To Qual or To Quant? That is the Question


When winter wind gives way to summer sun, Chicago’s sidewalk cafés and rooftop bars reopen to much celebration. Family, friends, and coworkers meet up for a drink, a snack, or simply to people-watch. I love people-watching around the world – Chicago’s neighborhoods, London’s train stations, New York City’s park benches. Unfortunately, my observations generally end with an elbow in my side as my sister tells me to “stop staring”. During these moments, I’m brought back to my career as a market researcher and wonder what else I could learn about consumers simply by watching and listening.


A Researcher’s Toolbox: Qual vs. Quant


For the past two years at Ipsos, my work has been focused on quantitative research . I’ve learned to craft questionnaires, navigate data tables, and comprehend advanced analytics.

When I was invited to watch consumer interviews as a part of the quantitative team for an upcoming study, I looked forward to opening my research toolbox and add new skills: observation, participation, and discussion.


Thoughts from Behind a One-Way Mirror


At some point in the evening, my stomach grumbled. Not wanting to shift my attention from the ongoing discussion, I blindly reached for some pretzels. Finding the bag devoid of even crumbs, I looked down to realize I unconsciously munched through several packs of savory treats and drained the last drop of seltzer water. Reluctantly I snuck over to the fridge, fished out a can of soda, filched a chocolate bar, and sat back down – my nose about five inches from a one-way mirror. I blinked and stared back at a room bathed in fluorescent lighting. Behind the mirror, I could focus on the entire qualitative experience.


The objective of our study was to map the consumer’s journey of researching and opening a financial service online, with a focus on concerns about the process. We knew the quantitative questionnaire had to be respondent-friendly while addressing all the client’s business objectives. Before drafting this questionnaire, the client and the Ipsos research team decided to do in-depth interviews with consumers. The insights gleaned from these conversations would develop our quantitative research framework.


Once comfortably settled into a warm and inviting space, the interviewees were often the ones leading the conversation, guided by follow-up questions and queries from the moderator. To start, the moderator asked interviewees to write every step they took during research and shopping on notecards. As every consumer’s journey is unique, we recognized the importance of this and worked to replicate that qualitative activity in our online questionnaire. We created a custom module that allowed respondents to “drag and drop” steps to describe their entire journey.


Emotion plays a large role in these discussions. From frustration, confusion, and uncertainty to curiosity, satisfaction, and relief. We realized every consumer starts their shopping process in a different mindset and we needed to capture this emotion in our quantitative data. Interviewees were willing to share their struggles, surprises, and successes. By adding open-end questions, we touch on how respondents feel at a stage in the process. With text-based analytics derived from open-ends, we learned how the relationship between consumers’ emotion and their shopping journey evolves. At all times, we’re growing our toolbox of total understanding.


Returning from The Field to My Desk


As I write this blog post, I’ve been referring to my handwritten notes from the interview sessions. The pages, with arrows and callout bubbles nestled between observation and interviewee quotes, were invaluable when I worked with the team on next steps in quantitative methodology. Qualitative research strengthens our quantitative research capabilities. At Ipsos, we use our unique toolbox of qualitative and quantitative research along with analytics to develop insights and recommendations.


To qual or to quant? Let’s do both.