Customer Insight, Online Survey, Survey Examples

10 Pros and Cons of Using Survey Incentives + Survey Incentive Ideas

One of the biggest challenges researchers face when conducting a survey is getting responses. They may craft a great survey, ask all the right questions, and send it out at the best possible time, but their audience still doesn’t answer. In fact, studies show that the average response rate for surveys is just 10-30%To improve their odds and get survey participants, many survey-takers now provide respondents with rewards for participation called “survey incentives.” While survey incentives can improve response rates, there can also be potential negative consequences. So, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of using survey incentives.

What Is a Survey Incentive?

Most people responding to surveys like to be helpful, are invested in the topic, or want their voice to be heard. Others need an incentive. A survey incentive is a type of prize or reward, usually financial, provided upon completion of the survey. Some surveys give points, and after a certain number of points have been accumulated, they can be redeemed for cash or a gift card. 

5 Pros Using a Survey Incentives

Online survey incentives can work very well when done correctly. Here are five ways survey rewards can benefit survey research.

Boosting Response Rates

Do incentives improve survey response rates? They absolutely can! The biggest advantage of offering incentives for survey participation is that respondents are more likely to complete the survey. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), monetary incentives have long been used as a method to increase response rates. In fact, their review of 49 studies found that a monetary incentive doubled the odds of participants returning a completed or partially completed questionnaire. Of course, not all rewards need to be monetary; we’ll highlight some of the best survey incentives below. Learn more about improving survey response rates in our blog 10 Ways to Improve Survey Response Rates.

Targeting Hard-to-Reach People

Some researchers only offer incentives to niche audiences – those folks who are generally unlikely to respond to any survey. For example, researchers surveying professionals in the healthcare industry know it can be hard to capture the attention of a busy surgeon, doctor, or nurse, so they may offer an incentive to encourage participation.

Reattempting to Gain Participation 

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” This popular proverb is the motto of many researchers! They may know exactly who they want to survey but may be having a difficult time getting a response. So, if their first attempt at reaching out without an incentive garners no response, they may try again with an incentive. 

Encouraging Response on Lengthy Surveys

Many people will take the time to complete a short survey, or microsurvey; after all, most of us like to give our opinions! But the longer a survey becomes, the less likely people are to bother with it. Long surveys can seem overwhelming, and even if a participant bites, they may drop out if there seems to be no end in sight. Sometimes, the best way to secure participation in a long survey is to be honest about its length to set expectations and promise a reward following completion of the survey.

Building Goodwill

Need to ask potential survey respondents some sensitive questions? They may be hesitant to partake in the survey. By offering an incentive, researchers may be able to build goodwill with the promise of a survey reward. This strategy can also benefit companies that are suffering from bad press; participants would otherwise be unwilling to help out because of this may change their mind when an incentive is involved.

5 Cons of Survey Incentives

Attracting Reward-Seekers

Customer survey incentives can catch the attention of the wrong person—someone who’s simply in it for the reward. This type of respondent may rush through the survey to claim their reward or provide inaccurate information because their only goal is a financial one. This can skew your results and cost you time and money. 

You can also get the wrong type of respondents if you’re unsure of your audience. For example, let’s say you run a salon and want to get feedback on how to improve service. Without a customer email list, you may simply choose to survey people within your salon’s zip code, offering an incentive for participation. You may wind up reaching people who’ve never stepped foot in your salon, but who will fill out the survey for the reward regardless. This gives you inaccurate results, and once again, costs time and money.

Introducing Survey Bias

Survey rewards can accidentally introduce bias in your results. With the best of intentions, say you offer a discount to restaurant guests who fill out your exit survey. Those who felt they received bad service and/or food are probably not interested in returning to your establishment, and therefore don’t care about a future discount. So, they won’t complete the survey and you’ll miss out on negative feedback that you could use to improve the restaurant. Instead, you’ll only collect positive comments from people who want to come back. While it’s nice to get that positive feedback, that won’t necessarily benefit the business.

Hurting Your Budget

Depending on your budget, you may not have that much money to play with when it comes to offering financial incentives. Affording financial incentives can be especially difficult if you’re conducting a large survey targeting thousands of recipients. If you think you need to offer an inventive in order to get your response rates up, we have a few suggestions in the next section which may be more budget-friendly.

Disappointing Participants

Do you send out surveys regularly? Some companies like to survey customers or participants on a quarterly or bi-annual basis. If you offer an incentive the first few times you send out a survey, it can become an expectation. Then, when you drop the incentive due to budget constraints and send your next survey, participants who are used to a survey reward may turn up their noses. By offering incentives, and then taking them away, you could potentially do more damage to response rates over time.

Offering Biased Rewards

This most often occurs with retailers that sell a variety of products. For example, a grocery store may offer a discount on pet food or diapers for filling out a survey. Of course, unless you only want to hear from pet owners or new moms and dads, this is not a good way to get the general public’s impression of your store. So, be sure that your incentive will attract every customer equally (20% off everything, not just pet food or baby diapers) to avoid biased results.

8 Types of Survey Incentive Ideas

Need to improve your survey response rate? There are a number of incentives you can provide to encourage survey participation. 

1. Monetary Incentives

Surveys with a monetary incentive, or reward surveys, usually place cash into the respondent’s PayPal account, mail a check, or send a gift card (or an e-card). The amount of the monetary incentive generally depends on the survey; for example, is it a microsurvey asking college students about study habits? Or is it a lengthy, time-consuming survey geared toward professionals? Depending on the study, financial incentives will vary. 

2. Coupons/Discounts

Handing out cash can be costly; by providing a coupon or discount, survey-makers can encourage survey participation and encourage purchases, driving revenue. 

3. Free Samples

People like to be among the first to try out something new. Offering survey respondents a free sample of your product or service is a great way to gain their interest without handing out money. If you’re confident about your product or service, giving people a chance to try it out at no cost could also lead to good word-of-mouth advertising or positive reviews online. 

Sometimes, you may not have to even give away your product if it’s a pricey one. You could simply offer branded swag: pens, notepads, koozies, hats, etc. Not only is this inexpensive, but it could also lead to someone showing off your brand. 

4. Free Swag

Is your product too expensive to just give away for free? Sometimes, all you need to do is offer some branded swag: pens, notepads, koozies, hats, etc. Not only is this inexpensive, but it could also lead to someone showing off your brand.

5. Charitable Donations

If you know your target audience, you should know what kind of charities they’re interested in. If a potential respondent understands, for example, that you’ll be donating even just $1 to a charity they care about, they’ll often complete the survey because it makes them feel good. It also shows that your company cares about current or social issues that most people look positively upon.

6. Sweepstakes

You may not be able to afford to give every survey respondent a free iPad; however, you could state that survey respondents will be entered to win one! This is a great incentive for research participants and can inspire participation. Ultimately, you’re only out one iPad. However, it is important to keep in mind the rules governing a sweepstakes/giveaway contest when setting one up.

7. Social Recognition

If your company or brand is a well-recognized and popular one, you may not have to offer any reward except for some social recognition! Some participants will be excited just to have you give them a shout-out on Twitter or any other social media platform. A simple, “So-and-so just took our survey, now it’s your turn!” will give them the social media attention they seek and possibly attract more participants for you.


Surveying professionals who want access to your knowledge? An online offer, such as a whitepaper, infographic, or how-to manual, can get people to complete your survey for the downloadable reward. 

Prepaid vs Promised Incentives

Once you’ve decided on the type of incentive you want to offer, you’ll need to decide whether to offer it prepaid (before they’ve taken the survey) or promised (provided once they’ve completed the survey). 

Research shows that prepaid survey incentives increase response rates, but this could become too expensive since they’re offered to everyone. Promised incentives, on the other hand, are usually much easier to manage, as researchers can email respondents a gift certificate afterward or mail them a small thank you gift only after completion of the survey.


When researchers have a question, they need answers. However, there are a number of survey incentive pros and cons. Survey rewards can come at a price (both financially and in regards to bias), so it’s up to every researcher to weigh the benefits and drawbacks to determine whether to use survey incentives or not. Whether you plan to offer a survey reward or not, if you’re ready to start surveying now, get started with SurveyLegend today!

Do you think offering incentives for survey participation helps get results? Or do survey rewards introduce too much bias? Is there a unique survey incentive that always works for you? We’d love to hear about it. Let us know below!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a survey incentive?

A survey incentive is a type of prize or reward, usually financial, provided upon completion of a survey. Incentives to encourage improved survey turnout have become popular.

What are the different types of survey incentives?

To encourage responses, surveys may offer monetary regards, free samples, coupons, informational resources, and more.

What is the average survey response rate?

Studies report that the average survey response rate is 10-30%.

What’s the difference between a prepaid and promised survey incentive?

A prepaid incentive is given prior to completing a survey; a promised incentive is given following completion of a survey.

Can respondents complete surveys for gift cards?

Yes, promising a gift card once a survey has been completed is a great way to get responses.

About the Author
Born entrepreneur, passionate leader, motivator, great love for UI & UX design, strong believer in "less is more”. Big advocate of bootstrapping. BS in Logistics Service Management. I don't create company environments, I create family and team environments.