Editor’s note: Sean Bisceglia is CEO of research firm Curion, Chicago.  

 As COVID-19 spreads across the country and consumers are urged to remain inside, product testing has been forced to go solely digital. As a result, companies are now heralding digital testing as a premier offering. Necessity, however, does not discount years of research on the multi-layered formula for compiling comprehensive product insight. This conversation is not novel, and our present set of circumstances will not change the result. As Apekshita Varshney writes in an article for Techweek, “It [digital testing] battles strong resistance from big data supporters and its own inefficiencies in collection, integration, analysis and above all, utilization of the human ‘element’ which is always open to interpretation.” Though digital testing is a viable temporary solution, online research alone lacks the capacity to become the new normal.   

In quarantine, social, emotional and intellectual connections with others has physically dissipated and migrated to the internet. Social media usage is skyrocketing, Gen Z seeks stardom on TikTok, and basic forms of in-person human interaction are a threat. Through it all, a heavy and undeniable fact hangs thick in the air: we will never experience the same level of candid humanity, organic connection or raw sense of community through the lenses of a webcam as we would when connecting in-person. Similarly, when we return to some version of normalcy, digital testing will not replace the sensory research methods needed to understand the consumer to product relationships.  

Though current times necessitate a heavier reliance on online testing, when consumers can go about their lives as normal (not to be confused with new normal), fully developed consumer insights will be almost as scarce as toilet paper. 

The wide range of in-person research methods, including benchmarking, discrimination...