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    • 04/25/17
    • Global
    • English

    Thumbs up or down: Can emojis help make surveys smartphone friendly?

    Many of us walk around with a high–powered, Internet-enabled computer in hand or nearby at all times of the day. For some, the smartphone is the first thing they reach for when they wake up in the morning and the last thing they put down at night. Increasingly we are turning to our smartphones to fill the downtime as we wait for our turn in a checkout line or kill time in a waiting room before an appointment. It is the “do-everything” device that assists us in dozens of ways every day. For survey researchers, this means that more and more respondents are looking to take our online surveys on their smartphones. But in many cases, the survey experience is not yet optimized for mobile – respondents take far longer to complete a survey on their smartphones than those who take the same survey on a desktop or laptop computer. As a result, we see lower quality data and higher breakoff rates among smartphone respondents. As an industry, we need to find creative solutions to help these respondents take our surveys on the devices of their choice, including the small-screened smartphone. This means that long, wordy surveys with intricate, equally long answer options practically guarantee that there will be noise in the data.

    Converting survey response scales to a mobile-friendly design

    If we think about how to communicate with as few words as possible, what comes to mind? Emojis are a wordless language consisting of small images – the smiley face, of course, but also many variations that express a range of emotions. Their minimal footprint presents an intriguing possibility for helping convert survey response scales to a mobile-friendly design. Similarly, a scale made up of numbers with no corresponding response labels would have a small footprint. As an example, here’s a question asked with a traditional semantic-labeled response scale: And that same question and response scaled conveyed with emojis: Finally, that same response scale conveyed with numerics: These simple symbols clearly make sense for smartphone communicating. The question becomes – do we get differences in response when we use the different scales? If we were to consider using these alternative response scales, we need to be sure that emojis and numeric scales convey meaning — and gradations in meaning – quickly.  Can respondents use them to answer more quickly and as accurately as with the more traditional semantic-labeled scale? With support from the Advertising Research Foundation, we conducted a study to investigate these questions.

    Do emojis increase the efficiency of survey responses?

    We asked respondents how much they liked or disliked doing a series of five activities and randomly assigned them to a response type – the semantic, emoji, or numeric response labels. In looking at efficiency of response, we found that longer scales with more categories meant longer completion times for semantic, but not emoji or numeric labels. Numeric labels took the least amount of time to complete. So we do see some increased efficiency with these new scale formats over the traditional semantically labeled scales. Further, these new answer types created a consistency in response across device and response label type; there was no difference in average means across devices, regardless of the type of label a respondent was assigned to see. We also asked respondents how often they engaged in each of the behaviors to help us assess validity; activities that people like to do should also be activities they do more frequently. In looking at the correlations between activity enjoyment and frequency, we saw no difference in validity across the various response-scale types. This means that the emoji and numeric response scales were just as valid as the more traditional semantic labels.

    Finding a smartphone-friendly response format

    Overall, we found emojis may be a viable, smartphone-friendly response format if they are used with care. However, the use of emojis did limit the types of questions we could ask – we could only ask questions that allowed us to use the most basic and universal emojis (straightforward smiling and frowning faces or thumbs up and down). In addition, we were not able to come up with a clear and easy-to-interpret emoji response scale that could measure importance or frequency. Emojis lend themselves better to evaluative scales (good-bad judgments or agreement scales, for example).  Although some topics might not be appropriate for use with emojis, as in the following example: So perhaps thumbs sideways on emojis for now – if you are going to consider using them, take note of the limitations we mentioned. Numeric labels may be a more efficient label type with equal validity as the other label types. We are currently working to extend these findings across topic areas. This article was co-authored by Frances Barlas, Ph.D. and Randall Thomas.   Frances Barlas, Ph.D. is Vice President, Research Methods on the Sampling Statistics team at GfK. She can be reached at   Randall Thomas is Senior Vice President, Research Methods on the Public Communications and Social Sciences team at GfK. He can be reached at
    • 04/25/17
    • Global Study
    • Global
    • English

    Nearly twice as many people prefer relaxing vacations to active ones

    Explore the different groups by income, age, and gender across 17 countries in our full report.
    • 04/25/17
    • Global Study
    • Global
    • English

    Global study: preferred vacation type

    Download our full report and find out which nations prefer relaxing vacations and who decides for active holidays.
    • 04/21/17
    • Retail
    • Connected Consumer
    • Global
    • English

    Retail today and tomorrow: Innovating in the age of disruption

    Today’s changing retail environment is proving to be a major test of marketers’ agility. It is no secret that the convenience of online shopping has drawn customers away from traditional brick-and-mortar outlets. Walking from store to store in search of the perfect outfit or gift has transformed, in many cases, into jumping from website to website, credit card in hand.  Along with this major transformation has come many difficult adjustments.

    So where does this leave brick-and-mortar stores?

    The role of the store itself is being re-defined in our modern age, as traditional storefronts turn into immersive showrooms and leisure destinations, and much more.  Retailers, and specifically mall operators, are aiming for more experiential elements, while foregoing traditional anchors for more entertainment-based locations like movie theaters and gyms. GfK’s FutureBuy® data shows that people who shop in brick-and-mortar stores do so because they can physically see the product before they buy, they shop there routinely and they get “instant gratification” by getting the products much sooner.  When they shop online, however, the reasons tend to be saving money, better selection and the overall ease of shopping. Given these dramatic changes, marketers need to play to the strengths of traditional retail stores – and keep a few key lessons in mind.
    1. Stay agile.  In today’s retail environment, marketers have to be flexible and creative to satisfy the evolving consumer.  We see a trend where shopping spaces are increasingly being integrated into traditional urban surroundings, like the shops at the Oculus of New York’s World Trade Center or in Chinese open cities, with stores and interactive park-like features (trees, water fountains, shops and screens) that create a new shopping “village”.  There are numerous new business models that brands can leverage in new ways.
    2. Capitalize on the online-offline experience.  Consumers desire rewarding experiences.  The latest data from GfK Consumer Life shows that experience is the #1 trend in the United States, and store shopping remains a key leisure pursuit. Three in four Americans agree that “it’s fun to browse stores and see what’s new and different”.  The current market is seeing big online players capitalizing on this trend as they open brick-and-mortar retail locations.  For example, Amazon bookstores allow you to buy books in-store or have a fun retail experience, but lighten your load by having the book delivered or letting you purchase a digital copy.  Warby Parker and Bonobos are popular online players who have showrooms.  At Bonobos, you can visit ether of the “Guideshops” get 1-1 attention from a “Guide” to get the exact fit and measurement of your clothing, but you walk out hands-free, without paying for delivery of your chosen items.  This can surely help personalize the experience, and alleviate some of the operating costs that physical retailers face to be more competitive with pure online players.

      On the flipside, customization can be a challenge for online-only brands.  Nearly four in ten Americans agree that they like to buy products that can be tailored to their needs.  Major retailers are starting to optimize their brick and mortar footprint to maximize the omnichannel fulfillment with click & collect and filling excess square footage with shop-in-shop concepts.  But the real challenge for brick and mortar retailers is how to keep up online without killing their margins.
    3. Use new technology to your advantage.  We are at the tipping point of the AI explosion, and Artificial Intelligence will surely enhance the online shopping experience.  In fact, almost three in ten Americans (28%) would try out new products before buying them, such as cars or paint colors, and a quarter (24%) would use a VR headset to shop as if they were in a real store.  Virtual reality in particular could be useful in a brick-and-mortar showroom.  AI is being used much more to improve product search effectiveness on retailer websites and in making product recommendations than from a virtual “trying out” process.

      Lowe’s has been using VR well, in helping customers visualize what decorating a room in their house might look like (along with augmented reality technology) and North Face for the outdoor experience.  AI will certainly help with product search and IBM’s Watson AI is paving the way to improve product recommendations.  AI is just the tip of the iceberg as a lot can be said for bots and drones, which as they are starting to play a much greater role to the retail environment and logistics.
    Disruptive times call for staying attuned with consumers’ changing needs and lifestyles.  We are at the brink of the 4th industrial revolution, which will undoubtedly shape the future of many aspects of consumers’ lives, including how we shop.  Thus, the time for keeping a close eye on new technologies and innovating for the future has never been better. Jola Burnett is a Vice President on the Consumer Life team at GfK. She can be reached at
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