Convenience Samples: Pros and Cons
By Guest Blogger
Posted in Customer Engagement
We survey samples of a target population when we can’t afford to survey every single member of that population. Face it: censuses are expensive. As Robert Groves shared at the MRA First Outlook Conference last week, while it costs 42 cents for a mailed back U.S. Census form, it costs $57 to obtain Census information for each household that does not mail the form back!
If we want to project from the results of a survey to our target audience with a knowable margin of error, we use random or probability sampling, which provides for equal opportunity for selection, with external selection of any member of the target population. When we can’t use a probability sample, we may have to take what respondents we can get: a process known as convenience sampling.
The advantage over random samples:
Getting representative results – results that can extrapolated back to the target population – is not always a research objective. Surveys fielded to convenience samples have many of the advantages of surveys in general, which is why the sampling technique is so widespread.
The decision to use a convenience sample instead of a probability sample is often driven by cost. That’s fine, and an appropriate trade-off in many cases; just don’t make the mistake of assuming that you can extrapolate from that convenience sample back to your target population.
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