How to Use Cross-Sectional Studies for Market Research

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Posted Feb 15, 2018

Numerous types of survey methods exist to help market researchers obtain correct answers by asking the right questions. One of the most common survey methods that will aid in achieving such a task is known as, cross-sectional market research. Cross- sectional studies make comparisons between respondents in a solitary moment; think of it as a capturing a snapshot through a single survey or observation. Outside of being swift and simple, using this surveying technique can help researchers or clients better profile their target market based on respondents likes and dislikes toward a product, and help narrow down a business's niche demographic.

Faster. Cost Effective. Easier to Manage.

It is vital to select the appropriate type of study for your research goals; you want to ensure that your survey efforts are not misdirected or used in the wrong areas. A single cross-sectional study only happens once, so you’ll be able to analyze and act on data instantaneously. Quick, cheap, and easy holds a level of appeal that may position a cross-sectional study as your optimal survey solution, but let’s first dive a little deeper to discover how a cross-sectional study can be a beneficial step toward your descriptive research plan.

Cross-sectional studies develop information based on data gathered for a specific point in time. But how is this data gathered? Researchers can use any method of data collection like an online survey, direct interview, or observation method. Through these methods, data will be gathered from a pool of participants with diverse demographics and characteristics known as variables. Gender, age, household income, education, and ethnicity are all examples of a variable.

Think about a consumer survey that is conducted for a new household cleaning product in a wholesale store like Costco. Samples of the cleaning product are given out and demonstrated to shoppers in Costco for a limited period of time. During the time of the demonstration the shoppers are asked to complete a short survey in exchange for the sample. The shoppers become the source for a convenience sample because they happen to be shopping in the wholesale store on the day that the free samples were being offered. Since it would not be possible to replicate the sample of the individuals surveyed on any given day, this cross-sectional scenario would be considered a “snapshot” of the consumer response to the new product.

Interpret with Care

The snapshot nature of cross-sectional studies has its drawback in that it doesn't provide a good basis for assessing causation between variables. As we know, cross-sectional studies measure unique variables at the same point in time. The studies can reveal that two variables are related in some instance, but they cannot completely determine if one caused the other.

Additionally, cross-sectional studies lack the ability to monitor survey-taker behavior or the behavioral changes that can occur over time. So, although, one-off studies can be more cost effective, the savings can prove to be a weakness. For that reason, it is important to establish what data types and trends you wish to track. Typically, data trends and tracking is easier to conduct over the course of many weeks or months. Inopportunely, that type of insight cannot be captured in a single survey.

Don’t Let the Challenges Scare You

Granted the challenges may be frightening when deciding what the best approach is for your survey design, but cross-sectional studies can be extremely useful with market research.

Consider a situation where a skin care company produces a product for dry skin and knows that their most valuable customers are those who regularly use the product on a daily or weekly basis. The owner of skin care company wants to know which age group is most likely to use this product within that frequency, but more importantly which age group will continuously use the product.

To answer this question, the owner created a survey to interview 400 respondents from four age categories; 18-25 years old, 26-35 years old, 36-45 years old, and 46 years or older. All individuals are current consumers of the skin care product.

The survey collected data on how regularly a consumer purchased the skin care product and how often they used it. The information collected gave preliminary data suggesting that while more 18-25 year olds were purchasing the product, 26-35 year olds were actually the most likely to use the skin care solution on a daily basis. The owner of the company analyzed the results and acted on it, making short-term modifications to the existing advertisements and promotions to appeal to the 26-35 age bracket.

This data development illuminates the power of cross-sectional studies in collecting data that can instantly influence business decisions. The example also illustrates how researchers can use findings from a single study to conduct future studies that can explore causation from a deeper perspective.

Key Takeaway

If your marketing plan entails a larger scale survey and preliminary data is needed to get your research started, then a cross-section study is likely the correct approach. Cross-sectional studies are often used as a first step approach in conducting market research as it focuses on determining what rather than why. It produces important data that informs all kinds of actions. In the case of business marketing, cross-sectional studies can be used to learn more about various demographics for the purpose of analyzing target markets to sell to or introduce products and services. The significance of cross-sectional studies is to use the data to highlight correlations between demographics or variables that you may be missing about your audience, product, or business.

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