What is Convenience Sampling?
Convenience sampling is a non-probability sampling method where researchers use subjects who are easy to contact and obtain their participation. Researchers find participants in the most accessible places, and they impose no inclusion requirements. Convenience sampling is also known as opportunity or availability sampling.
Examples of convenience sampling include online and social media surveys, asking acquaintances, and surveying people in a mall, on the street, and in other crowded locations.
While the subjects are easy to access, the researchers are unlikely to obtain a sample representing the population accurately. Sampling bias is likely to be high. You cannot generalize the sample results to a population. In some cases, you might not even be fully aware of the populations from which you’re sampling. Who’s answering your online surveys? In short, the results you obtain using this approach apply only to your sample.
Convenience samples serve as a sharp contrast to representative samples in terms of being able to generalize the results. Learn more about representative samples.
Statisticians rarely recommend this method because being unable to generalize your results beyond the sample is a huge limitation. Your results apply to your sample alone. Despite this weakness, there are a few situations where this method is warranted.
Learn more about Types of Sampling Methods in Research.
When to Use Convenience Sampling
Convenience sampling is most useful for pilot testing. Use it when you’re testing your survey instrument and other research protocols. It’s an inexpensive way to work out any problems with your study before committing more resources to obtain a representative sample.
This method can also provide initial ballpark estimates in the exploratory stages of research. For example, a company might want some quick feedback about new logo candidates and obtain a quick sample for that purpose. At the very least, it expands the feedback beyond those directly involved in the process.
In other cases, this approach might be the only viable approach. Researchers might not have the resources to conduct representative sampling methods, such as simple random, systematic, stratified, or cluster sampling. These methods entail more time and resources and often require a complete list of population members. Consequently, student projects often use convenience samples for this reason. In these cases, the preliminary results can serve as a call for more rigorous studies in the area.
If you know that subjects with particular characteristics are especially helpful for your study, you might use Purposive Sampling.
Conversely, if your subjects belong to a hard-to-find population (i.e., it’s inconvenient finding any of them), consider Snowball Sampling.
Convenience Sampling Example
A classic example of convenience sampling is the Pepsi Challenge. Originally, the Pepsi Challenge was a blind taste test conducted at shopping malls, stores, and other public venues. Participants taste unmarked cups containing Coca-Cola and Pepsi and then indicate their preference.
The Pepsis Challenge has all the hallmarks of this method, including the use of crowded areas facilitated the easy acquisition of participants and the lack of requirements for participating.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Convenience Sampling
The advantages of convenience sampling are the following:
- Quick, easy, and inexpensive data collection.
- It can help work out problems with the design in a pilot study.
- Obtain initial data for the exploratory phase.
- It can be the only viable method for low resource studies.
Its disadvantages are the following:
- Nonrepresentative samples with high sampling error.
- Cannot generalize the results beyond the sample.
- Results have minimal usefulness.
If you want to perform convenience sampling but control representation in the sample, consider using Quota Sampling.