Survey Incentives: The Key To The Promised Land Of Quality Data


Incentives make the market research world go around. At least they should, especially when it comes to managing and distilling quality data from online panels. Many marketers make the mistake of assuming the population is peaches and cream when it comes to participating in research projects. They assume consumers join market research surveys out of some grand altruism or because they love sharing their opinion on a brand or service.

How wrong they are. As a matter of fact, not only are incentives key to parting the seas of sample for satisfactory survey response rates, especially with harder-to-reach demographics, how they are positioned and framed make a difference.


The data on getting good data by using incentives in online surveys


As we have reported, online surveys are as vast as the stars these days, vying for the notice of an online consumer world with the attention span of a goldfish (nine seconds for humans, eight seconds for goldfish…in case you wanted to know). Some studies have survey participation rates averaging a mighty 2%. Between the locust-storms of surveys and the ADD mentality of internet shoppers, feedback fatigue has come down on consumers like a plague.

Then there is the cold, hard data supporting the benefits of respondent rewards. Studies have shown that incentives will normally lift response rates by 10-15%.

Furthermore, the Market Research Association presents these benefits of survey incentives:

Overall improvement of response rates
– Improved response rates from hard-to-reach groups
– Increase efficiency, especially when it comes to non-response follow-ups


Types of survey incentives


There are various traditional incentives for online research. Some are not guaranteed to every participant, only available for the first of a specified amount of individuals. But here they are:

Electronic gift cards and coupon codes. I just did one the other day—a dollar off in the form of a discount code, just for filling out an online survey for Peet’s Coffee. The only downside of this type of incentive feature might be a respondent’s email spam filter or lack of text message capabilities on a phone.

Physical cards or gifts. That would be the standard Amazon gift card or iPad. These are more commonplace for highly specialized sample like heart surgeons or Egyptian pharaohs wanting to avoid plagues.

Cash incentives. This reward is becoming less prevalent with survey companies, even for those using dedicated sample, but nothing wrong with them when appropriate. God invented PayPal for a reason….or at least the demigod Elon Musk.

Feedback incentives. Companies with smaller budgets utilize this type of participant reward. Instead of a gift or discount, a respondent receives a special piece of information or even content that he or she might find beneficial. Some companies utilize gamification as the reward for being in a survey study.

Drawings. The respondent is eligible to win a prize, plain and simple. If you’re like me, you’re still waiting for that CVS shopping spree.

In case you’re wondering: Research points to cash rewards being the best form of incentive.


The best way for respondent incentives to work


Marketers should understand one very important notion: Promised incentives are not as effective as enclosed incentives. For example, researchers at the Department of Veterans Affairs found that the promise of a $5.00 cash incentive up front increased response rates by 50%.

Another crucial factor to remember when dealing with respondent incentives is that the rewards are not a form of bribe or call for submission. Incentives are based on the social exchange model (or theory), which according to a psychologist means:

Social exchange theory proposes that social behavior is the result of an exchange process. The purpose of this exchange is to maximize benefits and minimize costs.

In essence, respondents are participating equally with you in your research, the most valuable commodity their time. This notion not only can assist in determining the size of the incentive but the very quality and length of a questionnaire.

As one marketer put it:

Avoid assuming time and effort too casually; your perception may not reflect reality for the average participant. We tend to assign far more intrinsic rewards to participating in market research as market researchers, and we underestimate the time and effort it takes others to complete our surveys.

Lastly on the social exchange model, too high of a reward may appear like a bribe to many respondents. In other words, so save the new Lamborghinis for a niche focus group.

And lastly on this section, incentives are often injected into a study when participation rates just aren’t reaching an adequate level. Even if you don’t feel incentives are necessary for an in-home study, you can always change your mind midflight.




How much of an incentive be provided for a market research survey depends on the company’s budget, the type of sample, and the ability to deliver a reward. Online sample providers like qSample employ an established program of incentives that keep panels available and engaged. On the other hand, survey software companies should be able to consult with you and your research needs.

In the end, it’s your call but it’s a call that should consider some form of incentive. This consideration will get you closer to the promised land of quality data, with or without a goldfish.

incentives for online research part the way for quality data

Back to Blog

Latest insights and trends on market research and surveys

Facebook IconYouTube IconTwitter IconVisit Our LinkedInVisit Our LinkedInVisit Our LinkedIn