Qualitative factors are subjective influences identified in research studies that attempt to explain why things happen a certain way. Since these factors cannot be easily quantified or explained with numbers, they can be somewhat difficult to interpret. Qualitative research methods, such as surveys, focus groups, interviews, and observations, are used to collect data that reveals internal motivation and reasoning. Research of this type is typically open-ended, attempts to uncover relationships, and is participant-driven.
Some of the influences or measures that can be thought of as qualitative factors include consumer perceptions, management skill level, individual feelings, and creative ability. In other words, these factors can vary drastically between population segments and individuals. Qualitative factors can be difficult to predict and are subject to bias and misinterpretation. Market researchers often use qualitative methods to uncover relationships between consumer perceptions and purchase behaviors.
While the results of qualitative research methods are sometimes assigned numerical values, the manner in which they are obtained is subjective. Some of the more prevalent methods include observations, focus groups, and personal interviews. Observations are studies in which participants usually give their consent to be watched. In the majority of cases, participants may be unaware of who is watching their behaviors as the observers tend to remain hidden.
For example, a pre-selected group of consumers may be placed in a simulated shopping environment. Researchers will typically observe the group's behaviors from a secluded room that gives them the ability to witness the behavior. Unlike the qualitative factors obtained from focus groups and personal interviews, study participants do not provide direct explanations to the researchers.
Focus groups uncover qualitative factors by gathering a group of consumers in a controlled environment. Study participants may be asked to watch advertisements or try new products and give their reactions to researchers. One of the unique characteristics of focus groups is that they usually include researchers who interact with participants and researchers who observe from a hidden location. This helps to prevent bias in the interpretation of the participants' responses.
Surveys and interviews can be an intimate method of discovering and examining qualitative factors. With this type of method, study participants are usually questioned one-on-one and given a set of selected questions to answer. One of the issues with this type of research is the unwillingness of participants to be completely honest. Online surveys have removed some of the discomfort of respondents since they provide more anonymity and are less stimulating for the participant.