Local vs. Online Focus Groups… Which is better?

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When I started the focus groups, doing this online was not even an option. I had to show up to get paid. Only recently have research companies started doing focus groups online. COVID for sure had accelerated the process.

So let me try to answer a common question for people exploring focus groups as a side-hustle: should I sign up for online studies or in-person studies?

There’s no one simple answer to the question, but here we lay out some pros and cons of each and some things to consider when deciding which option is better for you.

Pros of Online Focus Groups

People Discussing In Online Focus Group

The main advantage that online focus groups have over traditional in-person focus groups is control. Control of your time, environment, data, etc. 

Location Independent

Online focus groups allow you to participate from anywhere! Friday night and you want to earn some extra cash for the weekend? Just plop on your couch for an hour or two and earn some quick cash for a night out (or in). Higher paying studies require some advanced planning, but a large variety of them are at your fingertips. Literally. 

Many companies are now offering mobile apps, where you can really participate from anywhere. On the bus, at lunch break… anywhere with your phone and/or internet connection. Online studies are perfect for busy professionals or people that can’t dedicate a lot of time. 

People that live in smaller cities that don’t have many in-person offerings can also take advantage of this opportunity to earn some extra cash.

Increased Privacy

With online studies, you are in the privacy of your own home, which means you can disclose information without feeling uncomfortable or unnecessary pressure from others. Of course, there is the huge asterisk that you read the company’s privacy policy and make sure you know what information they use and to what extent. You should also practice proper cybersecurity measures

That said, if there is some basic demographic information you prefer to keep private from others, or you are generally cautious about sharing personal information aloud with others, online studies are a great option for you.

Cons of online focus groups

Technological Requirements

Some more advanced online studies may require certain equipment or specifications such as an updated browser/firmware, webcam, software, etc. Most of these things are well within reason and pretty accessible to many. However, it is an extra thing to consider.

Even if you have the equipment or the means to meet the study’s requirement, you may not want to participate because of safety and/or data concerns (such as not showing your face, not downloading software, etc).

Boring Study Options

Online studies have a reputation for being a bit dry, but that’s changing with increased scope and technology. Of course, if you want to keep it low-tech due to the concerns we raised above, you may be confined to boredom. 

The boredom may not come from as much as the topics as the monotonous nature of answering question after question by yourself.

More Competitive

Paid online focus groups and surveys are pretty much the low-hanging fruit of the side-hustle world. It’s the easiest thing to start and learn: no skills, money, or special requirements, are usually needed. That’s great and why we love them too, but lower effort = lower reward.

I’ve seen everything from pennies on the dollar up to about $25 per completed online survey. Of course, there are some anomalies on both ends. It can be tricky to learn which surveys are worth your time and figuring out a system so that you are earning a decent rate. 

Higher earning surveys also come and go quickly, so it’s best that you learn and build a routine with the companies that typically offer the higher payouts so you don’t miss out on cash often.

Pros of in-person focus groups

In-person focus groups are a lot more fun and dynamic by nature. Generally, they have better returns in every area we would consider: fun, pay, variety, etc. However, traditional focus groups also have much higher conditions than online groups.

Social Interaction

This is a pro for me, but to be honest it can go either way! Reserved personalities may consider this social aspect a con. 

Many in-person focus groups rely on group conversations with the moderator to reach a conclusion. This brings a fun, lighter atmosphere to some studies that may be drier in nature, and makes fun studies all the bit more fun.

Sometimes these groups spark mini-debates and can shift your belief on something. Even something as simple as changing your mind about a product.

Higher Payouts

In-person focus groups are typically the gold standard for market research companies. They are also the most labor-intensive for both parties in terms of criteria and time-spent. The positive of this is that in-person groups pay much more than their online counterparts.

In-person focus groups in the U.S. average about $63 per hour, compared to about $20 being on the high-end for online groups. This hourly rate is more than most make at their day jobs, and it’s a (hopefully) more fun way to spend your time. 

Of course, you won’t be getting these opportunities often enough to where it can replace your day job, but a couple of groups a month are enough to supplement your lifestyle.

Wide Variety of Studies

In-person studies are very versatile since they can take place in multiple environments and settings. Many facilities have special rooms for movie viewing, cooking, interviews, audio-visual interactions, and more. This flexibility allows many spins on focus groups including product tests, taste tests, interviews, equipment testing, etc.

Cons of in-person focus groups

People Discussing In Local Focus Group

More Time Consuming

It’s no surprise that in-person studies take up more time and commitment. First is the initial screening process, then other further qualification steps to follow, depending on the competitiveness of the study.

If you qualify, then you have to arrange the time and date to come in, which may require some flexibility. Typical studies last anywhere from 1-4 hours. There’s a lot to think about before you even get to the study, and then obviously the time/energy spent at the study.

The significant time and energy invested to participate in traditional focus groups can be a downside for many.

Elaborate Process

Many people get discouraged or turned off from focus groups because they never qualify, or have bad experiences so they think focus groups are a ‘waste of time.’ It’s true. There are some bad market research companies out there, but it’s more about knowing when/where/how to look for worthy opportunities.

This process can take a bit of time upfront to get the hang of, and it can be frustrating at first. But once you get past the initial hurdle, in-person focus groups are a fun, easy way to earn some extra money.

So…. Which is Better?

The truth is – it’s up to you to decide! I like online focus groups for the convenience and relative anonymity of them (though not private). But I also love the interaction of in-person groups. The topics also tend to be much more interesting and interactive.

In-person groups can be complicated, however. First, studies can be a bit hard to find if you don’t know where to look. On top of that, all market research companies are not created equal. I ran into these frustrations when I participated in focus groups back in college. 

I created this website as a resource for people wanting to make some easy, fun cash without going through the hassle of research. Check out our guide, where we list the best in-person paid focus groups in major cities across the United States and Canada every week.

Obviously, in the midst of COVID-19 and a post-pandemic world, consumer and researcher behavior is shifting. I predict there to be more hybrid-style groups with a bit of elements from each.

But on Stan’s Gigs you don’t have to choose! We have a running feed of online groups that you can sign up for – updated almost daily! Check on our surveys page. If you don’t want to miss out on postings, join our email list

What else do you want to learn about focus groups or the market research world? We are always looking to write on topics you are curious about. Let us know in the comments!

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