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How much does it cost to recruit participants for my research?

TeaCup Lab
February 22, 2023

Talking about recruitment costs is inevitable when tackling a user research project. For some, these costs are the most important factor when deciding whether or not to undertake research. However, in general, these costs are reasonable and justified, especially considering the impact that research can have on our business.

It’s understandable that some may be surprised to have to pay several hundred euros to interview a small group of people. Isn’t it as simple as stopping someone on the street and asking them? Sometimes it can be that simple, but in many cases it is not.

To obtain reliable and useful information, it is essential to ensure that we interview the right person. This often involves costs in terms of time and/or money. In our article “How to choose participants for your user research,” we delve into the importance of finding the right people for the research.

On the other hand, many people simply have no idea how much it costs to recruit participants for research. In this article, we will try to clarify these doubts and offer relevant information on participant costs.

What does the cost of a participant depend on?

First and foremost, it’s important to clarify that the cost of a participant is composed of two concepts: the recruitment cost and the incentive we pay the participant for their help in our study. If we do the recruitment ourselves, we won’t have to pay an agency, but we must calculate the cost of our work.

What are the factors that determine the cost of a user? Mainly, there are three:

  • Who is the person we are looking for?
  • What are we asking them to do and for how long?
  • Where do they live?

1. Who is the person we are looking for?

Not all profiles have the same cost, and the factor that most influences it is the ease or difficulty of finding the desired profile. For example, someone who shops online, is within a broad age range, and has no special characteristics will be quite cheap due to the large number of people who fit that description. However, if we add more specific requirements, such as having a certain type of mobile phone or an annual income of over 100,000 euros, we will have to filter many more candidates before finding someone who suits us, and this will be more expensive.

Professional profiles or categories such as doctors are also more expensive than a regular consumer: it is not common for them to join consumer panels, so more effort is required to reach them. Additionally, professional profiles require higher incentives because dedicating an hour of their time to our study means not dedicating it to their work, and this has to be compensated.

In the case of doctors, it is common for the incentive for a one-hour interview to be equal to or greater than the amount of a consultation with a patient of the same duration.

2. What are we asking them to do and for how long?

The level of commitment that participants must have with our study is also an important factor to consider. It is not the same to participate in a 45-minute remote session as it is to fill out a diary for two weeks.

In general terms:

  • The longer the required time, the higher the incentive we should offer.
  • The more complex the task they are asked to perform, the higher the incentive we should offer.
  • Moderate in-person studies usually require a higher incentive than remote studies.
  • Surveys or unmoderated studies are usually more economical than a session with a moderator because they are almost always shorter.

3. Where do they live?

Within the same country, there is practically no difference, but when it comes to international research, things change. Costs between different countries vary greatly, and it would be a mistake to assume that we can recruit at the same costs in different locations.

The cost of living does not always reflect in participant recruitment costs. We have had experiences where recruitment was much cheaper than expected in Germany, while it was very expensive in countries like Vietnam or Thailand.

For this reason, it is always better to consult with a local recruiter before assuming that a study fits within our budget.

Some examples

We conclude with an approximate cost estimate for some types of studies in some of the countries where we work most frequently. These are just examples and actual prices may vary, but we believe they can be useful to get an idea of what recruiting participants entails.

  • Remote 60-minute interview – Simple user profile:
  • In Spain, recruiting a participant would cost between 40 and 60 euros. The incentive would be similar and would increase by around ten euros in the case of an in-person study.
    In Germany, costs are a bit higher, while in the UK and the US they are even higher, especially if the study is in-person.
  • Remote 60-minute interview – Complex user profile (B2B, healthcare professional, etc.):
  • In this case, costs increase significantly. In Spain, recruiting increases to around 100 euros and the incentive can easily exceed 150 euros.
    In Germany, costs increase to at least 150 euros for recruitment and a minimum of 200 euros for the incentive.
    In the US, they can be much higher.
  • 10-minute online survey – Simple user profile:
    Generally, they are inexpensive and, if we profile our participants correctly, we can work with a cost of between 2 and 6 euros (all inclusive) in many cases and in all four countries.

To conclude, two notices:

  • It is possible to find cheaper prices, but sometimes this can affect the quality of recruitment. That’s why, in our examples, we indicate appropriate prices to ensure quality recruitment.
  • Some agencies also charge fixed management fees that do not depend on the number of participants or the study technique and that must be added to the total project cost.
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TeaCup Lab is a user experience consultancy agency founded in Madrid in 2016. We specialize in User Research & User testing for global brands.
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