Sometimes referred to as “touchy-feely” research, qualitative data collection requires researchers to interpret the information gathered, most often without the benefit of statistical support. If the researcher is well trained in interpreting respondents’ comments and activities, this form of research can offer very good information. However, it may not hold the same level of relevancy as quantitative research due to the lack of scientific controls with this data collection method. For example, a researcher may want to know more about how customers make purchase decisions. One way to do this is to sit and talk with customers using one-on-one interviews. However, if the interview process allows the researcher to vary what questions are asked (i.e., not all respondents are asked the same questions), then this type of research may lack controls needed to follow a scientific approach.
An additional drawback of qualitative research is that it can be time consuming and expensive and, consequently, only a very small portion of the marketer’s desired market can participate in qualitative research. Due to the lack of strong controls in the research design (i.e., not as well structured, fewer participants), using results to estimate characteristics of a larger group is more difficult. Thus, qualitative data collection is generally not used for hypothesis testing. This is not to say qualitative research is not useful, it is very useful if its limitations are understood. It is widely employed for marketing research especially for research for the purpose of discovery, and to a lesser extent, explanation.
Qualitative data collection options include personal interviews, focus groups and observational research which are discussed next.