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Designing and conducting online interviews to investigate interesting consumer phenomena

Thorsten Gruber (Manchester Business School, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK)
Isabelle Szmigin (Birmingham Business School, The University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK)
Alexander E. Reppel (School of Management, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, UK)
Roediger Voss (Department of Life Sciences and Facility Management, Zurich University of Applied Sciences, Waedenswil, Switzerland)

Qualitative Market Research

ISSN: 1352-2752

Article publication date: 13 June 2008




The purpose of this paper is to thoroughly explain how qualitative researchers can design and conduct online interviews to investigate interesting consumer phenomena.


A semi‐standardized qualitative technique called laddering was applied successfully to an online environment. Laddering allows researchers to reach deeper levels of reality and to reveal the reasons behind the reasons. A web survey that included an opinion leadership scale filled in by 2,472 people served as a springboard for identifying possible participants for the online laddering interviews. In total, 22 online interviews were conducted with opinion leaders in the specific product field of digital music players such as Apple's iPod.


Conducting online interviews enabled information to be gathered from an interesting group of respondents that would have been difficult to contact otherwise. The whole online interviewing process was convenient for respondents who did not have to leave their homes and offices for the interviews. In general, respondents enjoyed the online laddering interviewing experience and in particular the relaxed and friendly atmosphere. The most valued attributes of Apple's iPod are “control elements” and “design”, which are linked to values such as hedonism and individuality.


The paper is the first to systematically describe how qualitative researchers can conduct laddering interviews online. By explaining the online interviewing process in detail, the authors dispel criticism that qualitative research reports are often unclear, ambiguous and unstructured. Based on the detailed description of the online laddering process, other researchers can use the technique to get deeper insights into interesting consumer phenomena.



Gruber, T., Szmigin, I., Reppel, A.E. and Voss, R. (2008), "Designing and conducting online interviews to investigate interesting consumer phenomena", Qualitative Market Research, Vol. 11 No. 3, pp. 256-274.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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