Methodological Issues in Online Qualitative Consumer Behavior Research

Žaneta Paunksnienė, Jūratė Banytė


The aim of this paper is to reveal and discuss the methodological issues related to online qualitative consumer behavior research. A number of methodological issues are examined, related with the online qualitative research on consumer in-store emotional experience implemented by the authors. It is concluded that the Internet is becoming an increasingly attractive environment for consumer behavior research. A large part of scholars use the Internet as a medium for data collection and analysis. At the same time, researchers study the Internet as a source of information about consumer preferences, their virtual communities, prevailing relationships, traditions and attitudes. The Internet is analyzed as a phenomenon in itself, too. In this article, the Internet is analyzed as a tool for communicating with research participants, and collecting, storing and analyzing data. In general, qualitative inquiry is characterized by contextual and naturalistic approach to the study of objects and processes. Therefore, decision to carry out qualitative study in virtual environment must take additional strategic and tactical solutions. Most often, researchers need to decide about the mode of communication that solves time management, spontaneity and security problems. It is also relevant to sampling and its contents. Different solutions from quantitative studies are required in ensuring the ethics and quality of the study. During the analysis of the qualitative data collected through the Internet, mostly in a form of computer communication language (text), specific characteristics, such as backspacing and correction during the communication that impact spontaneity rate, the absence of non-verbal language, etc., are necessary to be taken into account
It is concluded that all the above-mentioned issues must be addressed individually to the research topic, object, aim, research problem and the specifics of the respondents. When deciding about the method of communication, it is important to assess which synchronous or asynchronous communication method is appropriate for the study participants. This decision relates to both computer literacy and psychological and personal factors of the researcher and a person involved. Asynchronous communication eliminates “rush” factor and solves organizational problems. Decision about communication synchronicity is closely associated with the interaction anonymity level. When the research question covers sensitive topics, on which the respondents may find it difficult to talk, it is recommended to choose the anonymous environment that encourages communication to be more open and free. In this case, it is likely preferable to use an asynchronous communication mode.
On the basis of the analysis, it is concluded that qualitative research online population perception and evaluation differ from the reality research. The differences here relate to geographical uncertainty, cyberspace users’ sex, age, social status and other demographic characteristics intangibility. One way to solve the problem mentioned, especially in cases, where the investigation is carried out in the wider population, is to avoid studying as the unit of analysis individuals, and to choose unit of analysis as social interactions (e.g. unsuccessful purchases, in-store conflict, etc.), social artifacts (e.g. advertising) and so on.
Ethical concerns analysis showed that although the online investigator is less constrained by the structure, space and time of communication, virtual environment complicates some ethical solutions (e.g. receiving informed consent). It is concluded that in cases, where the object of investigation or research field is not associated with sensitive aspects of personal life, there is no threat or harmful consequences for research participants and analyzes the generic nature of the problem, the study participants’ voluntary participation is seen as an implied consent. The study participant’s consent is difficult to obtain and can be excluded when data is collected anonymously. By using pseudonyms and responsibly citing the study participants’ computer communication language (text), confidentiality can be achieved.
The authors indicate some limitations of the article. They examined the issues identified only in the context of a particular research and more samples were not discussed. This prevents access to general conclusions and contributes only in small aspects of the field. On the other side, each attempt to analyze Internet specificity caused issues lead to methodological qualitative online research perspicuity, research validity and reliability improvement.


qualitative research methodology; Internet; consumer behavior; interview

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"Social Technologies" ISSN online 2029-7564