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Not All Internet Surveys Are Created Equal

By Rob Spiegel
Nov 10, 1999 12:00 AM PT

Just as ancient ships were misguided to a rocky death, the seductive siren song of Internet research can muddy the waters of e-commerce.

Not All Internet Surveys Are Created Equal

Over the past few weeks, we've seen a flood of research reports and Internet surveys supplied by a mix of respectable research firms and Internet wannabes who are struggling to get attention on the hot Internet news pages.

For companies working to launch online or expand their current Internet positions, reports can be a map through a bewildering economic frontier. Executives must scratch their heads as they read results that contradict themselves so dramatically, especially since many of these reports are purchased at $2000 (US$) a pop for a mere 16 pages.

Why do people pay such a dear price for conflicting information? If you're investing a million dollars in your Internet debut this holiday season, a few thousand here and there to put your finger in the air seems a prudent investment.

The survey and study results probably arrive to an executive shrug and a hearty, "I guess nobody really knows what's going on."

Mixed Holiday Prospects

If you take all the studies and reports as equal, you will come away from the blizzard of data mightily confused.

You'll learn that holiday '99 will be a fabulous success that will confirm that e-commerce is finally mainstream.

Or you'll find out that countless companies will experience bitter disappointment with e-tail turnout.

Still other studies will tell you that the season will be an insignificant single-digit retail also-ran.

Another report will claim that brick-and-mortar retailers will be left helplessly in the dust as the entire retail market moves progressively online.

Another mixed message comes from the predictions on whether dot-coms or brick-and-mortar companies stand a better chance to lure e-tail dollars this season. Are Internet brands stronger than offline brands?

Just when you think the issue is clear, out comes a new report with conflicting results.

Not All Studies Have A Reliable Foundation

Research firms such as Forrester Research, Jupiter Communications and Zona Research practice sound data collection and analysis. All three companies are well respected among corporate executives as Internet experts.

And even these stalwarts present conflicting reports.

As good as Forrester is, that well-regarded firm altered its report on the results of the 1998 Internet consumer and business-to-business commerce three times during 1999. Each report, of course, showed higher numbers.

Forrester explained that, as their research methods improved, the numbers changed.

The confusion is furthered by a flood of studies appearing from unknown research entities and public relations firms of small Internet companies who slant results to get attention or create a favorable climate for their products or services.

Beware of that dizzy data. It can show up right alongside of credible information. Many Internet information sources move news stories so quickly that there is little time for traditional journalistic skepticism.

That means that enticing-but-bogus survey results get posted as reliable.

Still the Rough Waters

To clear your head of the pounding waves of the siren songs, know your research firms. The sturdy brands are Forrester, Jupiter and Zona.

There are other companies producing quality research on Internet business, but if you can't distinguish them from the inaccurate studies, stick with the brand names.

And when you find the major firms are releasing conflicting results, scratch your head and wait until January.


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