Desk research, in effect, lays the foundation for in-market research, or, in extreme circumstances, where funds are severely limited it may need to suffice in its own right as the only source of information on which decisions are based. The benefits of desk-research are:

  • If a number of markets/countries are being considered, desk research can normally provide you with enough information to identify the most promising markets/countries and to screen out others.
  • Desk research can provide you with background information on markets, thus reducing the time (s)he has to spend in the field.
  • Through desk research, specific types or sources of information, which must be verified during the in-market research stage, can be identified in advance.
  • By making effective use of desk research, you can greatly reduce the time, effort, and money spent on the market research exercise as a whole. All too frequently, researchers launch into expensive in-market assignments with the result that time and money are wasted in looking for information that could have been obtained at home, and the assignment is carried out inefficiently because the necessary groundwork has not been properly done.

Procedures in desk research

The actual procedure that is followed in desk research will depend on the nature of the research assignment and on the level of knowledge of the researcher. If unfamiliar with the subject matter, the researcher should work from the general to the specific.

For example, when embarking on an in-depth research project, the researcher should initially seek information which provides a broad overview of the market in question its basic economic characteristics, industrial structure, foreign trade profile, trade relations with South Africa, etc. As the research progresses, it will become more and more selective and detailed, e.g. volume/value of imports of the products in question and sources of supply, import duty levels and regulations that apply, technical specifications, labelling requirements, marketing opportunities, transport options, etc. Then, in the final stages, the researcher might record the names and addresses of particular people whom (s)he feels should be interviewed during the in-market research stage.

Sources of information in desk research

The key to successful desk research is knowing where to source the required information and how to exploit the sources fully. Thus, a good researcher must have the persistence to track down the information and the imagination to think of new, less obvious routes. Today the Internet is a powerful weapon in the hands of exporters.

Some publications are able to provide the actual information required while others are able to direct the reader to appropriate sources (i.e. they serve as a “stepping stone”). Many publications perform both of these functions. For example, a market survey published in an industrial journal might highlight specific aspects of a market, as well as including the names of major buyers in that market.

Sources of information for desk research

Assessing the validity of information

Assessing the validity of various sources of information is largely a matter of experience, and practised researchers soon come to know those sources which are reliable. As the market researcher’s objective is to acquire as accurate a picture of the current situation as possible, data must also be up-to-date. The researcher should also refer to data from earlier periods which can be used as a basis for comparison and for the identification of trends. Countries which generally have up-to-date published statistics include the countries of Western Europe, the United States, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia.

It is important to collect information from a variety of sources and to cross-reference, where possible. In this way, a researcher has a built-in checking system, thus ensuring the accuracy of any findings. When two sources of data conflict, the researcher should consult a third source, or alternatively, contact the organisations responsible for issuing the information and seek an explanation for the discrepancy.

While the market researcher might be able to obtain free access to certain information, the company will always incur some expense in gathering, organising, analysing, and storing or discarding market data. Because the cost of obtaining the information can be quite high, the researcher must be discerning in a choice of references. The researcher should also take into consideration the question of duplication of information. Although duplication can never by entirely eliminated if outside sources are used, it can be minimised if the researcher is selective in his choice of materials, and this will result in time and cost savings. Some duplication of information may even be desirable if one source is being used as a check against another.