Focus groups vs. online surveys: Which is better?

Market research is an essential component of business strategy for companies looking to understand their customers’ needs, wants, and behaviors, as well as market trends and the competitive landscape. 

While online surveys are a powerful mechanism for conducting market research, those looking to gain market research insights often also consider holding focus groups to receive feedback from individuals that act as prospective customers.

In this article, we’ll delve into the differences between online surveys and focus groups and how to determine which method to use based on existing circumstances.

Using Focus Groups for Market Research

Focus groups are leveraged by businesses that want to observe behavior amongst a group of people who are participating in an interactive group setting. 

In order for a focus group to provide insights on which a business can take action, it’s best to hold the focus group session in a neutral location where the potential customers feel comfortable providing honest feedback after being introduced to your products and/or services. 

Once the business representatives informally introduce their products or services to the members of the focus group, the members of the focus group should have free reign over how they experiment with and use the products being tested.

The Advantages of Focus Groups

Focus groups are an efficient form of conducting market research because they can provide feedback to companies in terms of what customers think of their products or services with little context.

Focus groups also take group settings into consideration, as they encourage productive, interpersonal discussions. 

If one person likes the functionality of a product or service, but the rest of the members of the focus group are vocal about how much they hate it, the advocate may very well conform to the rest of the group and say that they dislike the product or service. While this bias is a result of human nature, this behavior can be predicted to occur in the real world market as well.

The Disadvantages of Focus Groups

The primary disadvantages of using focus groups for market research purposes is that the process is expensive, time consuming, and resource dependent.

Depending on the format of the focus group, members might require payment which adds to the cost that the business is responsible for. Also, each focus group requires both preliminary training so that they are aware of how the process works, and supervision throughout the process.

At the end of the day, focus groups are a way of getting personalized feedback in group settings, but they require more resources and supervision than online surveys.

Using Online Surveys for Market Research

When it comes down to it, online surveys are the form of market research that require the least investment for the largest return.

By spending some time drafting and designing an online survey, businesses can save that survey, distribute it to different groups of respondents routinely, store all of the response data in a centralized and secure location, and communicate their findings with ease.

The Advantages of Online Surveys

Online surveys are the most efficient means for receiving customer feedback without investing a ton of resources. 

Further, response data from online surveys is conclusive, instantaneous, and can be stored securely in one location and manipulated with ease to communicate findings in customizable reports.

Alchemer offers various tools that suit the needs and budgets of businesses of all sizes — from family-run businesses to large enterprises. 

The Disadvantages of Online Surveys

The primary disadvantage of online surveys is a fairly low risk.

Because a representative is not necessarily in the room with the survey respondent, there is a chance that the respondent could misinterpret what is being asked, leading to inaccurate response data. However, this issue can be effectively avoided if the people building the survey follow survey best practices.

Further, online surveys do not provide the opportunity for a back-and-forth conversation between the administrator and respondent in the same that focus groups do.

Deciding Between Focus Groups or Online Surveys for Market Research

When deciding whether to use focus groups or online surveys for market research purposes, it’s best to first consider the questions that you need answered.

After drafting your comprehensive list of questions, it should be fairly apparent whether your research requires a flexible and open-ended approach to the customers’ thought processes. If this is the case, use a focus group for your research.

If you require a more direct approach for gaining instantaneous, duplicatable, vast, and diverse responses, use an online survey for your research.


Both focus groups and online surveys have their place in market research.

The next time you are trying to determine which method to use for your research, consider the nature of the feedback and insights that you are after. If you’re looking for more conversational, interaction-based feedback use a focus group over an online survey!

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