What Causes Research Panel Attrition in China?

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What Causes Research Panel Attrition in China?

A quality research study starts with a reliable sample. Learn what causes research panel attrition in China and other Asian countries and how this affects market research quality.

Are All Panels Made Equal?

Online research panels are a foundational component of market research today. In regions and countries where online market research has developed into a more 'mature' industry - North America, Europe, and Japan, for example - best practices of panel management have long been used to ensure sample quality and reliability.

In China and many other emerging markets where market research is still a relatively new concept, many 'panels' have sprung up that do not always employ quality management, and may not, in fact, be a panel at all.


There are many companies attempting to capitalize on the demand for research sample in China and other markets who do not use any quality controls.

— Xiaoyi Chai, General Manager China at dataSpring


Given this, it is imperative for researchers, marketers, brand managers, and consultants conducting online research in China and other emerging markets to understand the key components of a quality panel and a reliable sample provider.

Key Components of a Quality Panel

Key Components of a Quality Panel

First, it is important to understand the concept of an online market research panel. Simply put, a market research panel (online or other) is a group of people who have agreed in advance to participate in surveys and other market research projects. A panel is different from just a database of names and contact info.

Specifically, panelists must:

  • Opt-in and understand the purpose of the panel.
  • Provide verifiable information about himself/herself and their household.
  • Participate and be active in survey taking and other projects.
  • Be truthful and thoughtful in their response.

On the other side, a quality panel sample firm like dataSpring has certain obligations panelists:

  • Maintain confidentiality of panelists information.
  • Not use information from marketing or sales purposes.
  • Provide some incentive (monetary or other) for participation.

These basic principles are contrasted to what has come to be known as “pop-up” or “scam” research panels. Companies that operate these sample operations have no market research experience, no background in panels or panel management, and most importantly, no commitment to data quality. They simply drive as many low-cost “respondents” to a survey as possible, using unethical recruiting techniques like email spamming or using misleading ads/posts to trick consumers into participation.

These techniques lead to poor data quality as many of these are the result of inadequate screening (or worse, the use of “qualifying hints”) and little control over speeding and straight lining in the survey. Needless to say, researchers, marketers, brand managers, or consultants should avoid using these firms despite the perceived low cost.

Panel Attrition: The What and Why

So, now that we’re clear on what a legitimate online panel is, we can get back to the topic: panel attrition. Panel attrition is the rate at which panelists cease to become active in research and new members are required to keep the panel viable and productive. All sample panels have a certain amount of attrition due to various factors such as changing contact info, time constraints of panelists, perceived insufficient compensation for the response, or simple burnout.

Quality panel sample suppliers actively work to keep panelist retention high and attrition low. They actively manage their members to keep engagement and participation rates high. Quality firms also take care to value their panelist time by avoiding overlong surveys and incentivizing participation fairly.

In Summary: Research Panel Attrition in China

In Summary: Research Panel Attrition in China

In China and other emerging markets where the online research industry is still developing, attrition spiked well above the industry standard.

“The novelty of online surveys prompted many people to initially sign-up to participate who did not really understand the commitment,” says Xiaoyi. This leads to rapid panel growth, but over the long-term, high attrition rates. Xiaoyi continues, “As the industry develops, our techniques for retention have also developed, so we can maintain stable, quality panels in markets like China, Korea, and Indonesia.”

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