The US government provides comprehensive statistics for the United States; periodic censuses of US population, housing, business, and agriculture are conducted in some cases have been taken for over 100 years. Commercial sources, trade associations, management groups, and state and local governments provide the researcher with additional sources of detailed US market information. Often the problem for American marketing researchers is sorting through too much data.
Unfortunately, the quantity and quality of marketing related data available on the United States is unmatched in other countries. The data available on and in Japan is a close second, and several European countries do a good job of collecting and reporting data. Indeed, on some dimensions the quality of data collected in these latter countries can actually exceed that in the United States. However in many countries substantial data collection has been initiated only recently. Through the continuous efforts of organizations such as the United Nations and the Organizations for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) improvements are being made worldwide.
In addition, with the emergence of eastern European countries as potentially viable markets, a number of private and public groups are funding, the collection of information is to offset a lack of comprehensive market data. Several Japanese consumer goods manufacturers are coordinating market research on a corporate level and have funded dozens of research centers throughout Eastern Europe. As market activity continues in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, market information will improve in quantity and quality. To build a database on Russian consumers, one Denver, Colorado, firm used a novel approach to conduct a survey: it ran a questionnaire in Moscow’s Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper asking for replies to be sent to the company. The 350,000 replies received (3,000 by registered mail) attested to the willingness of Russian consumers to respond to marketing inquiries. The problems of availability, reliability and comparability of data and of validating secondary data are described in the following sections.
Availability of Data:
Much of the secondary data that an American marketer is accustomed to having about US markets is just not available for many countries. Detailed data on the numbers of wholesalers, retailers, manufacturers and facilitating services, for example are unavailable for many parts of the world, as are data on population and income. Most countries simply do not have governmental agencies that collect on a regular basis the kinds of secondary data readily available in the United States. If such information is important, the marketer must initiate the research or rely on private sources of data.
Another problem relating to the availability of data is researcher’s language skills. For example, although data are often copious regarding the Japanese market, being able to read Japanese is a requisite for accessing them either online foreign data can appreciate the value of having native speaker of the appropriate language on the research team.
Reliability of Data:
Available data not have the level of reliability necessary for confident decision making for many reasons. Official statistics are sometimes too optimistic, reflecting national pride rather than practical reality while tax structures and fear of the tax collector often adversely affect data.
Although not unique to them less developed countries are particularly prone to being both overly optimistic and unreliable in reporting relevant economic data about their countries. China’s National Statistics Enforcement Office recently acknowledged that it had uncovered about 60,000 instances of false statistical reports since beginning crackdown on false data reporting several months earlier. Seeking advantages or hiding failures, local officials, factory managers, rural enterprises and others filed fake numbers on everything from production levels to birth rates. For example, a petrochemical plant reported one year’s output to be $20 million, 50 percent higher than its actual output of $13.4 million. Finally, if you believe the statistics up until 2000 the Chinese in Hong Kong were the World champion consumers of fresh oranges – 64 pounds per year per person, twice as much as Americans. However, apparently about half of all the oranges imported into Hong Kong some $30 million worth were actually finding their way into the rest of China, where US oranges were illegal. Indeed one might predict a crash in citrus sales to Hong Kong now that WTO entry for China means that American oranges can be shipped there directly.