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COVID Silver Linings - The Rise of Virtual Focus Groups

The blow of the COVID-19 pandemic was tough on everyone. Some experienced great personal challenges and hardship. In the business world, companies and industries were required to adapt to keep pushing forward. For market research organizations, one of the most sought-out sources of consumer insights– in-person focus groups – became impossible. Since organizations, arguable more so than ever, still required this type of primary customer research to fuel their strategies and adapt to the changing environment, many market research agencies like ours, Callosum Marketing, “settled” for virtual focus groups. These groups were conducted on a video conferencing platform, like Zoom, and participants, moderators, and observers engaged in discussions from home. However, what’s interesting is that even after most of the restrictions associated with the pandemic have been lifted, we still conduct the majority of our focus groups on Zoom. Here’s why. 

Virtual groups are more convenient. 

The convenience of conducting these groups makes one wonder why this wasn’t commonplace earlier. Virtual focus groups can be more convenient for all parties involved:

  • Participants do not need to travel and are required to commit less time. Plus being in the comfort of their own homes allows them to be more relaxed for the experience, whereas searching for parking, finding the facility, and being stuck in traffic can cause stress before the sessions begin.

  • Observers can rest at home while still viewing the action, easily passing comments to the moderator, having a separate discussion with colleagues in another video conference, and getting a clear view of all participants’ facial expressions.

  • Moderators can easily contact participants that are late or have forgotten about the group and have them brought into the group quickly. 

Participants show a HIGHER WILLINGNESS TO PARTICIPATE in virtual groups. 

Since restrictions have eased, focus group recruiters have indicated that 30% of those contacted refuse to participate if a group is in-person, when they would be willing for a virtual group. Those declining are often busier people with a job, a family, and other recreational activities. This is a very interesting an important consumer profile that most organizations include in their growth marketing strategies

Virtual groups are more cost efficient. 

There are some savings associated with virtual, due to:

  • No facility fees.

  • No meals, snacks, or refreshments for participants & observers.

  • Lower incentives required for participants.

This means that clients can often either conduct market research that previously did not fit in their budget OR conduct more groups in the study of various demographic & psychographic makeups, to get broader input. 


Most focus group facilities are in larger cities, which means those further out would need to either travel or be excluded from the study. Virtually, you can include participants from both urban and rural communities, without the need for a commute. Additionally, groups could include participants from multiple locations, allowing input from several markets. 

With virtual groups being more convenient, cost-effective, and inclusive, it sounds like the way to go, right? In many cases, yes, but not always. 

There are still some situations where it’s worth the investment for in-person focus groups. For example, when the market research involves physical elements that need to be:

  • Tasted, smelled, or consumed.

  • Felt or handled.

  • Seen or heard in-person (while videoconference has come a long way, there are some visuals or sounds that won’t translate as well).

If your qualitative brand research or product marketing research needs don’t require the above, staying at home and conducting virtual focus groups can enhance convenience and increase the potential scope of your study, as well as being a more cost-efficient alternative to doing them in-person. Having now conducted hundreds of virtual groups, we have the assurance of consistently being able to obtain the same rich marketing insights as when conducting sessions in-person. It’s easy to share images & videos, and participants can easily view web links at home and share feedback on websites or online tools. If you need to have conversations with your current & potential customers and would like to learn more about virtual focus groups, contact


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