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Amazon gift cards versus monetary rewards: How to incentivize respondents

Your survey response rate is dependent on several variables, many of which you have limited control in influencing. To improve your survey response rate and collect statistically significant data, consider using incentives.

Survey incentives can take the form of direct compensation, gift cards, entries into sweepstakes and donations on the respondent’s behalf. Given the significance of collecting responses, we polled 3,600 individual SurveyMonkey users on which survey incentives they’d find more effective than others.

Our findings, in conjunction with other research available, gives us a fuller picture on what incentivizes survey takers.

Let’s take a step back—you might be thinking to yourself, wouldn’t my respondent’s just rush through the survey to earn their reward? (we call this satisficing) And wouldn’t incentives be super costly to our business?

The short answer to both of these questions is a resounding “no.” Research presented at the Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology’s 17th Annual Conference, showed that offering as little as $1 can make a respondent significantly more inclined to participate in a survey. Furthermore, extensive research confirms that there’s a significantly positive correlation between survey incentives and response rates with a little to no drop in response quality.

Now that we’re on board to offer incentives on our surveys, let’s dig into the different ways that we can incentivize respondents!

Pro-tip: If the respondent is in a position where their lives or those of their loved ones are directly impacted by the issue in question, an incentive may not be necessary. Examples range from employees taking a company survey to parents taking a survey from their child’s school.

There isn’t necessarily a ‘best’ incentive for every organization. Factors like the budget your business can allocate towards the incentive, who your survey takers are and how many responses you need will influence the right incentive format to use.

Here are some of the top options to consider:

1. Direct payment: We’ve found that giving the respondent direct monetary compensation is the most preferred incentive. But what are the pros and cons of this approach?

Pros:

  • Prevents your organization from having to deal with third party vendors, making the process of delivering the reward relatively less complex
  • Leads to the highest increase in response rate, and if offered prior to taking the survey can increase the rate by as much as 50%

Cons:

  • If your organization is using checks as the means to deliver the award, the process can quickly become manually intensive and time-consuming
  • Can quickly become expensive if there are a significant number of respondents

2. Donations on respondent’s behalf

Pros:

  • Incentivizes respondents who care about specific issues
  • Motivates respondents across demographics to take surveys

Cons:

  • Respondents may be more heavily influenced by direct compensation. Based on our recent study of SurveyMonkey users, we found direct compensation to be twice as attractive of an option than donations on their behalf.

3. Amazon gift cards: The second most desired form of compensation from SurveyMonkey respondents.

Pros:

  • Award can be given quickly and cost-effectively online
  • Reputable site that sells just about everything you could want
  • Amazon gift cards for the U.S. have no expiration

Cons:

  • Process of partnering with 3rd party to deliver reward may be more time consuming and complex
  • Amazon gift cards are issued at the country level and only work on the appropriate country sites (nine countries are currently issuing them)

4. Sweepstakes: A less popular but effective option. You can use either monetary compensation or an Amazon gift card as the award.

Pros:

  • Cheaper, as the award is only given to one or a few individuals
  • Can prevent your organization from having to deal with third-party vendors

Cons:

  • Several challenging legal rules around prize drawings both in the U.S. and abroad that need to be reviewed beforehand
  • Potentially expensive or difficult logistically if prize is not administered online

Determining the amount to allocate towards your incentive ultimately comes down to a few factors:

  • The number of respondents needed to take the survey versus the total population of available recipients. The closer this ratio approaches 1:1, the greater the incentive you’ll need to offer
  • The respondent’s occupation, as busyness and income influences the value of their time
  • The experience of taking your survey. SurveyMonkey users cite estimated time of completion, the questions’ levels of complexity and number of questions asked as the top three factors in determining the incentive amount

Let’s say you’ve decided to offer respondents an opportunity to enter into a sweepstakes and potentially win one of several $100 Amazon gift cards. The next step involves deciding how to best communicate the incentive.

Our research gave us feedback on the top 3 areas that respondent’s want communication on in the corresponding order:

  1. How much time the survey takes
  2. Details of the incentive (format and size)
  3. The number of questions there are

By introducing the survey with the proper context, you’ll prevent respondent burnout (respondents dropping out of the survey early) and weed out potential respondents who have minimal knowledge or interest in the topic and are solely focused on the award.

At the end of the day, incentives are a necessary evil for running successful surveys. Whether you are awarding Amazon gift cards or offering direct monetary compensation, take steps to ensure that your incentives are valued at the right level and are communicated clearly to recipients. This puts your survey in a position to gather more responses that ultimately helps your organization make the right decisions.

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