Mobile Surveys: Capturing Insights Out of the Hands of Consumers

As researchers work to stay ahead of declining response rates, it is critical to provide engaging, well written surveys through methods that reflect changing communications patterns. And let’s face it, consumers have gone mobile. The vast majority of U.S. adults own a mobile phone (86% according to Rockbridge’s 2012 National Technology Readiness Survey). More specifically, 43% own a smartphone, with another 18% planning to get one in the next two years, showing that usage will continue to grow. As adoption increases, it will continue to change communications patterns as more and more consumers drop their landlines and even email in favor of their mobile phones with voice and texting capabilities. The result of these trends is that mobile is and will be many consumers and business professionals’ primary method of communication.

Mobile-SurveyWith these trends as a backdrop, it becomes clear that researchers need to consider mobile surveys as another potential data collection method designed to reach consumers and business professionals who would otherwise not respond to a survey invitation using a traditional data collection method, such as online or landline phone surveys. In our research, we have found younger adults (under age 35) are more likely to complete a mobile survey, which can be attributed in part to the fact that they are more likely to be online from a mobile device when a survey is offered. Mobile surveys are also an effective data collection method for groups that are more likely to be cell phone only households and on-the-go populations, like business travelers.

Mobile surveys function similarly to online surveys and can be triggered via a pop-up or link on a mobile site, email, or through a mobile app, but tend to be more user-friendly for smartphone users. This may not be a limitation in many cases, as in our experience, smartphone users tend to be the population of interest for mobile research. However, specially designed mobile surveys for non-smartphone users and multi-mode surveys where non-smartphone users can take the survey on a computer for a proper survey experience can be used.

Currently, the design of a mobile survey is of more concern than the audience in many cases. Mobile surveys must be concise. In our experience, a mobile survey should not be more than 10 questions, but we have asked as many as 15 questions. Participants in mobile surveys do not have the patience that one would have if seated comfortably at a computer with a larger screen. The questions need to be structured to be simpler in nature given the more vertical and smaller view on the screen, although the phone can be turned to provide a wider, or more horizontal, view. More engaging question formats, such as slider scales and drag and drop ranking questions, cause technical problems for many respondents, so it is advisable to avoid them. Complicated grid questions and long attribute lists are difficult to complete on a mobile device, so getting more detailed information can sometimes be difficult as well.


Despite the constraints, there is a place for mobile surveys in research and the opportunities will continue to grow as the technology evolves. Some of the areas we see mobile surveys being effective are in the following situations:

  • To assess in-person experiences such as shopping, banking, or conference and education/training attendance where the data can be captured immediately following the experience providing a more thoughtful and accurate response.
  • To understand customer experiences with mobile websites and apps.
  • For situations where respondents are likely to be using all types of devices to complete the survey, including computers, tablets, and mobile. These multi-mode situations can be handled easily by some survey software packages to serve the appropriate survey by device providing an ideal survey experience to the participant.
  • For surveys that would benefit from geolocation data that alerts survey respondents when they are in a location that pertains to a survey.

These are just a few of the circumstances where mobile surveys can be a useful method for gaining customer insights, but there are likely many more. We believe mobile surveys allow researchers to take advantage of changing communications patterns and communicate with customers in the mode they prefer. They are ideal for meeting our study goals in certain situations, and can be an effective tool to use as long as you are mindful of their limitations, as well as their advantages.

Written by: Gina Woodall, President