How will people answer surveys in the time of COVID-19?

By: Pete Cape
Director, Global Knowledge

So following on from my previous post on the subject of Research in the time of Coronavirus, this is the second most asked question –usually asked as “will they answer the same?”
And of course, the answer is (as so many are in market research), “it depends”.
First it depends on what you mean by “the same.”
Believe it or not some have asked me whether COVID-19 will directly affect the way people answer questions, as if it is some kind of cognitive impairment. Of course it is not; it is more flu-like. As I have said before, I expect very few people during their illness, if they have the virus itself, to take surveys in a delirious fevered state.
People filling in surveys will continue to tell their truth as it is at the time of asking. You might think to try to adjust your questions to say, “assume there was no coronavirus pandemic, how then would you X, Y or Z?” but I doubt this will work. It is hard enough for most people to answer hypothetical questions anyway, and what would it really mean?
So yes, answers may well change, and will still be the truth, because we are living in changed times.
For many questions it is relatively easy to estimate how the data (the sum of all answers of course) will be shifting. Current plans for travel will be reducing, share of expenditure on groceries is (likely) to be increasing, online grocery delivery will be increasing, etc.
And when the pandemic comes to an end, hopefully in the relatively near future, is there the need to track this change over time? I would say yes; we do not know if or how behaviour will be permanently affected by current experiences. Will shoppers continue to do online grocery shopping? With whom? How do you then know why they chose the grocery chain they did? All these questions need to be asked now, so as not to be surprised in the future when you re-instate your tracker. In fact, in some situations, where the world has not changed for years and truths are self-evident, it may be time to start thinking about getting a tracker going.
And it is not just in the obvious behavioural questions. We also need to be thinking about the wider picture, will social attitudes change? How have some corporate reputations been enhanced (or damaged) by their actions during the crisis? Will your segmentation still “work”? How is recommendation or NPS changing, and towards whom? The list goes on.
If you are in any doubt, remember that “they” are also “us.” Ask yourself how you are thinking about the world right now, about society, about your community. If “your” mind is changing then probably “their” minds are changing too, and you really need to know in what way –– this is not the time to be “flying blind.”
Click here to download Dynata’s Global Trends Report Special Edition: COVID-19