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Response Rates – Should mode preference matter?

A general best practice that has been adopted in survey research is to find the mode that your audience prefers and align your data collection with that mode. The thought behind this practice is that using the preferred mode will help respondents have a good attitude about completing the survey and will ultimately lead to better response rates. 


Are there mode preferences?

A recent technical report by Millar, O’Neill, & Dillman (2009) decided to test whether this mode preference was real.   When asked which mode they preferred, the majority of individuals still indicated that they preferred to complete surveys through the mail as opposed to web or phone. This findings falls in line with other research that has looked at mode preference in B2C and B2B research.


How critical is mode preference?

But does this mean that we should simply conduct all of our research through mail surveys? Definitely not, there are advantages to other data collection modes that researchers cannot ignore. One of the aims of the study mentioned above was to see if it was possible to ‘push’ respondent to use the web to complete the survey.  This was done through withholding other options to complete the survey and providing additional detailed instructions for completing the survey through the web. The authors were able to achieve an acceptable response rate and results suggest that the exposure to the web survey may have even swayed some respondent’s mode preference to the web.


So what should I consider when choosing a data collection mode?

When choosing a mode for data collection, characteristics of the respondents should be a vital piece of information weighing into the decision. It is important to consider the mode preference of the respondents, but not necessarily to always choose that mode for data collection. Based on this study, maybe the focus needs to shift from aligning with the mode of preference to pushing respondents to the mode we want and more importantly, helping them feel comfortable with that mode. This could be through additional instructions to help combat uneasiness with the mode of data collection or more encouragement based on the benefits of one mode over the other.


So while we still need to make sure that our mode aligns with the situation of our respondents (ex. if they don’t have internet access, a web survey is out of the question), we also need to see the survey through the eyes of our respondents and proactively combat uneasiness or uncertainty, in order to ensure that our mode is not detracting from our response rate. 

Becca Lewis
Stat Analyst
Marketing Sciences

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