There are quite a few important techniques of marketing research (MR). In this article we are planning to discuss some of them briefly.
Panel Research: Panel research is a research technique similar to the survey, but with an essential difference. Whereas the survey uses a fresh sample every time it is done, panel research uses the same sample over and over again for collecting the information. The researcher interviews or otherwise gathers data from the same people constituting the panel. In this sense, the panel is a permanent sample of respondents who agree to be interviewed at appropriate intervals.
A panel refers to a sample of respondents, who may be individuals, households, retail shops, or firms from whom information is elicited about their buying behavior or other aspects at regular intervals. The panel members maintain a diary and note down details of purchases, advertisement exposures, shopping patterns and other features that the researcher is interested in. They send returns to the researcher periodically.
Advantages and disadvantages of Panels:
Panels offer quite a few advantages to the marketing researcher. Changes taking place over time in buyer behavior can be monitored through panels. Relationship between changes in buyer behavior and changes in the marketing mix can also be analyzed through panels.
There are some disadvantages too in panel research. Compared with the survey, panel research requires a greater degree of cooperation between the panel and the researcher. The panel has to cooperate not just once, but repeatedly. In practice, it is seen that there are many respondents who are prepared to respond to a survey, but they do not want to be part of a panel, as they do not want to be bothered again and again. The possibility of refusal/drop out may necessitate the sample size to be relatively bigger. Also panel research often has to face the conditioning factor. When the respondent is questioned on the subject repeatedly his attitude may be influenced and replies conditioned.
In spite of these disadvantages, panel research is resorted to because of the advantage it gives to the researcher in tracing the changes occurring through time. It eliminates the response variation arising from sample size variations. Such an approach is especially useful in experimental marketing research; the panel, in itself, is an experimental design.
Panel research is used for three main purposes. Accordingly, there are three main types of panels:
1. Consumer panels
2. Retail shop panels
3. Advertising audience panels
Consumer Panel: Here, the market researcher maintains a panel of consumers and receivers receives responses from them at periodical intervals. The panel is continuous in the sense that the researcher collects the responses from the same set of sample units on a continuing basis at specified intervals. The panel members provide information on their purchases of the products covered by the research. This information is used by the researcher for assessing different aspects such as the levels of purchase and the changes thereof, brand position, analysis of sales by package or container type, relative importance of different types of retail outlets and the nature and extent of brand switching by consumers.
HLL now HUL is one of the largest consumer research programmers in the world. HUL runs a private urban consumer panel (a fixed group of household that are tracked continuously) of 50,000 households across 43 towns. This is almost as large as the national panel run by companies like AC Nielsen in the US.
Here, a permanent sample of retail shops is maintained to supply information periodically on aspects such as how these retail shops purchased during the period, how much stock they hold, the rate of stock turnover, sales levels of different brands, price trends, etc. Often, a physical verification of inventory in retail shops is also done by the researcher. Because of this, the technique is also known as Inventory and purchase Audit. It is also called Store Audit or Nielsonâ€™s Index.
In India, ORG â€“ MARG and AC Nielson India do retail audits on an extensive scale. In the sections on MR agencies in India, we shall be making a further reference to this. Retail audit is a technique that helps the firm to find out the purchasing pattern of retailers as well as consumers; it also gives them and idea of the time lag between purchases by retailers and sales by them to consumers. The manufacturer can plan his production and supply schedules `better with such information. He also knows the market share his brands enjoy.