New findings from the latest MRS industry research on Covid-19, released on 21 September, show:

    • Research businesses say investment in digital infrastructure and skills is the greatest support Government could offer the sector
    • There has been a slight increase in longer-term optimism among research businesses, with fewer now predicting lower revenues than did in a similar survey conducted earlier in lockdown
    • Face-to-face research, which is critical in maintaining standards and hearing hard-to-reach groups, continues to be the most affected part of the sector, with 69% of respondents reporting that activity remained on hold in August

 

 

The long-term health of the UK’s world-leading market and social research sector, now depends on Government investment in digital infrastructure and innovation, MRS (Market Research Society) said today.

The need for extensive broadband coverage to support new ways of working was one of the key findings from a comprehensive survey of MRS Company Partners and research business owners, in collaboration with Watermelon Research. This is underpinned by 88% of research businesses responding to the survey anticipating a large degree of home working for the foreseeable future.

The findings of the survey also show there are new signs of some cautious, longer-term optimism in the market and social research sector. While most research organisations that responded to the survey continue to predict a major impact on new business commissions and lower revenues this year, fewer are now predicting that revenues will be significantly lower than forecast over the full year – down from 85% earlier in lockdown to 70% in August.

This positive shift reflects how well the sector has adapted and innovated during the past few months. An early beneficiary from lockdown restrictions and changes to ways of working, research businesses continue to report growth in online qualitative research. Two thirds of survey participants reported an increase in this type of activity in August, up from 39% in a similar survey conducted earlier in lockdown. Analysis and reporting, data processing, online data collection and telephone data collection have also experienced an uplift since the early stages of the pandemic.

Jane Frost CBE, CEO of MRS, comments: “Our sector has demonstrated impressive resilience. While most participants to the survey are anticipating a negative impact on revenues this year, it’s welcome news that the number has come down since earlier this year. Much of this can be attributed to how well companies have adapted to everything this year has thrown at us – in many cases relocating entire workforces to kitchen tables around the country overnight. But their message is clear – our ‘new normal’ is not sustainable without significant investment in digital infrastructure. This Government must revaluate its focus on bricks and mortar and start building a digital economy that’s fit for the future and can support companies in navigating the uncertain times ahead.”

Future of face-to-face

The survey highlighted how face-to-face research continues to be disproportionately affected by the pandemic, feeling the greatest impact from lockdown and social distancing measures. Less than a quarter of face-to-face activities had resumed in August, with 69% still on hold, and 5% of businesses reporting they will no longer offer those services in the future.

MRS CEO, Jane Frost CBE, comments: “The threat to face-to-face research continues to be a cause for concern. The vast majority of face-to-face work that has resumed is supporting the Government-commissioned Covid-19 projects, which demonstrates how critical this research is to understanding societal changes.

“While alternative methods and techniques have been utilised to great effect throughout this period, and we’ve seen a surge in online qualitative research and telephone research in particular, it is critical that in-person fieldwork is resumed and reprioritised once it is safe. This is not just important for the thousands of experienced and skilled fieldworkers around the country, but also because there is no substitute for face-to-face data collection. No other form of research can as effectively capture the voices of hard to reach people – including certain ages, ethnic groups and those without access to technology. We must ensure those voices are heard, now more than ever, and that we don’t compromise the integrity of our research for years to come.”

Previous research findings

The first round of research was conducted in April 2020 and found that research businesses in the UK had experienced significant declines in revenue due to the Covid-19 Lockdown.

Hear Sinead Jeffries from Watermelon summarise the main findings of the first round of research:

The future of research post Covid

Our CEO Jane Frost gives a personal on the impact of COVID on the sector and what needs to be done to help recovery.

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