How - and how much - to pay participants in user research?

France Wang
May 5, 2020

If you are reading this article, it means that you already know what user research is, that you want to do it or that you already do it. If not, I invite you to read this article first ;)

When preparing a user testing or interviewing session, it's not enough to know where to find the right people with the right profiles - you also need to know how to get them there! This always raises a lot of questions: should they be paid? How much should they be paid? Doesn't this create a bias in the selection process? It's enough to make you tear your hair out. But not for much longer, thanks to this guide that we have lovingly compiled for our clients, and which we are sharing with you today!

Should participants be offered compensation?

The short answer is yes.

More to the point: it's not compulsory, but it's very difficult to do without - especially in qualitative work, which requires more time and energy from the participants - if you want to target outside your direct acquaintances (friends, family, colleagues).

Indeed, studies show that the response and participation rate is higher when there is a reward (an example here):

  • Participating in a survey is a form of social exchange. If you get valuable feedback from your side to improve your products and services, your participant must get something back from you - even if they are a fan of your brand, a very close customer or a very engaged community.
  • By showing that you value and respect your audience's time, they are more likely to respect yours, and are therefore less likely to cancel at the last minute or take the study lightly.The good news for those on a tight budget is that the quid pro quo doesn't have to be monetary. You can offer goodies, a product preview, discounts on your services... but be realistic about the appeal of these items in kind!

Also keep in mind that depending on the type of compensation you choose, you may make it more difficult for certain profiles to access you - this is the subject of the next paragraph!

Choice of counterparty and selection bias

Unfortunately, the choice of counterparty will attract different types of profiles, which creates a selection bias. This is why this choice is crucial, as it will allow you to take it into account, if not to avoid it.

Generally speaking, 4 types of compensation are commonly practised. We will summarise the advantages and disadvantages of each type of compensation (these lessons are themselves drawn mainly from these research results):

Monetary compensation

For example, a bank transfer, Amazon or multi-brand gift vouchers...

Advantages Disadvantages
Your study remains more easily anonymous
Most versatile, generally considered to be the most effective
Attracts more easily people in need of money (students, retired people...)
The budget is proportional to the number of participants, therefore quickly expensive
Use when... Avoid if...
Your target is large
You do not have easy access to this target through your network / among your customers and users
In itself, always a good choice, but if you give the wrong amount for the wrong target, you will attract less qualified profiles (see our remuneration grid below)

In-kind compensation

For example, a gift, a free premium access for a few months, a discount on your website...

Advantages Disadvantages
Potentially more economical
Can reinforce your brand image with your users
Can expose your brand
Your convinced users will potentially be less critical
Will be harder to attract those who don't like/know you
Use when... Avoid if...
You want to talk to your already convinced users / brand "fans" / engaged community You want to attract your competitors' users / users who have left you
If you want to remain anonymous during recruitment


This often involves drawing lots for one or more participants to win a large prize, either monetary or in kind

Advantages Disadvantages
For a lower budget, you can promise a larger sum / gift The gain is not systematic and will not attract less risk-averse profiles
Use when... Avoid if...
On large-scale, low-investment tests (e.g. quantitative or non-moderated studies lasting less than 20 minutes) If you know that your target users are risk-averse
If your user research requires a lot of participant time/energy


For example, a pledge to an association / NGO / cause of your choice, or a fixed amount that you pay on behalf of your participants to the organisations of their choice.

Advantages Disadvantages
Positive for your image and that of the participants
Even a small amount per donation can be enough to motivate participants
Attract people who are sensitive to the cause of the chosen association(s)/NGO(s)
Not suitable for all projects
Use when... Avoid if...
When your target is not very sensitive to personal gain
When you are targeting people who are sensitive to a certain cause
If you are targeting a very large audience

How to deal with selection bias?

There are two ways to take selection bias into account when choosing your compensation format:

  • take advantage of this to target your audience as closely as possible: after all, in qualitative research, you are not looking for a representative sample of the general population, but for a few people corresponding to a particular profile. For example, if you mainly want to interview people who like cooking, offering a set of kitchen knives will avoid attracting too many profiles that are completely off your target.
  • Vary the counterpart formats to compensate for the bias introduced. The most common is to both invite your existing users by offering them a few months free on your product, while recruiting people who don't know you or who know you less with a fixed monetary amount as a counterpart.

In the case of the monetary, how much to give?

Pour vous simplifier la tâche, nous avons compilé une grille de montants minimums et idéaux selon ces différents critères. Modulez-les en fonction de votre connaissance de votre cible et de votre marché, mais gardez en tête que plus vous baissez le montant, plus votre recrutement sera difficile - et vous augmenterez sensiblement la proportion de personnes qui ne répondent que par appât du gain, sans réelle considération pour votre étude !

This is the question our clients ask us most often! Giving too much means risking blowing your budget for nothing. Giving too little means risking poor recruitment. So how do you determine the right amount?

3 main criteria will have an impact on the amount:

  • The demographic characteristics of your target group: are you targeting people who are generally not very available? After all, a student and a lawyer do not value €100 in the same way!
  • The accessibility of your target: how well represented is your target in the general demographic? Indeed, the higher the amount, the higher the proportion of people interested. Therefore, if you are targeting a small population, increasing the amount will increase your chances that your target will be among the interested people. For example, if you are looking for people who have recently travelled to Australia, and it is a destination chosen by only 0.5% of French travellers, increasing the amount of the match will help you convert them.
  • The level of effort required for your user test or interview: the length of your interview, whether you need to travel or not, the difficulty of the tasks you will ask, are all factors to consider.

To simplify your task, we have compiled a grid of minimum and ideal amounts according to these different criteria. Modulate them according to your knowledge of your target and your market, but keep in mind that the lower you set the amount, the more difficult your recruitment will be - and you will significantly increase the proportion of people who only respond out of greed, with no real consideration for your study!

Moderated in person Remote moderate Unmoderated
B2C target min: 40€ / h
ideal : 60€ / h
min : 25€ / h
ideal : 40€ / h
min : 15€ / h
ideal : 30€ / h
B2B target (professional target) accessible - to be modulated according to the target's ADR from 80€ / h from 60€ / h from 40€ / h
B2B target group (professional target group) not very accessible - to be modulated according to the target's ADR from 100€ / h from 100€ / h from 80€ / h from 60€ / h

To simplify your task, at Tandemz we choose the counterparty adapted to your target for you. Feel free to simulate a recruitment on our quote page to get inspired by the amount we plan for you!

I have decided how to compensate my participants. What's next?

Congratulations, that's a big step! This will help you maximise your chances of recruiting the right participant profiles. Now, as you can imagine, this will not be enough. To optimise your recruitment campaign, you should also consider

  • Write a short, punchy teaser message, so that your potential participants understand both the importance of their participation, what they stand to gain, and the level of effort they will have to put in.
  • Make a good selection questionnaire, which will help to eliminate the wrong profiles: opportunists, those who have misunderstood your expectations, or avoid having too many similar profiles if you are targeting a particular distribution
  • Define where to recruit your participants: whether they come from your CRM, from your community of followers on Twitter or Facebook, or from a forum dedicated to a particular area of interest, finding the right pool is essential. This is our speciality at Tandemz, so don't hesitate to contact us to discuss your needs!
  • Refine your message and the compensation according to the results: if you have trouble recruiting, or if you attract a lot of profiles that don't match your target, it may be that the message is not clear or that the compensation promised is not adequate!

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