Market Research

"You have been selected to participate in a new market research project...We are inviting you to receive our exclusive, top of the line new product absolutely just pay shipping and handling."

Have you received letters or postcards in the mail offering to let you "test" products as part of a market research project, products which the company might claim are not yet on the market? Has a company ever asked you to fill out a "market survey" in exchange for an item for which you pay only the shipping and handling charge? The Better Business Bureau warns you to think twice about participating if you are required to pay for the merchandise, regardless of whether the company claims the cost is "shipping and handling" or "at a substantial discount."

Companies that engage in genuine market research do not initially ask consumers to participate in surveys and then attempt to sell a product or service. Their money is earned not by selling anything to individual consumers rather, but by selling survey results to their clients, who include broadcasters, advertising agencies, manufacturers and others who will make use of the results.

Better Business Bureaus across the country have received complaints from many consumers who decided to participate in "research studies" thinking they were then going to get a good deal on products but were disappointed upon receipt of their merchandise. In one case, a company offered "free" motor boats for the cost of shipping and handling. This seemingly fabulous offer interested many consumers. But, as one caller to the BBB put it, "the boat was good for floating around a swimming pool, as long as it was a small pool."

“Market research” companies offering “free motorcycles” have also taken consumers for rides. The shipping and handling charges usually turned out to be nearly three times the value of the motorized cycles, which were, in fact, disassembled mopeds.

Another company signed families up for a period of three years to be "test families" whom would receive one "new" product per quarter, which they then had to purchase. The families
also had to pay a "registration fee" of approximately $400. An investigation by the BBB proved, however, that the products' manufacturers never contracted market research projects out to this company, but only sold it various products. The company was closed by the US Postal Inspection Service.

When approached by a research company, ask the following questions:

  • Am I obligated to purchase anything?
  • Is there any cost of fee to participate?
  • What is required of me in order to participate?
  • How will the survey results be used?
  • Will my name be sold to other businesses to be used as a sales prospect?

According to the Advertising Research Foundation, a media research industry group, selling or marketing activity that uses the forms, language and aura of survey research to mask the real nature of the activity being performed is misrepresentation.

You can contact the Council of American Survey Research Organizations (CASTRO), 3 Upper Devon, Belle Terre, Port Jefferson, NY 11777, 516-928-6954 to find out if a research company is a member. CASTRO is an industry association promoting ethics and standards of research.