Online versus paper surveys

A comparative study in cost and effectiveness.

Online versus paper surveys

A comparative study in cost and effectiveness.

The following study is based on a combination of measured comparative response rates for the two types of membership survey and the anecdotal experiences of our NFP and University Faculty customer base. On the face of it the two membership data collection methods appear similar in their cost to the organisation. However, when all factors are closely examined an entirely different picture emerges.

A. The full cost of a standard paper based survey (based on 1000 members being given the opportunity to participate via mailed invitation and survey form)

A paper based survey is usually designed/ written, printed / photocopied and mailed to all potential respondees requesting participation. Return or completion rates for paper-based surveys range between 6 and 12% so we have used a theoretical mean of 10% in this study. Online survey returns are, on average between 100% and 150% higher than those for paper based surveys so we have used a (conservative) theoretical return rate of 20% in the online survey study

Once the surveys are returned the results have to be loaded into some form of data reporting tool and then you have to devise your own methodology to filter the results.

Designing, writing and formatting survey for paper publication –


Cost to process & post 1,000 surveys and covering letters (envelopes, postage and stuffing time) @ $1.20 each survey


Cost to print 1,000 4 page surveys @ $0.80 each


Cost to collate the results:
Data loading for 100 responses. (How accurate is the data input?) Allow:


Executive time filtering and sorting results into viewable charts, etc. Allow


Uncosted items – e.g. Data storage/security costs, project management.


Total cost to organisation

 $3,000 minimum


B. Qsmart Online Survey Costs (based on 1000 people being given the opportunity to participate via outbound email and survey link)

Qsmart's pricing mechanism is based on buying a ‘responses quota'. This starts at a ‘100' response level and has breaks at ‘500', ‘1000', ‘5000' and ‘10,000'. The higher the volume you are prepared to buy-down the more cost effective the rate gets. For example the 100 and below level = $1.00 per response, at a 100>500 level this drops to an average of $0.80 cents.

A typical cost to set up a survey would be as follows. (This is based on outsourcing the survey build function as well. The cost would be $500 less if you built the online survey in house)

Note: the online survey return or completion rate of 20% of the invited membership is a theoretical mean based on average return levels by our clients. Higher return levels are regularly achieved, particularly when response incentives are introduced.

Designing, building and testing survey by Qsmart designer/producer team


Per response charge (A$0.80) for 200 responses


Reporting – online, on demand and completely accurate.

Included in per response rate

Executive time extracting in CSV/ excel and formatting results into viewable charts, etc.


Total cost to organisation




Online Surveys, on average, deliver a return rate that is more than 100% higher than paper based surveys. They cost, on average 70% less than paper based surveys.


Total cost to organisation for paper based survey

 $3,000 minimum

Total cost to organisation for online survey


Differential (or cost savings made)



As can be seen, the amount of executive and personnel time spent launching and analysing an online survey is considerably less than a paper survey. As well, our customers tell us that the removal of mundane, repetitive data input / collation tasks from the office environment has a positive effect on staff morale. Additionally, in an age where environmental impact has become critical to any organisation, being seen to be doing the right thing through the reduction of consumables is a highly positive factor.

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