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What is a focus group?

A market research focus group is a qualitative method where a small group discusses a specific topic guided by a moderator. The goal is to gather in-depth insights and opinions about products, services, or ideas. The discussion is semi-structured, allowing participants to express their views, and the session is recorded for later analysis. Conducting research in small groups enables you to really understand what makes people tick and access in-depth insights (so long as you recruit the right people for your research!).


Once you’ve decided that a focus group is the correct method for your research project you then need to decide whether you need to run this on-line or in-person. We have outlined the pros and cons of both to help you make a decision on what is best for your project.

In-person Focus Groups

  • You can build a rapport with your participants.
    Kicking things off with good old-fashioned face-to face focus groups, one of the biggest benefits of traditional focus groups is that they encourage a good rapport within the group and with the moderators. Sometimes there’s no substitute for research being carried out in person!! It’s much easier to build a relationship based on genuine human interaction, and the more trust your respondents have in you, the more open and honest they will be – which means better insights for you. Building a rapport between the moderator and respondents also enables the moderator to probe and dig deeper. Essentially, being in the same room at the same time means that they can read the situation better, allowing them to ask the right questions at the right time to unlock the best possible insights.
  • Body Language Observation:
    Researchers can observe participants’ body language and non-verbal cues, gaining additional insights.
  • Face-to-Face Interaction:
    Allows for direct, personal interaction among participants, fostering a more natural and dynamic discussion. The physical presence of participants can enhance group dynamics and facilitate spontaneous interactions.
  • They are participant led
    Face-to-face focus groups also tend to be much more participant-led. Unlike their online counterparts which often need to be steered by the moderator, conversation tends to flow much more naturally with face-to-face focus groups. Respondents are more receptive and responsive to each other’s ideas, and, as such, moderators don’t need to prompt as much – which in turn leads to genuine, honest insights.
  • Participants can complete tasks
    Face-to-face focus groups are also a favourable methodology if your research needs participants to complete physical tasks. For example, if they need to test physical products to determine usability, or even undertake taste tests, it’s much easier to do so in a face to-face setting.

In-person Focus Groups

  • Geographical Limitations:
    Participants need to be in the same location, which can limit the diversity of the group and increase logistical challenges.
  • Increased costs
    Of course, there are some negatives to traditional face-to-face focus groups – and without a doubt, one of the biggest downsides of traditional face-to face groups are the costs involved. From the researcher’s perspective, they will need to hire a venue, allow for travel costs and/or parking, and provide refreshments. Plus, you will usually need to offer a higher incentive to make up for the time and cost of respondents travelling to take part.
  • They can be time-consuming
    As opposed to the instant nature of online methodologies, traditional focus groups can be more time consuming, too. For starters, before the research even begins, being restricted to a specific location can have a significant impact on the recruitment lead-time. There is often a longer time lapse on recordings and transcriptions to allow for, too.
  • They aren’t always accessible
    Accessibility is essential to market research. After all, if you are going to get a true representation of your customers, your research needs to be accessible to everyone – and unfortunately, this is one of the places where face-to-face focus groups fall down. Not all venues are accessible to people with a disability, which means it is a bigger challenge to ensure that research remains inclusive.
  • Respondents might be more guarded
    Some people are more likely to be shy and reserved in a face-to-face setting. After all, it’s human nature to be wary of what others think about you. Plus, if you have a mix of personalities in your focus group, those with strong personalities could end up dominating the conversation. This means that some respondents might feel that they can’t be as open and honest about their feelings in a face-to-face group as they would be online – which means it can be harder for the moderator to warm people up, break down barriers, and encourage everyone to open up.
  • Last minute respondents replacements
    It’s harder to get last minute respondent replacements for in-person groups due to the travel time.

Online Focus Groups

  • Cost-Effective:
    Generally, online focus groups are more cost effective, as they eliminate expenses related to venue rental and travel.
  • Convenience:
    Participants can join from the comfort of their own homes, which may lead to increased participation rates.
  • Geographical Reach:
    Without a doubt, one of the biggest advantages of online methodologies is that you aren’t tied down by things such as geographical considerations, travel time, and small sample sizes. Practically speaking, you will be able to access a wide range of participants from a variety of locations and demographics – making it easier to ensure your sample is truly representative of your customer base.
  • They are more accessible
    Remote focus groups are also easily accessible for everyone, which allows for those with physical impairments to participate from the comfort of their own home without the unnecessary travel to a venue. As such, you can reach all of your target audience and get a true representation of your customer base.
  • They are cost-effective
    Another big advantage of remote focus groups is that they are generally less expensive to carry out. For starters, you don’t have to worry about the expense of hiring a venue or be concerned with travel costs. Not only that, but incentive costs can be lower for remote focus groups. For in-person groups we need to add in extra incentive for travel time.
  • They’re faster
    Another benefit of remote focus groups is that they are faster overall. From the beginning, recruitment can often be quicker as you have an Australia-wide pool of respondents to target rather than specific locations. Online focus groups are quicker and easier to arrange, too, because timings can be more flexible to suit respondents’ schedules and there’s more scope for daytime slots to be filled. It’s also quicker and easier for participants to take part in online focus groups once they’ve been scheduled too. All they need is a working internet connection and they are good to go! That means there’s no need to send moderators up and down the country, or match diaries up to venue availability – which will save you a great deal of time and money. Finally, once the research is complete, online focus groups are much quicker to record, re-watch, and transcribe.
  • Respondents are less inhibited
    Finally, although you don’t have to benefit of face-to face interaction with a remote focus group, this could actually work in your favour. In fact, taking part online means people can benefit from emotional – as well as physical – distance from other respondents, which might make them feel less inhibited. Research has shown that people can be more confident sharing their opinions online rather than in person – which could mean you end up with more honest insights, too. Plus, because people are taking part at home where they feel comfortable, it will likely encourage them to speak more freely, too.
  • Last minute respondents replacements
    Quicker and easier to get last minute replacements if we get cancellations.

Online Focus Groups

  • Technical Issues:
    Participants may face technical difficulties, such as internet connectivity problems or issues with the online platform, potentially disrupting the discussion. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, increased exposure to online methodologies has meant a significant reduction in tech issues. Basically, more and more people are used to software such as Zoom and Teams – which means that online methodologies are running more smoothly than ever before. However, despite this, no matter how many tech checks you undertake, there is the possibility of lastminute tech issues. that the platform you are using could crash mid discussion. As a result, the flow of the conversation could be interrupted, which means insights could be lost – and respondents could even end up dropping out.
  • Limited Non-Verbal Cues:
    Online platforms may limit the ability to observe participants’ body language and non-verbal cues.
  • Moderation Challenges:
    The lack of face-to-face interaction can make it more challenging for moderators to navigate group dynamics and maintain engagement.
  • It’s harder to build a rapport
    Another downside of online focus groups is that they can also be a little tricker for rapport building, which means that the session could end up being slightly more moderator led. Plus, it’s also easier for people to become distracted if they are taking part in an online study rather than having a face-to-face conversation – which could have a knock-on effect on the quality of your insights.

Ultimately, the choice between in-person and online focus groups should be based on the specific goals of the research, the characteristics of the target audience, and the available resources. In some cases, a hybrid approach that combines elements of both methods may be the most effective solution!

Common Questions about Focus Groups

  • How many people should we recruit for a focus group?
    For an online groups, we find that 6-8 is plenty.
    For an in-person groups, we find that 6-8 is plenty. If you need a certain number of people in a group we do recommend over-recruiting by 1-2 in order to guarantee
    you get your required number. We do reconfirm people the day prior but on occasions do get some last minute
    cancellations. If everyone turns up you can choose whether to have everyone take part or pay someone off ( they
    leave but still get paid).
  • What type of venue should we use for an in-person focus group?
    There are a few options:

    • A purpose build focus group facility where you get a recording of the session
    • A meeting room in a hotel or function centre (recording is generally not available)
    • A quiet / private room in a restaurant

Focus People can assist with suggesting a suitable venue for your research project.

  • What type of venue should we use for an in-person focus group?
    Most focus groups run for up to 90 minutes but some more interactive groups run for up to 2 hours. We don’t recommend over 90 minutes for an online group.
  • What incentive is needed for the focus group?
    Please see chart with our suggestions – it’s always best to run this past Focus People as it does depend on the demographic and other factors.


In order for Focus People to recruit for your upcoming Focus Group in a timely manner we require the following
information from you before we can start work on recruitment

  • Dates and exact times of your groups are needed
    Consider your demographic when choosing the group start time – after business hours works best for most
    people. Start times of 6pm and 7:45pm are common if you want to run 2 sessions per night.

    • Older/Retired people are happy to attend day-time groups.
    • Students – ideal times would be between 4:30pm – 7pm.
    • Home duties / Stay at home parents with children over the age of 6 are generally available from 10am – 1:30pm. With children under the age of 6 years of age we recommend night groups after 7pm (so a partner or relative can look after the children)
  • Duration of the group – respondents need to be told the end time of the group
  • If choosing to run an in-person focus group the venue needs to be locked in (we can assist with this if you require).
  • If choosing to run an on-line group, choose the program you wish to use to host the online group – Zoom, Google Meet or Team. Please set this up and send us the links so we can include these in the confirmation email that we send out to respondents after booking them in.
  • A screener needs to be prepared – a question for each of the specs so we can screen out anyone who won’t fit your research project. It’s really important to finalise this screener before giving us the go-ahead. Changes to this screener will slow down our recruitment process. If you change the screener or any of the specs while we are in the middle of recruitment we may need to charge you re-contacting fees for us to get in touch with those that we have already recruited to ask more details. The same would apply if you suddenly changed the date or venue.
  • The incentive amount and method of payment needs to be finalised.
  • Consent forms or homework need to be provided up front so we can send to respondents as soon as we book
    them in.

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