The Business Benefits and Limitations of Online Panels Explained

Online Panel

Read the following guide to learn about the pros and cons of opting for online panels to conduct market research.

Online panels are becoming increasingly popular way for businesses to gain valuable consumer insight into their products.

As a specialist in this field with the largest online panel in the UK, the following guide by outlines the key advantages and limitations of this research methodology.

Online Panel
Benefits of Using an Online Panel

Using an online panel approach offers proven advantages:

  • Affordability – compared to telephone, face to face and postal methods, online panels generally cost less for the same sample size and length of interview.
  • Speedy Turnaround – using the online approach, large demographic samples can be contacted faster than other research mediums, bringing quicker polling results.
  • Enhanced Interactivity – online studies allow for research that is more interactive, flexible and visual, such as conducting interviews that utilise web pages and video.
  • Streamlined Complexity – navigational routing within a questionnaire must be kept to a minimum using traditional research methods such as a paper questionnaire, as it causes respondent confusion. Online panels allow for automated routing without running the risk of respondent errors i.e. if a person answers yes to a certain question, they are automatically presented with the correct corresponding page.
  • Respondent Appeal – increasingly, service providers are realising that many people prefer to respond online as they can do it whenever it suits them. People are more keen to conveniently complete online research than over the telephone or by having to visit a research centre.
  • Honesty – using an interviewer in traditional forms of research can affect the sample as people often give different answers when speaking to a person, particularly when it relates to what the industry calls ‘social desirability’. In contrast, online panels allow respondents to be more honest, especially in areas such as health care and public policy research.

Potential Limitations of Online Panels

Online panels offer a range of advantages, but like every research methodology they have sample challenges. Although Ofcom figures show that over 80% of the entire UK population now have access to the Internet at home, these statistics vary according to demographic:

  • Socio-Economic Group – people on a higher economic category tend to have more Internet devices at home along with fast broadband, making them more available for online research than other socio-economic groups.
  • Ethnic Group – media up-take vary amongst different ethnic cultures. For example, UK black and minority ethnic groups have been shown to use the Internet more than the population as a whole, which is partly attributed to most of the population in this category who go online are younger. This stems partly from the fact that the BME population is younger.
  • Age – Internet usage varies widely according to age. For example, statistics a few years back showed that 90% of 15 to 54 year regularly go online, whereas this figure drops to 75% amongst 55 to 64 year olds, 64% amongst 74 year olds and just 27% or people ages 75 and over. Nevertheless, Internet usage is filtering down through all age demographics and these gaps are closing fast. Currently, there is a rising trend of ‘silver surfers’ over 60 who are now frequently using the Internet for convenient shopping, travel bookings and to contact with their families.
  • Disability ­­­– figures have shown that 48% of disabled people are offline, since they find it difficult to operate computers. With advances in technology however, these obstacles are being overcome over time.

The limitations outlined demonstrate that as with all research methodologies, it is important to ensure a broad sample of the population in order to represent a comprehensive demographic. That being said, the sample for each online survey will be effective if the researchers are clear on  who and what is being targeted, how the results are used and how accurately the survey represents the target audience.


The online panel approach is increasingly trusted and proven, both within the market research field and even in politics. As a specialist who manages one of the largest online panels in the UK, advises businesses interested in consumer polling to ensure their research provider covers the demographic of their target market thoroughly in order to get correct sample results.

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