Face-to-face research during a pandemic

It is almost 12 months since the UK Market Research Society first instructed its company partners to stop face-to-face research as the coronavirus pandemic took hold across the globe and we were forced to close our doors to the public for the first time in our 35-year history.

For an industry which thrives and relies on human interaction, it was initially hard to envisage a way back for face-to-face research. But, like many out there, we adapted to the "new normal" and, as we're now preparing to exit lockdown for the third time, it feels very different to our initial re-opening last Summer. This time we've already overcome the challenges, this time we're ready and raring to go again!

Taking it back

Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives

Exams cancelled, shops closed, pubs shut, home-schooling, flights grounded, stay at home... announcements came at us thick and fast during March 2020, announcements that seemed more at home in a science fiction movie than a 21st century first-world country. In the space of two weeks, our lives were thrown into turmoil and the world as we knew it became almost unrecognisable.

Like many research agencies, we initially took the decision to temporarily stop all aspects of consumer research. Despite the fact our staff were able to work from home and we could legally run in-home use tests, we recognised the absurdity of asking people about shopping habits and normal behaviours at a time when supermarket shelves were empty, and people were scared for their health and livelihoods.

In the weeks that followed, the population gradually realised that COVID-19 wasn't going away any time soon and society began to adapt to the "new normal", supermarket shelves re-filled, panic-buying stopped and staying in was the new going out. So, after re-starting in-home tests, we put our heads together (virtually of course) to plan for resuming face-to-face research once it was safe and legal to do so.

By the time the government restrictions were relaxed enough to allow us to reopen our Sensory Centre and Viewing Facility in the Summer, we had already made our premises safe for both staff and participants. Risk assessments and policies had been created, hand sanitiser and PPE had been purchased, rooms were partitioned to create "isolation stations" for participants and one-way systems had been implemented.

With the infrastructure in place, our staff masked-up and we cautiously re-opened our doors to the public. Our first "Covid-Secure Central Location Test" was undoubtedly a nerve-wracking experience for all involved. But despite the difficult circumstances, our fantastic team took it in their stride and went above and beyond, dressed in PPE, they welcomed participants back and ensured they felt safe and reassured. The amazing feedback we received from participants, speaks for itself:

  • "Really impressed how well organised it was - it was as if you had been operating like this for a long time. Well done."
  • "I was very impressed, but I only agreed to come because I knew Swift would have taken special care and gone above and beyond to make sure everyone was safe."
  • "Everyone was very helpful and professional, and every possible scenario had been thought through."
  • "Communication and cleanliness was excellent throughout. Well thought through system to ensure both staff and participant safety."

Thanks to the efforts of everybody involved and the support we continued to receive from participants, after that first day, we went from strength to strength, gaining in confidence, whilst ensuring it didn't lead to complacency, always mindful of the fact we were still in the midst of a once-in-a-century global pandemic and the importance of keeping everybody safe.

Back to now

To meet the exceptional demand, we saw for our Sensory Centre following the re-opening, we have increased our laundry suite, appointed a dedicated Sensory Centre Manager and are now in the process of expanding our facility further, to ensure we can continue to not just fulfil, but also exceed our client's requirements for sensory research.

As the new year dawned, once again we have had to temporarily press pause on face-to-face research as the country faced its third national lockdown. With the world now adapted to this new way of working and living, we've been busy running in-home studies and have managed to keep many of our panel occupied - sending out test products to over 1,000 participants in the last month alone.

With the end to the lockdown now finally in sight, we look forward to reopening our doors again with the knowledge that this time is different because this time we know what to do and we know how to do it, but most importantly of all, this time we know we can do it!