The problems of field research in exports stem mainly from the linguistic, social and cultural differences that exist between nations. The nature and extent of these problems will vary significantly from one country to another but they are generally far more pronounced in developing countries.

Language problems

Conducting market research in South Africa, one enjoys the benefit of a certain degree of familiarity with the nature of the society, its values and laws. Foreign market research is like a great leap into the dark, where many variables are unknown. Unless it is conducted by local nationals in the country concerned. The scope of error is vast. This is particularly so where a multinational may be enquiring about the local acceptability of a product, concept, service or slogan currently in use in other parts of the world. “Come alive with Pepsi” may be a familiar slogan in the English-speaking world but how would the English-speaking manager react upon hearing that his product slogan had been translated (in China) as: “Pepsi reawakens your dead relatives”? (Source: S. Paliwoda, International Marketing)

Fewer reliable statistics available in developing countries

It is generally accepted that the availability and reliability of market data are in proportion to the level of economic development in a particular country. Thus, the lower the national income, the more difficult it becomes for a researcher to obtain representative and reliable information about a particular market. In many developing countries, it is not possible to draw a reliable sample for surveying the market. Often, demographic statistics are inadequate, street maps are unavailable or are out-of-date, and houses may not be numbered. Furthermore, several family units may occupy a single dwelling.

Cultural factors affect in-market research

Cultural factors are often the main cause of the problems related to data collection in developing countries. Where the researcher is unfamiliar with the local cultural system, questionnaire design and the interpretation of results could be difficult. In international research, translation of the questionnaire is often essential, providing yet more scope for misunderstanding. Moreover, in some societies there is an inherent reluctance to answer questions possibly resulting from the mistrust of strangers, conservatism or fear of losing face or status, or revealing one’s deficiencies.

Opinion formation particularly outside the capital and main urban areas tends to follow traditional cultural patterns with the result that respondents might not express an opinion on certain issues (e.g. earnings, savings, spending patterns, etc.). Exaggeration is a common practice, especially in the Middle East, and this could cause additional problems for the researcher, because a respondent may be tempted to make exaggerated claims about the market potential. In some cultures, a woman may only be interviewed in the presence of her husband.

The personal interview, although probably the most effective in-market research technique in developing countries, is often complicated by the fact that family members or colleagues are present during the interview and the respondents may be reluctant to answer questions frankly. Alternatively, the cultural norm may dictate that the respondent, as a gesture of politeness and respect, give the answer that (s)he believes the interviewer wishes to hear.