1989 – 2014: 25-YEARS IN MARKET RESEARCH. Desktop to Mobile.

January 1989

In 1989, the proportion of workers who operated computer keyboards at work was only more than one-third, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. In January 1989, Quirk’s ran an article, “Is computer-aided interviewing for you?” And Sawtooth Software’s Conference theme in 1989 was, “Gaining a Competitive Advantage Through PC-Based Interviewing and Analysis.” It’s hard to imagine a workplace without computers; yet in 1989, when I started my company, computers were using DOS, instead of Windows. Very few people used a mouse. As a new technology, computer-aided interviewing was met with many obstacles. According to the Quirk’s article, “buyers of interviewing services were afraid of being guinea pigs for “untested” methods. Further, since they themselves often have little computer experience or expertise, they fear it. This fear is most commonly expressed by the argument that a stack of paper questionnaires is needed when the study is over.”


One solution that was gaining momentum for this emerging technology was the modem. Yes, modems were just entering the scene at this time. Quoting proceedings from the 1989 Sawtooth Software Conference, “In the near future, one method of eliminating many of the problems encountered when trying to conduct large studies using dozens of disks may be the increased use of modems for data transfer. With more and more field agencies buying their own computers and modems, the reduction in disk handling activities may be the most reliable and cost effective method for executing quality computer-interactive interviewing studies.”


The Quirk’s article concluded with the statement, “The new technology is here to stay. Whether and how you use it is up to you.” In January 1989, no market research firms in the area offered computer-aided interviewing. So, when I started my company that month, I adopted this new technology and made it one of my key points of differentiation.


Computer-aided interviewing has many benefits that helped set me apart from the competition using paper surveys. Virtually any type of question can be asked, even the most complex, because the computer keeps track of difficult skip patterns. The computer can recall previous responses and show them on the screen for later questions. Complicated math problems are completed quickly and added sums can be shown for verification, or out-of-range answers can be re-asked and clarified. No need to worry about duplicate responses, and the computer can randomize the order questions are presented to reduce order bias. All of this helps make interviewing more efficient and accurate.  And, I don’t know about you, but fewer paper surveys equals less storage issues.  Being ‘green’ wasn’t a part of our culture in 1989.

January 2014

One of the fastest growing methodologies in market research today is mobile. In fact, there is even an association, Mobile Marketing Research Association (MMRA), dedicated to taking advantage of new mobile technologies.


To stay current with this trend, Lockwood Research’s web site was recently redesigned for Mobile first. It is a responsive web design that is programmed and coded first for phones, then tablets, and finally for desktops. This approach requires a more abstract way of thinking, which is why we were so eager to adopt it. This type of web design responds to the user’s behavior and environment based on screen size, platform and orientation. In other words, the website has the technology to automatically respond to the user’s preferences.


The shift from desktop to mobile, whether smartphone or tablet, is happening across a variety of activities. However, the use of mobile for surveys and research was slower to catch on. According to the info graphic by dekh, “Is Mobile Internet Taking Over Desktop Usage?”, three years ago the use of mobile for research was 27%, compared to over 40% for activities such as reading and sending emails, reading news and social media. According to the recently released GRIT Consumer Participation in Research Report, 19% of survey takers answer surveys from a mobile device.  One explanation for the slow adoption is offered in a recent article, “Market Research in a Mobile World”, in Marketing Research Association’s trade publication Alert! – First Quarter 2014:  “Research agencies, especially those with significant investments in more traditional methods, have been slow to bring mobile applications to their clients. And many of those clients remain reluctant to embrace mobile methods in a major way, waiting for their value and validity to be widely accepted.” That sounds very similar to CATI’s slow adoption in 1989. So, clearly the desktop and laptop have not been replaced, yet.

Is Mobile Internet Taking Over Desktop Usage?

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