The Herald Bulletin

Overnight Update

Local Columns

February 27, 2012

Emmett Dulaney: Using a convenience sample can lead to meaningless results

ANDERSON, Ind. — You may not know this, but I seem to be considered something of an expert in the field of printing — particularly when it comes to the HP model M4345. This distinction was bestowed upon me without my needing to attend any special school, read any books on printers or even possess so much as an inkling of interest in the topic. The honor came solely through the virtue of the most recently relocated printer in our department being now placed closest to my office door.

Without anyone batting an eye, I am routinely asked how to duplex and staple in the strangest of ways, change the size of the printable area, clear jams that could have only been accomplished with the use of Gorilla Glue and perform a myriad of other tasks that I personally would never think to undertake. Never mind that my response more often than not is “I don’t know,” the same individuals come back time and time again seeking even more guidance. Why? Certainly not for my expertise, helpfulness, or even hint of concern. Rather, they always come because I am convenient.

A similar thing happens in the realm of market research when the person doing the research chooses not to ask those who might represent real customers, but instead asks those who are easiest to ask — family, friends and so on. Known as a “convenience sample” — and occasionally termed an “accidental sampling” — this leads to results that are meaningless. The respondents are chosen merely on the basis of proximity and bear nothing in common with those who really should be asked.

For example, suppose I come up with the brilliant idea of franchising some Redbox machines and putting them in the lobby of the university dorms. Instead of asking students who live in the dorms whether or not they think this a good idea, I instead ask my family and coworkers. Since the respondents don’t represent any potential future customers, I can collect hundreds of “absolutely” and “best idea I ever heard” responses only to find out the hard way (in terms of a sizable investment loss) that those living in the dorms would never rent a single movie because they already get everything they want online from Netflix.

There can be any number of reasons for conducting a convenience sample instead of one more closely representing the true market (appropriately referred to as a “representative sample”). Sometimes it is too difficult to reach that population (which brings up the question as to how they will then find you after you commit to the business). Sometimes, there is a fear that if you ask too many people, someone will steal your idea. Sometimes, there is a fear that you won’t be understood or scoffed at and not taken seriously.

There are times when those fears are legitimate, but far too often it is just laziness or a lack of understanding on the part of the researcher. Don’t just take my word for it. I asked some of my friends and they all agree.

Columns from Anderson University’s Falls School of Business usually appear Tuesdays. Today’s columnist is Emmett Dulaney, who teaches marketing and entrepreneurship.

Text Only
Local Columns
  • Maureen Hayden Maureen Hayden: Helping those with a criminal record

    In 2009, when then-candidate Matt Ubelhor was knocking on doors in the rural southern Indiana district he now represents in the General Assembly, he kept hearing the same story from countless constituents: They’d lost their jobs in a bad economy and couldn’t get another one because they couldn’t past a background check that revealed some long-ago arrest or conviction.

    April 14, 2013 1 Photo

  • Colip, Angie.jpg Angie Colip: Old, used bowling balls cause dilemma

    I have a question of the week. What becomes of bowling balls once they are no longer being used by their owner? I have a house that is full of unused bowling balls. The front closet and even my living room have become overrun with them.

    January 31, 2013 1 Photo

  • De la Bastide, Ken.jpg Ken de la Bastide: Young guns come up short

    With 10 laps remaining at the ARCA/CRA Speedfest at Watermelon Capital Speedway it appeared that three drivers under the age of 19 were going to take the top three positions.
    Chase Elliott was leading chased by Erik Jones and John Hunter Nemechek, but through a number of cautions over the final circuits none of the young guns would record a podium finish.

    January 29, 2013 1 Photo

  • What's Where: Nov. 20

    Local meetings and activities are scheduled:

    November 20, 2012

  • images_sizedimage_001185455 Verna Davis: Avoid a diet; feed on the Word

    OK, people. I concede that I am “middle-aged,” even though the thought terrifies me.

    August 24, 2012 1 Photo

  • Maureen Hayden Maureen Hayden column: Updating voter registry will take time, money

    Earlier this year, I wrote a series of columns bemoaning the low voter turnout in the May primary and asked why only 20 percent of Indiana’s 4.4 million registered voters bothered to go to the polls.

    July 22, 2012 1 Photo

  • wilkerson, jesse Jesse Wilkerson column: There is a solution to your problem

    I ran across this exercise several years ago. If you ever have been by my office at the Mounds Mall you will see the same nine dots you see below on my door as a constant reminder of this exercise.

    July 22, 2012 2 Photos

  • Howey NEW.jpg Brian Howey: Daniels at Purdue raises questions over potential conflicts

    At the advent of the Mitch Daniels governorship, a close ally of his told me that the new governor always had a long-range plan.

    July 7, 2012 1 Photo

  • Dulaney c.jpg Emmett Dulaney: Are risk and vesting correlated?

    In business, as in life, the safest thing to do is often nothing. If you don’t take a chance, you can usually avoid the dangers that could befall those who do venture outside the norm and propose new businesses, new products or otherwise embrace risk in the pursuit of reward.

    July 2, 2012 1 Photo

  • Dulaney c.jpg Emmett Dulaney: Price is the most flexible variable

    A funny thing happened on the way to purchasing a book from — the price changed. Forty-two times within a 30-day period.

    June 11, 2012 1 Photo

Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
More Resources from The Herald Bulletin