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River Sampling vs. Panel Sampling: What’s the Difference?

row of light bulbs with one different from the others-215804-edited.jpegSampling. It’s a simple word for a complex process. Market researchers across all industries and in all locales often struggle with matching the right sample audience to the right questions in ways that produce the most actionable results. And while all researchers understand the importance of randomly selecting a sample from an entire population (whatever that population may be), market researchers are acutely aware that true probability sampling is frequently an improbable process, especially in today’s Internet-centric world. It’s just easier and faster and more relevant to engage respondents in their own environment, the World Wide Web. While only using the Internet to source prospective respondents means relinquishing a portion of randomness in and of itself, it doesn’t mean you can’t effectuate meaningful results. Two strategies to contemplate are river sampling and panel sampling.

What is River Sampling?

You might be thinking of softly trickling mountain streams. Or maybe rushing whitewater rapids. But “river sampling,” gets its name more from the life within the river, rather than the river itself. Consider this analogy: You’re a fisherman. You determine where the fish are gathering in a specific river. You stop and cast your line in to that river. You don’t know what kind of fish you might catch. You don’t know its color or type. You don’t know if it has any remarkable features. You don’t know where it has been or what it has done previously. You catch one, though. And once you catch it, you unhook it and throw it back in. You’ll probably never see it again. Such is the case for river sampling in the market research world.

River sampling invites respondents to take a survey via online banners, ads, promotions, offers and invitations placed on a variety of websites. Once their attention is caught and they click on a link, they are asked several screening questions and finally routed to a survey based on their answers. Surveyors have no idea who will respond. They don’t know any demographic or psychographic features for their survey takers, and they can’t contact again them upon survey completion.

What is Panel Sampling?

Panel sampling, on the other hand, involves recruiting members from an affiliate site, where they are asked to register and confirm their interest in taking multiple surveys over an extended period of time. Panel participants are then invited by email to take those surveys based on qualifying demographic and psychographic characteristics. Information on panel participants is kept in a database, which can be vetted for multiple member qualities, including caliber of survey response, length of time on the panel, shopping habits, vacation preferences and innumerable other attributes. Members of the list are easily trackable and can be reached at any point.

When Should You Use One Method Over the Other?

Market researchers typically use river sampling as a compliment to ongoing panel sampling. Panel sampling provides a dedicated and reliable source of information, but it can sometimes eventually provide stale or over-processed data. River sampling compliments many of those deficiencies by infusing new blood in to the mix. While businesses are unable to pinpoint exact characteristics of a product’s user (or non-user), they can determine general attitudes shaping perceptions and opinions from river sample respondents.

Learn More

To learn more about river sampling and panel sampling and how either or both might work for you, contact Communications for Research (CFR). We have 20 years of experience crafting quality online surveys and recruiting respondents.

You may also download our FREE eBook, "The Insider's Guide to Successfully Using Market Research Online Surveys, for further tips regarding online surveying.

market research online surveys

Topics: market research , survey

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