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The Importance of Transparency in Sample

A lack of transparency in sample supply is bad for the industry, bad for respondents, and bad for data quality. This article explains why a sample marketplace can potentially solve many of the challenges in sample today.

Editor’s Intro: Sunshine is a great disinfectant. That is why many legislative bills aimed at eliminating backroom political deals are called “sunshine laws”. As Tre Rials argues, there is a need for sunshine in the world of online sample. Only by seeing the world as it really is, will the industry really understand the sorry state of online sample, and will we be able to move to solutions that are much more transparent to end users. Blockchain anyone?


Modern consumers care a great deal about the source and quality of the products we purchase. They read online reviews before buying a new product. They care about the sourcing of the ingredients in the foods they buy. They buy name-brand products because they know they can rely on their quality. Consumers feel reassured by things like reviews, nutrition labels, and brand names because it offers transparency.

There is a value in transparency that we attribute to so many elements of our lives. But do you expect transparency in your sample? You should.

If a buyer goes to one of the major panel providers, depending on the buyer’s target, they may find that their sample is being sourced from several different panels, not just the propriety panel of the initial provider. While this isn’t a huge secret, more often than not, the buyer won’t know where their sample comes from. But source is hugely important because the sample supplier’s business model – the way they recruit, retain, engage, and most importantly, incentivize sample – has been proven to impact data quality. However, when sample is anonymized and aggregated from multiple sources into a single brand name, the buyer is left without any insight as to the potential structural differences of their sample.

For the suppliers of sample, it may seem they are trapped in an unsustainable model. They are at the whims of the market-leading panel providers. But this process is kept hidden from buyers; few get a look at how the sausage is actually made. This opaque aggregation in sample buying has created a cartel that enables price manipulation and sample blending without buyer input. It also allows this cartel to stifle competition by white labeling the products of smaller sample providers. The net effect on the sample industry is detrimental and protectionist. But it works because for the buyer, going separately to multiple smaller panel providers is just not a feasible solution.

Technology, however, has provided many industries with the tools to challenge old ways of doing things. Whether hospitality or urban transport, alternatives have popped up to challenge traditional methods. In the sample industry this means challenging the way suppliers sell their sample and buyers source it – a sample marketplace.

A marketplace represents the democratization of the sample business and the next logical step in supply and demand. Borrowing some of the key elements of tech innovations in marketing, advertising and retail, a sample marketplace automates the buying and selling of sample, while, at the same time, allows for transparency, scale and accountability. Simply put, it allows researchers and research buyers to programmatically select their sample provider(s) and receive sample. Automation makes it easier for buyers to select suppliers based on certain criteria and fill quotas in specific segments. However, this process only works when it sits outside of the traditional panel supplier model. Otherwise it can be at risk of bias – and risk the transparency that is integral to any successful marketplace.

For the owners of sample, a marketplace gives them the power to sell directly to the buyer at the price they want. There’s no hidden blending, and more importantly, it facilitates competition by helping sample providers of every size build their brand rather than having their products white labeled, while providing an incentive to improve their systems and processes.

Transparency is a serious issue in the sample industry. It affects buyer trust, quality of data and healthy competition – and it leads to the commoditization of human data. Transparent sample and a sample marketplace not only provides accountability, but it also maximizes the chance for competition and brand building in the industry to take place, which can only be a good thing.

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Tre Rials

Tre Rials

Lucid International Expansion Team Lead, Lucid