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The distinction between primary and secondary research is really about the different sources of market information. A different way of thinking about market research is to consider the two main approaches – qualitative and quantitative.

Qualitative research

Qualitative research is based on opinions, attitudes, beliefs and intentions. This kind of research deals with questions such as "Why"? "Would?", or "How?"

Qualitative research aims to understand why customers behave in a certain way or how they may respond to a new product. Given that these opinions are often obtained from small numbers of people, the findings are not necessarily statistically valid. However, such data can highlight potential issues which can be explored in quantitative research.

Focus groups and interviews are common methods used to collect qualitative data. This kind of data is often revealing and useful, but it is costly and time-consuming to collect, particularly for a start-up or small business.

Quantitative research

This is research based on larger samples and is, therefore, more statistically valid. Quantitative research is concerned with data and addresses question such as "how many?", "how often", "who?", "when?" and "where?"

The results of quantitative research will generally be numerical form – for example:

  • 35% of customers rate the new product as "attractive"
  • 70% of potential customers use the Internet to buy their hotel accommodation in Dorset
  • 3 out of 5 customers will buy a new food product after being offered a free in-store sample

The main methods of obtaining quantitative data are the various forms of surveys – i.e. telephone, postal, face-to-face and online.

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