Market researchers want to engage with the general public in order to collect data for a number of purposes. Using the high street for this is seen as a legitimate way of reaching a broad cross section of society. However, sometimes visitors will object to being ‘accosted’ as they try to go about their business. Too many market researchers can become a nuisance to users and may impact on local business trade.
Market research is self-regulated. There is no statutory legislation that exists which states that local authorities can, in any way, prohibit market research activities. Market researchers do have to conform to the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998. Under no circumstances should a financial transaction which benefits the researcher take place. Furthermore, under no circumstances should personal data from a consumer be requested for the purpose of benefiting from a financial transaction at a later date. If this is the case then this is not genuine market research and in most places a license is required for the operation to continue.
Although no statutory legislation exists regarding market research, Town Centre Managers should make themselves aware of any local byelaws which may vary from this. Depending on how the activity is implemented other, more generic laws may apply, such as the Highways Act 1980 (applicable to England and Wales), the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984 and the Roads (NI) Order 1993 for obstructions.
As with other groups who desire to use the town centre for legitimate purposes, a voluntary booking system might work best. The Market Research Society has gone to some lengths to ensure that market researchers can continue to use town centres freely without the threat of restrictive legislation being introduced. They have developed guidelines for their members which specifically state that researchers should gain the consent of the local authority before undertaking research on the high street. While there is no legal way to enforce the guidelines set out by the Market Research Society, many research agencies will be concerned about maintaining their reputation and membership with the organisation.