More than 10 years ago, the pioneers of online panels in Latin America began to break new ground in the region by offering online sample methodology. Slowly, market research companies began to see the advantages. Once they finally adopted the methodology, they faced a new challenge in convincing their clients that the result of online sample would be similar, if not better.
For years, the market research industry was devoted to face-to-face research methodologies like pen and paper surveys, which were very time-consuming, expensive, and dangerous in some Latin American countries where, to this day, recruiters are kidnapped or extorted by organized crime. To achieve better results more efficiently, mitigate the risk to recruiters, and be more competitive, research agencies sought ways to educate their clients on how online methodology works, which was already generating good results in the United States and Europe.
The industry took a giant leap forward during the pandemic. What online panel companies failed to achieve in a decade, confinement achieved in two years. Faced with the need to continue collecting data responsibly, research agencies and end-customers in Latin America began requesting online sampling services.
Researchers say that the adoption of the online methodology accelerated by at least four years. This evolution, in record time, ushered in new panels, diversified data collection methods, and consolidated large insights marketplace exchanges.
Now that stay-at-home orders have expired and people are starting to get back out, there has been some regression to traditional methodologies (face-to-face). While not surprising considering some of the challenges surrounding the online methodology like reaching participants with low socioeconomic levels, unconventional regions for the consumer industry, the need for very specific profiles, and data integrity, it's disheartening to see the industry take a step back.
Is the gap closed in Latin America? Perhaps it's too early to tell. We may see this expansion and contraction in the use of online sample for some time as agencies and end clients work through their process of adoption. It's unlikely that online sample will be phased out, but there may be a period of hybrid use of face-to-face intercepts and online panels to bridge the gap.