Inability of Respondent to Provide Information

Despite a willingness to cooperate, many persons are unable to give accurate information on questions which the marketing interviewer would like to ask. Many motivations, for example, are largely subconscious. How many consumers analyze their reasons for buying a particular bar of soap or suit of clothes and then formulate those reasons so that they can be expressed quickly and clearly when an interviewer unexpectedly asks about them? Most products are bought without any conscious array of reasons for and against. Questions on such motivations are, therefore, apt not to obtain complete information. Current work on motivation is attempting to obtain the information indirectly by asking questions that can be answered and that, by their pattern, indicate motivation.

In other cases, respondents cannot furnish information because they are unable to remember the facts desired or because they have never known the facts. One can ask: How many times did you eat corn flakes for breakfast last month? Few, except those who always or never eat corn flakes, could answer such a question accurately because most people do not attempt to note or remember such information.

Many times the only way to overcome this problem is to make the survey at a time when the events of interest are fresh in the respondent’s mind. Memory, however, is related to other factors besides recency. One experiment found that respondent could report correctly only 31 percent of the programs to which their radios were tuned the previous day. When a consumer panel that reported purchases of convenience items changed the reporting period from monthly to weekly, the volume of purchase reported increased 20 percent. Most people however, could probably remember for many months, or even years, the place at which they ought their present car.

In some situations, it is possible to help the respondent’s memory. Aided-recall techniques are used for this purpose. If a consumer is asked what ads she has seen recently, she may be able to mention a few, is she is asked about ads for Sanka coffee, she is more apt to remember. In one study, respondents who were known to have seen a TV news cast, were asked if they could recall any stores from the newscast. The average respondent could remember only 1.2 stories. But when the interviewer read the ‘headlines’ to the respondents they remembered an average of 8.7 stories.

Using aids it recall involves dangers which must be considered when the techniques is used. Such aids may causes respondents to think they have seen or heard the item in question even when they have not. One experiment to measure the extent of such erroneous reporting found that just as many individuals reported having seen certain elements of an advertisement they were shown when the elements had not been in the advertisement as when they had been.

If consumers are asked any question that they cannot answer correctly because they do not know and have never known the information requested they may still answer. Such answers are sometimes mistakes and at other times are made to impress the interviewer. In any case, these answers appear as valid responses and so give erroneous results.

It is important, then, to ask people only those questions they are qualified to answers. Where alternate respondents are available, the one most apt to have the information should be used, because homemakers are at home more than other members if the family, they are frequently asked questions about activities and opinion of the other members. In many cases this may be satisfactory, but in some cases this undoubtedly leads to incorrect responses one study of family expenses over the pervious six month found homemakers failed to report 28 percent of the cars and 21 percent of the major appliances.