Editor's note: Philip Derham is director of Australia-based Derham Marketing Research.

Online surveys should be easy to do. You do them when you want and where you want to do them. They are not dinnertime interruptions, nor are they foot-in-the-door interviewers, calling when you would rather be doing something else.

But a recent analysis of 14,111 recent Derham Marketing Research online survey participants across Australia found that while four in five participants who started their online surveys completed them, one in five dropped out partway through. Completion incentives were provided, the surveys averaged 15 minutes, were written to be as involving and interesting – given the topics – and all had skips, so only relevant questions were asked. All surveys were optimized for completion on personal computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones.

The online survey software records what devices people use to start their online surveys, so we first looked at the devices used, to see if those provided indications of why people dropped out of the online surveys. The rise in use of smartphones in Australia, as elsewhere, and of their utility, was a particular interest.

Most participants used desktops or laptops (79 percent) to start the surveys. Few used tablets (9 percent) or smartphones (12 percent) but the starting and completion rates differed markedly by device, as Figure 1 shows. Smartphone users were far more likely to start and stop than were desktop or laptop participants. Tablet users fell between the two.

Seeing the results led us to ask why smartphone users started but dropped more than desktop or laptop online survey starters, particularly as the surveys were designed expressly for smartphone use as well.

The time the Australian respondents took to do the surveys was a possible reason for the differences.

On average, across all devices, the surveys took 15 minute...