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Why You Need to Conduct an Offline Survey

Sandy McKee May 05, 2016 0 Comments

Imagine yourself in the middle of one of the world’s largest running races, attracting more than 50,000 participants every year. Only, you’re not running. You’re conducting research.


Don’t be.

With offline surveys, you can take SurveyGizmo with you anywhere in the world, even if there’s no internet connection.

In fact, there are plenty of reasons to take your survey offline, even when you have other distribution methods at your disposal. If used alone or in support of your online survey, you are sure to derive greater insights and deeper connections when you survey face-to-face. In fact, I've found six major benefits to collecting data offline that you don't get from any other method.

This article outlines these six less obvious, but significant benefits of conducting offline surveys, followed by my favorite example of offline surveying in action: collecting data during one of the largest running races in the world.

Join us for our upcoming webinar with offline survey expert Maryalice Wu, who ran a three-year long study in Africa!

Why You Should Conduct an Offline Survey

Besides the obvious benefit of not being tied down to internet access, other advantages of offline surveys include:

  • Superior results
  • Wider reach
  • Higher response rate
  • Deeper exploration
  • Better observation of behavior

Superior Results

In the case of events, particularly large ones, it will not be difficult to find someone who is willing to take a few minutes to answer your questions. Of course, it helps if they are excited about being at the event and want to share their experience.

At events, participants are often more than willing to talk about their experience at the event, what they like best, which sponsors they recalled seeing along the course, and what could be done to make the event even better.

Because the event was so fresh in their mind, it is easy for respondents to answer. This leads to more accurate data.

Wider Reach

Even though it's still a good idea to sent a post-event email to participants with a link to the survey, offline surveys allow us to reach more people who were motivated to respond.

On offline survey may be the right choice for you if:

  • You don’t have access to an extensive contact list
  • You don’t want to fatigue your customer base with another survey
  • You want the public’s opinion

Retailers certainly understand this. You have probably seen surveyors at the mall, outlet, or on the street with tablet devices conducting personal interviews. These questionnaires, known as consumer intercept surveys, allow stores to ask consumers about their shopping experience to understand consumer’s preferences, perceptions, and behavior.

Political campaigners are also conducting offline polls to gauge the general public’s opinion.

Higher Response Rate

Because offline surveys are typically in the form of a personal interview, people are more likely to respond.

Of course, the surveyor must have good interviewing skills and know how to engage people. Field researchers and consumer interviewers must be trained and practice with role-play before being sent out to the field

The extra practice pays off!

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Deeper Exploration

The real beauty of the personal interview style that offline affords is that you can explore responses further to gather deeper information. If you have a question about a response, you can follow up immediately for detail.

People are always willing to share their opinions! No wonder field researchers prefer this survey method.

To make the most of the opportunity to go deeper, use a qualitative question after a quantitative question. This allows you to capture why the respondent answered the way they did. Sometimes the greatest insights come from the qualitative response.

Better Observation

Offline surveys are perfect for market researchers who are testing a live product. Capturing data in the “moment” allows you to observe the attitude and behavior of consumers as they use the product.

Seeing a respondent’s reaction as they hear, feel or taste the product gives you much better data. It can validate how they responded to your Likert scale question on how they would rate the product or experience.

Include a follow-up question after your Likert scale so that you can capture this information. It doesn’t have to be in an open-text format, either. You could use radio button answer options that correlate with the emotional response to save you from having to type the answer and speed up the process.

Disadvantages of Offline Surveys

Of course, there are some downsides to offline survey. They are more time consuming. You will have to train your staff on how to best conduct them.

Still, this can be cheaper than printing, postage, and data entry costs associated with paper surveys.

There could also be some aspect of bias in your surveys, as people may be more polite when talking to someone face-to-face.

I find that openly asking for candid feedback helps limit this bias, particularly when the interviewer makes clear that the respondent’s thoughts and opinions will positively impact future decisions.


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Tips and Best Practices for Surveying Without Internet

Creating an offline survey is not much different than creating an online survey. With any survey, you need to be clear about your goal and objectives so you have actionable data in the end. You don’t want to fatigue respondents with questions that aren’t relevant to your goal.

But there are a few extra factors you need to be aware of when creating an offline survey.


  • Keep it short. Don’t ask too many questions or your respondents will lose interest. If you are conducting a consumer intercept survey, you should keep it under 5 minutes.
  • Keep it simple. Use easy-to-answer question types that are quantifiable such as radio buttons and checkboxes. Use open-ended questions sparingly to probe deeper into answers that need follow-up but understand that too many will be time consuming.


  • Avoid using a lot of images and tables. If you use these, make sure that they are formatted correctly for your offline device. Also realize that a survey that is image heavy can be slow to load. While you can use a table of radio buttons or checkboxes, realize that fat fingers can be problematic.
  • Avoid advanced logic features. You can use show/hide logic, but avoid page logic and custom scripting as these features require internet access.

Using Offline Surveys as Another Means of Distribution

Survey email invitations remain the most popular form of distribution for a reason. They are cost effective and easy to administer.

An offline option doesn’t need to replace your online survey, but they are a good way to supplement it and learn more about your customers in the process.

This offers an excellent segue into my favorite example of putting offline surveys to good use. Remember the running event I mentioned in the opening? That race is the BolderBoulder.

On the Ground With Event Surveys at BolderBOULDER

The BolderBOULDER is a 10K citizens race held every Memorial Day since 1979. It has grown from 2,200 to 52,000 participants, and runners often dress in costume. The route is peppered with bands, belly dancers, slip-n-slides, sprinklers and the likes as runners weave through town to finish at CU’s Folsom stadium where they are cheered on by thousands.

“Since 1979 BolderBOULDER has grown from a small community event to one of the largest and most innovative running races in the world.”

My job at the BolderBOULDER was to connect directly with respondents, which in this case meant surveying the runners just after they crossed the finish line.

The experience of literally bringing my survey to the streets made me appreciate the offline capability for more than just being able to survey without an internet connection. The personal interview style allowed me to engage with respondents and observe the reaction of participants who just completed the race.

I am not new to offline surveys. I have used them at trade shows and conferences when Wi-Fi is slow or spotty and to avoid paying the hefty direct internet fees that convention centers charge. Typically, I use offline to collect leads at these events.

At the BolderBOULDER, however, I was running an event survey. The whole purpose was to solicit feedback in “the moment.” It was an entirely different experience, and it made me wonder.

Why aren’t marketing researchers conducting more offline surveys?

As marketers, we understand how important it is to know who your customers are. And, you have to admit, there is no better way to get familiar than interacting directly with them.

Have you considered including an offline component to your next survey project?

Share your thoughts or questions about offline surveys in the comments.

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