Recruitment of Participants for a 3D Virtual Supermarket: Cross-sectional Observational Study

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BACKGROUND: Virtual supermarkets offer a practical and affordable setting to test the efficacy of different pricing and nudging strategies before they are implemented in the real world. Despite the advantages of using virtual supermarkets for this purpose, conducting studies in online settings is challenging with regard to recruitment and retention of sufficient and suitable participants.

OBJECTIVE: To describe cost, time, and retention with regard to participants recruited using various strategies and potential sociodemographic differences between participants recruited via different strategies.

METHODS: This cross-sectional study used data from a randomized controlled trial in which 455 Dutch adults with low and high educational levels were invited to shop 5 times in a 3D virtual supermarket. Participants were recruited via social media and flyers. A log that tracked the costs of and time spent on the different recruitment strategies was kept by the study team. Outcome measures included the cost of recruitment strategies, the time investment by researchers, and recruitment and attrition rates of participants in the study.

RESULTS: The median age of study completers was 31.0 (IQR 25.0) and 157 out of 346 study completers (45.4%) were highly educated. Out of the 455 included participants, 235 (51.6%) were recruited via social media campaigns, 131 (28.8%) via home-delivered flyers, 38 (8.4%) via flyers directly distributed by the study team, and 46 (10.1%) via word-of-mouth. Of all paid recruitment strategies, social media campaigns were the cheapest and least time-consuming, whereas the distribution of flyers by the study team was the most expensive and time-consuming recruitment strategy. Age, sex, overweight status, employment situation, and number of adults within the household varied by recruitment strategy.

CONCLUSIONS: Using different recruitment strategies resulted in the efficient recruitment of a representative study sample and retention of participants was relatively high. While "word-of-mouth" was the most cost- and time-effective recruitment strategy, using only one type of recruitment strategy could result in a demographically skewed study population.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere19234
Pages (from-to)e19234
JournalJMIR formative research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 9 Feb 2021


  • Nudges
  • Online study
  • Pricing
  • Recruitment strategies

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