Effective sampling techniques for market research

Sampling is an effective way of obtaining opinions from a wide range of people, selected from a specific group, in a bid to find out more about a whole group in general. As a market research tool for entrepreneurs and start-ups looking to better understand their target market or research the potential for new business ideas, sampling can be a real benefit.

It would be extremely expensive and time-consuming to gather data from the entire population of your target market, so by carefully sampling your demographic it’s possible to build an accurate picture of your target market using common trends from the results.

Sample designs

A sample design provides the framework for gathering the information required and the way the sample itself is selected. It covers the method of selection, the sample structure and how to analyse and interpret the data once it’s obtained.

The majority of sample designs are built around the concept of random selection. This guards against any potential bias that selecting samples via judgement or convenience simply cannot.

Sample sizes

Deciding upon an appropriate sample size will depend on a variety of factors:

  • No estimate taken from a sample has to be an exact number. There will always be margin of error attached to any estimation based on sample results.
  • To lower the margin of error you’ll need to choose a greater sample size. It’s also worth bearing in mind the variability of your target population with regards to their values and opinions as this will also have an impact on the overall margin of error.
  • Your overall confidence level – for example, statisticians will opt for a 95% confidence level in order to provide strong, conclusive results. Put simply, the higher your confidence level, the clearer you need to be that the results will be as you expect.

6 sampling techniques to investigate your market

Cluster sampling
A sample within your target demographic can be targeted using certain demographic groups or ‘clusters’. It’s a relatively quick sampling technique for those looking to conduct research without complete population information. However, it can prove expensive if the clusters you select are vast and there is also a much greater risk of sampling errors.

Convenience sampling
Arguably the easiest form of sampling, convenience sampling utilises people who are willing to volunteer their services. By using subjects who are readily available for questioning it’s possible for fledgling businesses with small budgets to gather large amounts of data very quickly. On the flip side, the sample will not be wholly representative of the entire population and the results will also be at risk of volunteer bias.

Judgement sampling
This form of sampling is a very deliberate, selective method of understanding your target population. The opposite of random selection, it’s a very useful sampling method for those seeking valuable illustrative examples or case studies. Nevertheless, this method is at the same risk of bias as convenience sampling groups. A judgement sample will also often by smaller than other forms, making it difficult to truly extrapolate reliable insight.

Quota sampling
The aim of this sampling technique is to gather a representative sample of the entire target population. You will go about this by dividing your population using key variables and drawing a sample from each variable. This is not an entirely random selection criteria given that you’re drawing a quota from key variables and it’s a time intensive task to understand the population to be able to even identify the basis of stratification for the key variables.

Pure random sampling
With this sampling method every single person within your target population has an equal chance of being selected for questioning. This makes it much easier to determine both the estimate of the population and the sampling error. It may not be logistically viable however if the sample means you’re required to make lots of small visits across the country to interview those selected.

Systematic sampling
This is a probability sampling method in which people are selected from a larger population according to a random starting point and a fixed, periodic interval. This technique ensures the sample is spread throughout the target population but can be costly and time-consuming if, like pure random sampling, the chosen sample is not conveniently located.


The key to long term business growth is understanding your market and taking full advantage of the opportunities available to you. If you’re setting up in business but you need to know more about your industry to make better informed business decisions, sign up to our ‘How do I research a business idea?’ workshop today. Our experts will open your eyes to the high quality data available at the British Library Business & IP Centre across a vast range of subjects to help you successfully develop and grow your business.

See also

Plan to start your business

Plan to grow your business

Protecting your ideas