Larry Brownell, executive director of the MRA, said problems arise when amateurs hop on the online research bandwagon without the expertise that a professional researcher provides.
He said: "A lot of flawed research is being conducted online, and the sample accuracy of online panels is raising questions in the industry. It's critically important that a bona fide marketing research professional shapes surveys and ensures the correct use of the appropriate tools and techniques."
With more than 68% of the US population having access to the internet, online research is soaring and Brownell has predicted within a few years inexpensive online research will overtake any other type of fieldwork.
However, he warns the recent furore about focus group research declining is untrue, with money spent on focus groups having risen 6% in the last year.
"While online research gives users the advantage of reaching a much larger quantity of consumers, focus groups provide the kind of accuracy and depth that can emerge from probing, controlled face-to-face interaction.
"The goal of the research should dictate which of these and many other research tools is utilised. Often a combination of methodologies is recommended."
Brownell warns that while outsourcing can save money, "quality counts" and the market research industry will need to ensure outsourced survey researchers are up to the task.
The MRA, established in 1957, is the largest opinion and market research body in the US.
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