then have to package it and send it back?

What’s best is that these provide you with a list of customers whose contact information you have. You can then cross-reference your list of contacts with the list of respondents who actually partook in your mailed surveys to have an understanding of those who are most serious about doing business with you. 

Snail-mail surveys do have their share of downsides: they require far more time to fully conduct, as it takes more time to deliver them, have them filled out and finally, returned back. On the contrary, an online survey campaign can be completed in its entirety in a few hours.

In addition, if your survey includes open-ended questions, then your campaign is at the mercy of your respondents’ handwriting, which may not always be legible

Phone Surveys

Yet another survey method, phone surveys are somewhere in between in-person survey interviews and snail-mail surveys, in terms of the time and effort required to complete them. They offer the same convenience as in-person surveys, as they too can become IDIs.

That’s because when you’re on the phone, you are free to ask and speak for however long you see fit (within reason). Unlike written surveys, phone surveys aren’t limited to the questions in a written survey’s questionnaire.

You can create new, follow-up questions as the phone conversation progresses. Thus, the data you extract from phone surveys is more comprehensive and may not require conducting any further primary research. 

Phone surveys also have a major convenience over in-person surveys: the respondents don’t have to travel or even leave their homes to partake. This is especially critical during Covid and seasonal illnesses.

Additionally, some people prefer to stay home, and thus would much rather stay home for a survey session, rather than having to waste time getting to a certain location.

Phone surveys do have certain disadvantages. First off, not all will be willing to give up their spare time to talk with a stranger on the phone about a business or business-related manners. 

Additionally, another major drawback of phone surveys is that many businesses don’t have enough contact information of their customers. They certainly don’t have the contact information for target market members who are not direct customers.

Thus, there are too many resources needed to dial respondents’ numbers and administer the surveys.

Focus Groups

A focus group is a small group of people who meet to informally discuss your topic of choice; this is usually business-related. However, it can also focus on the customers themselves, such as their lifestyles, buying patterns and more.

Focus groups are group sessions consisting of 5 to ten participants. They include a moderator, who leads the discussion using prearranged questions and topics.    

focus groups

A typical in-person focus group will consist of 4 to 12 participants, along with the moderator. A focus group session usually lasts a few hours and can require follow-up meetings.

The moderator leads the meeting with different topics and subtopics for roughly 60 minutes to two hours. 

Aside from leading the discussion, the moderator must observe the group and take notes to record key moments in the session. Therefore, the focus group may also include using participant activity materials and audio/video recordings of the sessions.

Aside from taking part in a Q and A, a focus group can include other techniques to draw out insights from customers. These include doing role-playing exercises and more. As such, this method is more lively and interactive, as it includes more people than a one-on-one interview and more techniques aside from questioning.

Like in in-person and phone surveys, the resultant data from focus groups is more in-depth but it also tends to be more subjective. The output, therefore, involves more words, images, impressions and sentiments, rather than hard, statistical data.

In addition, some participants are more extroverted, leading them to dominate the discussion, while more demure participants remain quiet or answer fewer questions. This is where a one-on-one research method may be more useful, or easier to administer.

That’s because, technically, the discussion can be balanced, even with a mix of reserved and outspoken participants, but the moderator would have to step in so that the quieter participants can take part and the extroverted ones to allow others to speak. This would thus be more laborsome. 


Like in-person interviews, observations typically occur in natural settings, that is, where people exist voluntarily. 

Observations are part of ethnographic research, a qualitative research method that relies on entrenching yourself in various participant environments to extract challenges, goals, themes and more. 

At times, it is best to observe customers in this way, noting where they choose to browse versus where they buy from, whether they’re looking for sales/promotions and more.

Thus, you can conduct observations to uncover real behaviors. This is a major advantage of this method, as people in surveys and focus groups may lie, as they are put on the spot (in offline surveys, that is, online surveys can be fully anonymized). 

But when you discreetly observe shoppers in their natural habitats, they exist as themselves. They’ve got no one to impress or worry about judging their answers. Thus, you can learn a lot about customer buying behavior, customer motivations, needs and more, all by simply watching them covertly.

Some researchers observe shoppers and then use their findings to conduct follow-up interviews. Some research companies resort to using hidden cameras to record customers and gather information this way. Thus, some offline market research methods are also digital, even though they are not internet-based. 

Like other methods, observations have some limitations as well. First off, you’ll need to find an ideal distance to observe customers discreetly, while being able to hear (and see) them. This can be difficult in crowded places, which tend to be loud and full of motion.

Most likely, in such scenarios, you won’t hear much of what your customers say to one another, unless you’re at a relatively quiet location.

In addition, while observing customers is useful, it won’t address your specific questions. Thus, observations are rarely a standalone affair. 

Live Events

Using live events for market research is much like the above example of observation, except rather than observing people in basic, everyday settings, you’re going to observe them in special occurrences and planned events.

These can provide a mix of entertainment and research. The goal is to get the participants as engaged in the event as possible. This is typically a tactic of field marketing but can be applied to market research as well. 

That’s because live events are a new type of market research called “engagement marketing,” which includes a mix of live elements, face-to-face discussions and even certain activities to enable customers to actively engage with your brand.

Conducting research at live events is crucial, as it can be more intimate than observations alone. Given that these are specialized events within your industry, you may set up a booth or nook with the intention of speaking with your potential customers.

With the customers’ consent, this can be treated as an interview, or at the very least, a time to pitch your product or service and get the opinions of it from your target market

Thus, you can interview customers right then and there. This immediately transforms the event to be more than just a time for brand awareness, but to reap critical insights.

Live events have the disadvantage of the lack of time: both for you and your customers. That’s because many may attend such events without the desire to speak with businesses, let alone be interviewed by them.

As for you, you may be at the event with other tasks, such as making a presentation, pitching a product, handing out flyers, etc. Your business would need to dedicate a worker entirely for the purpose of research to actually get anything done on this front at a live event.

The Pros and Cons of Offline Market Research

As we’ve discussed in the prior sections with examples of offline research methods, we’ve alluded to both the positive and negative aspects of such methods. 

You can draw your own conclusions, but to do so, it’s useful to have a concrete view of all the advantages and drawbacks of these methods. 

offline market research
The following does just that, listing
all the pros and cons of offline market research methods:

The Advantages:

  1. Reaching participants who don’t have access to the internet. 
    1. 6% of Americans don’t have adequate access to the internet at threshold speeds or with a fixed broadband service.
  2. Being able to reach participants who aren’t internet savvy, don’t have internet devices or simply prefer not to use the internet.
  3. Having wide-ranging approaches to conducting research if one doesn't garner enough data, whereas online research may only rely on one software, aka, one method. 
  4. Not all participants spend a lot of time online; this is especially true of those with eye strain.

The Disadvantages: 

  1. A much smaller reach to participants than in online research methods.
  2. Secondary online research methods are easier to come by, doing so offline requires finding and speaking with a knowledgeable source.
  3. They tend to all be time-consuming affairs.
  4. Lack of time for deep thoughts in all in-person and phone methods.
  5. It can be difficult to get people to answer all your questions, whether in written form or in person. 

Offline Vs Online Market Research: The Verdict

Both offline and online market research methods have their advantages and pitfalls, but which is overall the best approach to take when conducting market research?

Offline market research provides many avenues that online research simply doesn’t, such as the personal touch of conducting in-person studies. That’s the major advantage of offline research over the online variety.

It is nearly impossible to create the same conversations and reap the same information digitally, or even over the phone. Thus, offline research methods are better for drawing out qualitative market research. That’s because they involve discussing thoughts, feelings and perceptions in full depth. 

This can be limiting, however, as respondents may not remember or gather all of their thoughts on a subject right away, especially in an in-person setting, which puts more pressure on them. On the contrary, there is hardly any pressure in taking an online survey. 

In addition, conducting offline research is much more difficult for obtaining quantitative market research. The reason behind this is twofold:

  1. Offline studies take much more time to conduct and complete.
    1. One focus group session alone can take hours.
    2. Mail-in surveys can take months, even years to complete, depending on the respondents.
    3. Calling people to ask for consent to a research project, as well as mailing them takes too long, and this is just to opt people in. 
  2. Offline market research reaches fewer people.
    1. Many will ignore survey phone calls and snail mail surveys. 
    2. There are only so many adequate observations you can make on a daily basis.
    3. A focus group itself only deals with 12 people at most.

Online market research solves both of these problems, as it can be deployed to the masses and completed within hours. This will, of course, depend on the market research platform you use. 

Moreover, online research involves using polling software that targets the specific people you need for your research study. With offline market research, finding people who meet a variety of qualifications and who are also willing to take your survey is nearly impossible

Online market research can also involve tactics that prevent poor-quality data and survey fraud by using AI to detect it and disqualify respondents who provide this data. This involves giving gibberish answers, skipping questions, and more. This is impossible to do in written, snail-mail surveys. 

Thus, online research offers far more capabilities with survey software than does offline market research. Online market research can obtain both quantitative and qualitative research, reach the masses and do so in a timely manner.

However, it still is lacking in some regards, especially when compared with offline market research. 

That’s because not all segments of the population spend much time online. Some segments do not have reliable internet access, as aforementioned, such as rural citizens. You may also have less tech-savvy, older customers.  

You will therefore need to reach these segments offline.

In addition, offline market research gives you more access to primary sources of information and yields more comprehensive results.

Thus, it is often best to use both, specifically, whichever method is most suitable for your research needs. Using both will reveal different data about your target market. 

Aiding All Your Market Research Projects

Although we suggested taking your market research endeavors both online and off, there’s more to this.

An online market research campaign is only as effective as the platform you use to administer it. 

In essence, it is the survey platform that grants online surveys all their powers.

We therefore advise you to use a trustworthy online survey platform, one that is rich in functions and features. 

Not all survey platforms have the same features; thus, not all market research online surveys can offer all of the functionalities and features mentioned in this article.

Thus, you should select your survey platform carefully. 

Pollfish survey software allows you to create a thorough survey data collection, one you can customize to your liking, view however you please and organize to the max.

In addition, with our vast array of question types, you can create virtually any type of online market research survey to support your research campaigns.

Researchers can leverage a wide range of information on their respondents by accessing a wide pool of insights in their survey results dashboard.

In addition, we also offer the advanced skip logic feature, which routes respondents to relevant follow-up questions based on their answers to a previous question. 

Thanks to our advanced market research platform, you can effectively pair online market research with offline market research campaigns.