Affordable Survey Incentives That Motivate Your Respondents

There is a fine line between offering a survey incentive to thank respondents for taking your survey and bribing respondents to take your survey.

There is no question that offering an incentive will increase participation, the question is what kind of incentive to offer and how much to offer to be effective and not taint the results.

While you want to motivate respondents, your incentive should be seen as a “thank you” for your feedback and time without creating the feeling of obligation to answer favorably.

So what kind of incentive should you offer that will increase participation without creating survey bias?

Use Low Cost Incentives

Like all things in life, it is all about finding balance.

The size of your incentive should be high enough to peak interest but low enough so as to not influence the answers. Used correctly, low value incentives can give you the right number of responses to meet your population size without tainting the results.

One of our customers, DocPIES, recently incentivized a survey using a $1.99 Redbox movie rental coupon code from txtMovies. Using this incentive they saw a 77% increase in the click rate and a 326% increase in response rate! Wow! How did they do it?

Here is their story:

“Recently we tested the use of survey incentives to determine if we can improve OPEN, CLICK and RESPONSE rates. As survey incentives we used Redbox Movie Rental Codes from txtMovies which only cost $1.99 each delivered by text (SMS) message.

We sent the survey to 96 recipients who had previously either registered or attended a Bank webinar. Industry average OPEN rates for this list was 19.1% however the list itself had a history of performing well with an OPEN rate of 45.7%. Industry CLICK rate is 3.0% with the list historically performing at 8.8%.

By adding the survey incentive, the OPEN rate held steady at 40.6% however the CLICK rate INCREASED from 8.8% to 15.6% with a resulting overall RESPONSE rate of 11.5%.”

This affordable incentive increased the response rate from 2.2% to 11.5%. That is huge!

So how did DocPies come to choose Redbox Movie Rental codes? Blaine Ung, President and Founder of DocPies, said they chose this incentive for several reasons:


  • It was cost effective
      At $1.99 each, they could afford to purchase a large quantity.
    • It had a wide appeal
      Everyone loves a good movie. With the coupon code, respondents could pick the movie of their choice.
    • It was convenient
      Almost everyone has a Redbox location near them.


  • It was easy to distribute
    The SMS text messaging made it easy and affordable to deliver the coupon code. It was also convenient for their customers since they could easily retrieve the code at a later time.

Looks like he nailed it. So what do you need to consider when choosing your incentive?

How to Choose Your Survey Incentive

When deciding which incentive to use for your survey, take into consideration these 7 factors:


  • Your Budget



      This will be the most important factor to consider. Know what you can afford and set a quota on your responses so that you don’t exceed it.

We once had a customer who incentivized his survey by offering free headphones to the first 250 respondents. He sent the survey out on Friday. On Monday he nearly had a heart attack when he had over 2,000 responses!

Because he did not set a quota on the survey, everyone got the message that they would be receiving the headphones. He had way more responses than he needed and he was way over budget!



  • Incentive Type
    Will everyone receive the incentive or will it be a lottery where they have a chance to win it?


Lottery type incentives typically have a higher monetary value. iPads have been very popular lately for this type of incentive. This method works well in increasing your response rate but because they have a higher monetary value, they can appear as a bribe.



  • Your Audience
    Understand your audience and what motivates them.


Don’t offer items that have little value to your respondent (see our article on Offering Shampoo to a Bald Man). Your incentive should be something they appreciate and is easily accessible.

Studies have shown that cash incentives offer the highest response rates1 but this is not always practical, especially for an online survey.

Gift cards and coupon codes on the other hand can be distributed immediately and can easily be redeemed, especially if they are for an online shopping site like Amazon or eBay. Starbucks and Target gift codes are also popular retail incentives.



  • Delivery Method
    Your incentive should be easy to deliver and redeem.


As mentioned, this is why gift cards and coupon codes are so popular. These can easily be sent to the respondent through an automated email action immediately following the completion of the survey.

Delivering the code through SMS text messaging, as DocPies, did is also a convenient method of delivery and retrieval. The advantage of using this method is that you don’t necessarily have to have a smartphone to retrieve it later, while an email action would.



  • When to Offer the Incentive
    Will you offer the incentive before or after the respondent has completed the survey?


Surprisingly, research indicates that prepaid incentives are more effective at increasing response rates than promised incentives.

“Researchers with the US Department of Veterans Affairs found that the promise of a $5.00 cash incentive increased response rates by 30% and actually providing the $5.00 up front increased response rates by 50%.” 2

Apparently once the respondent receives the incentive they feel obligated to complete the survey.



  • Quality Control
    If your respondents like your incentive, there is a good chance that they will try to collect on it multiple times. To avoid duplicate responses, be sure to turn on vote protection. This will ensure that the respondent can only take the survey one time.


Also make sure that the right folks are getting your incentive. Use disqualifying logic to weed out respondents who do not meet your criteria.

For instance, if your survey is about your last event make sure that only those who attended are qualified for the incentive by asking them up front whether they attended all the sessions of your event.

This will give you cleaner results.



  • Anonymous Surveys
    It can be a bit tricky to use an incentive for an anonymous survey since you will need to collect identifying information in order to send them the incentive.


In these cases you can use a redirect action to send them to a second survey designed specifically to collect their contact information. This will keep the response data separate from the contact data.

Only Use Incentives When Necessary

While incentives are a great way to increase response rates, you should be careful to only use them when necessary.

People are more likely to take a survey if they believe their input will affect change and have a positive impact on something they care about. If your survey is for a higher cause, is short, or is a follow-up to a transaction, you probably do not need to use an incentive.

If however your survey is a lengthy study, or your respondent does not have emotional ties to your product or service, you will likely need to incentivize it

Remember that your incentive does not need to have a high monetary value to be effective. In fact, you are better off using a low cost incentive so as not to skew results and appear as if you are bribing your respondents.

“Thank You” is all you need to say.

What survey incentives are you using? We would love to hear which ones are working for you!

1. TA Brief No.6: Understanding incentives and Motivators for Participation in the Youth Outcome Survey
2. SurveyPractice

Written by

Sandy McKee

Sandy McKee is a digital marketer with over 10 years of experience in SEM, SEO, and social media marketing. She is a lover of books, fine food, and a mother of 2.

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