The pros and cons of intercept interviews 

Editor’s note: Leah McMahon is a senior research executive at The Nursery. This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared under the title “Spontaneous conversations: the charm of intercept interviews.”

Intercept interviews are a qualitative research method which involves going to specific, usually public, spaces to speak to people to gather spontaneous yet focused responses about where they are, what they are doing and how they are feeling at that specific time and place. Intercepts are impulsive and interactive and there are many pros to doing them.

The benefits of intercept interviews

Intercepts offer in-the-moment reactions

If you want to understand small snippets of how people are feeling, asking them there and then can be a great way to get these unfiltered, immediate responses.

Intercepts can often get high response rates

Getting instant reactions from those who are willing to instantly respond can result in more responses compared to other research methods, like for example, an e-mailed survey, which can easily be overlooked or forgotten. Since the researcher is present and able to directly talk to the respondent, the responses themselves can be analyzed and clarified.

Intercepts are flexible

The interviews can be adapted to the situation, allowing researchers to probe further on things that may have come to light throughout the interviews or that are relevant to the person they are talking to. 

You can speak to a broad range of people that other research methods may miss

Busy parents, older people or those who may not have thought to get involved in market research can have a chance to get interviewed and have their feedback heard, allowing for opportunities to understand people you may not have had a chance to talk to using other research methods.

There are, however, some limitations to intercepts and reasons why they may not be the method to use for the research project at hand.  

The limitations of intercept interviews

Intercepts can be too focused

Limiting yourself to small locations can mean that you may not be getting responses that represent the broader population. This means you need to really think about whether intercepts make sense for the research project you are conducting.

Travel and costs can be high

Even though the intercepts themselves can be low cost by not needing to incentivize participants, the travel and time for researchers can be high, especially if you want to conduct intercepts in many different locations. 

Its challenging to recruit volunteers

The public can often feel uncomfortable by being stopped to talk to strangers, so researchers need to be friendly, upfront and brief with their questions to get people involved and feel comfortable divulging information about themselves.

Responses can be inconsistent

Because you are not giving participants standardized questions to answer, and often not speaking to each individual for the same amount of time, you can get a myriad of responses back which increases time for organization and analysis.

When should you use intercept interviews?

  1. If you are at a specific location or event, intercepts are great ways to get feedback from the people during a behavior rather than getting to reflect on it later.
  2. If you are looking for quick, spontaneous and unfiltered qualitative responses, intercepts an effective way to get them.
  3. Using intercepts to bring in some qualitative feedback, particularly to quantitative projects, can help bring the data to life and show the people behind the percentages.

Intercept interviews are a great way to connect with new audiences and get in-the-moment feedback. It is a qualitative method we shouldn’t overlook and that makes a valuable addition to our research toolkit.