Using Debit Cards for Incentive Payments: Experiences of a Weekly Survey Study

Publication Abstract

Gatny, Heather H., Mick P. Couper, William G. Axinn, and Jennifer S. Barber. 2009. "Using Debit Cards for Incentive Payments: Experiences of a Weekly Survey Study." Survey Practice 2(7).

The effectiveness of incentives is well-documented in the literature (e.g., Church 1993; Singer 2002). Cash incentives are both cost-effective and easy to deliver in face-to-face surveys, or as prepaid incentives enclosed with advance letters. For larger amounts—typically used with conditional incentives—checks are often used. The cost of processing and mailing a check can be relatively expensive, especially for small incentive amounts delivered frequently. In online panels, the use of lotteries or rewards points is common, in part because of the cost of delivering repeated incentives of small value (Göritz 2006). Unfortunately these incentives are often less effective than cash.

We describe an alternative approach to incentive delivery, using automated prepaid debit cards or cash gift cards, in the context of a weekly survey with small incentive payments. While ATM or debit cards have previously been used for one-time payment of incentives (e.g., Beckler and Ott 2006; McGrath 2006) and convenience store debit cards have been used for repeated incentive payments among volunteers (Wiebe et al. 2008), we are aware of no other studies that have used this approach for repeated delivery of small incentive amounts in a survey setting. This approach has several important advantages, including reducing the cost of incentive delivery, reducing the administrative costs associated with the need to reconcile cash payments, the automation of the delivery process, and the ability to track card use.