What’s it: Primary research is a type of research where the researcher directly takes data from the original source. In other words, researchers are the first to collect data.
Data may be qualitative or quantitative information. Qualitative information cannot be measured, calculated, and described using numbers, such as education, gender, preferences, or respondents’ opinions. Meanwhile, qualitative information has a value that can be measured by numbers, such as income or the number of products purchased per month.
Researchers may collect data on their own. Or, they hire a third party to do research on their behalf. The main advantage of primary research is that data quality is more guaranteed. But it can also be expensive to do.
Difference between primary research and secondary research
Based on data sources, research falls into two types:
- Primary research or field research
- Secondary research or desk research
If primary research collects data from original sources directly, secondary research relies on existing data. It may come from external parties such as reports from other companies, government institutions, research agencies, or international organizations.
Although cheaper, researchers cannot confirm the quality of secondary data. They have no control over the sampling process and data collection. Data may not be up to date due to more time lag between data collection and publication results. For some time series data, they may not be updated regularly.
Primary research methods
There are four primary research methods:
- Focus group
In the survey, the researcher collected data from a predetermined group of respondents (sample). Topics vary depending on the research objectives. In consumer research, for example, it might examine the attitudes, impressions, opinions, and levels of consumer satisfaction with a product or brand.
Before doing the survey, researchers determined which samples to take. The process we call sampling, which falls into two categories:
- Random sampling. Here, the sample has the same chance of being selected. Examples of methods are simple random sampling, systematic random sampling, stratified random sampling and cluster random sampling, and multi-stage random sampling.
- Non-random sampling. Under this approach, the sample chances of being selected are unequal. The methods are quota sampling, convenience sampling, snowball sampling, judgmental sampling, and self-selection.
After determining a sample, researchers conducted a survey, either by themselves or through a third party on their behalf. In addition to meeting face to face with respondents, researchers may do so by telephone or online channels such as email. For direct consumer research, they ask consumers or potential customers directly, usually using a questionnaire.
The questionnaire usually contains some quantitative or qualitative information. The initial page may contain questions about the consumer’s background, such as education, number of family members, and income. The next section contains some key questions to answer the objectives of the study.
The questions in the questionnaire might be:
- Closed question
- Open question
In closed questions, researchers provide alternative answers, and the respondent chooses the appropriate answer. The main advantage of closed questions is that the results are easy and fast to process and analyze. However, the weakness is that the answers are developed from the researchers’ perspective rather than the respondent. Thus, it has less room to explain the reasons behind consumer answers.
Meanwhile, in open questions, alternative answers are unavailable. Researchers encourage respondents to provide their own answers, thus providing opportunities to dig deeper into information. But, unfortunately, answers will vary between respondents. They would be challenging to compose and represent numerically.
An interview is similar to a survey, in which the researcher interacts directly with the respondent. It may be over the phone or in person. The interview process can be conducted anywhere, whether on the street or at home, depending on the sample selected.
However, instead of relying on a few closed questions, interviews mostly relied on open-ended questions. They delved deeper into the answers of respondents. Unlike surveys, the interviewer does not have a guide, resulting in more bias in asking questions. To avoid bias, they may carry notes with questions to ask.
In this case, the researcher gathered several people to discuss a problem. They may be consumers or experts.
Discussion topics vary depending on the type of research. It might be about a new product, service, advertisement, or style of packaging. The researcher then posed these questions to group members and encouraged them to actively discuss their responses.
All group members are free to give their point of view. Here, the researcher usually acts as the discussion leader and records or notes the critical points.
The main advantage of focus groups is that the information is more realistic and accurate. Because they involve respondents with similar characteristics, their answers or opinions may be less biased than the responses to individual interviews or questionnaires. Group members are free to state their opinions rather than simply answering questions as in surveys and interviews.
However, this method also has drawbacks. Members may be passive in the discussion, so the researcher takes a dominant role, thus influencing too much discussion. That will lead to biased conclusions in the end.
Observation does not involve direct interaction with respondents. Instead, the researcher watches and observes the respondents and makes notes about them. Take an example, customer behavior research at a retail store. The researcher might note the number of visitors, their gender, what products they first turn to when they enter the store, what they put in a shopping cart, what they pay at the checkout, and how much.
This research is relatively inexpensive because the researcher does not ask the respondents one by one. Instead, they determined several observation locations to retrieve information.
However, a major drawback of observational research is the relatively limited amount of information. Also, bias often occurs. For example, in an observation at a retail store, visitors may show an unnatural attitude when they know they are being watched. They try to show their ideal self instead of behaving as usual.
Disadvantages of primary research
Some of the advantages of primary research are:
More up to date. The researcher collects data at the time were needed. This is different from secondary data, where there is more time lag between data collection and publication. Besides, researchers can also update data regularly, as needed.
More relevant. Researchers take data by the objectives and questions they want to answer. For example, if they studied the shopping habits of consumers aged 20-30 years, they could determine a suitable sample.
In contrast, the available secondary data may only be for consumers aged 20-25 years. So, taking secondary data for research becomes less relevant.
Confidential. Only researchers have access to data. Other people cannot use it without their permission.
Also, researchers can sell data to other parties for money. It is one of the business models of several research companies. They collect some primary data and sell it to several clients. They incur a one-time cost but can sell the same data to multiple parties.
More controllable. Indeed, primary research is also biased. However, some of it is within the control of researchers. For example, in choosing a sample, they control the selected respondents and the data collected, so they are more representative. That is difficult to get from secondary data.
Disadvantages of primary research
Drawbacks of primary research are:
Expensive. Researchers have to spend more to get to the data. The amount depends on the preparation or the primary research method used. The number and geographic reach of respondents also affect costs. For example, in a survey, the costs may be higher and include surveyor wages, data entry fees, and questionnaire printing costs.
Time-consuming. Surveys and interviews, for example, may take several days, depending on the number of respondents. After the data is obtained, the researcher must enter the data, clean it, and put it in a database. They may also have to classify answers to some open-ended questions. On the other hand, secondary data is faster to obtain, process, and analyze.
Lower variety. Primary data contains only the topics under study. In contrast, secondary data is more varied because it comes from various sources.
Invalid sample. Sampling errors render work pointless. Although there were no problems with the questionnaire or respondent’s answers, an unrepresentative sample produced biased conclusions. So, choosing the right sample is the initial and critical stage of the research.