The Effect of Personalisation on Mailed Questionnaire Response Rates

John Byrom
David Bennison
Manchester Metropolitan University


A number of techniques have been quoted as enabling an increase in mailed questionnaire response rates. These include prior notification of the survey by telephone, using stamps on return envelopes and including a monetary incentive (see Jobber and OReilly (1996) for a review). A further technique deemed apposite for improving response rates is the degree of personalisation of the mailing. By presenting the mailing as personal correspondence through the use of hand stamped and addressed mailing envelopes, the respondent is supposedly less likely to view the enclosure as 'junk mail' (Hegelson 1994). Indeed, McCormack & Hill (1997, p.102), in their guide to carrying out surveys, assert that 'personalisation is found to improve response rates, so the covering letter should be signed and the whole mailing enclosed in a stamped envelope rather than being franked.' Despite the apparent value of personalising mailings to improve response rates, little empirical research appears to have been carried out thus far into the effect of this variable.


A survey was sent out to retail location and property managers within approximately 300 UK retailers and service providers in the summer of 1999. This was in order to analyse the use of data and information in locational planning activity. Mailings were sent out to named individuals within organisations and consisted of a signed covering letter addressed to the individual, a 12- page survey and a stamped return envelope. The first half of the sample received the enclosures in a nonpersonalised, franked envelope that bore the addressees details typewritten. The other half of the sample received the enclosures in a personalised envelope that bore handwritten addressee details and had a postage stamp affixed. The effect of personalising envelopes on response rates was then investigated.


Marginally more personalised questionnaires were returned than nonpersonalised ones, as shown in Table 1. The chisquared test of significance was applied to these data (calculated at 0.05). At the 95% confidence level and with degrees of freedom equal to 1, this is less than the critical value of 3.84.


Personalised Nonpersonalised Total
Questionnaires mailed 145 144 289
Questionnaires returned 54 51 105
Response rate (%) 37.2 35.4 36.3


It was found that despite a common belief that personalisation increases mailed questionnaire response rates, the present study shows that there is insufficient evidence to support the view that personalised mailing envelopes significantly increase response rates.


Hegelson, J.G. (1994) Receiving and responding to a mail survey: a phenomenological examination. Journal of the Market Research Society, 36, 4, 33947.

Jobber, D. & OReilly, D. (1996) Industrial mail surveys: techniques for inducing response. Marketing Intelligence & Planning, 14, 1, 2934.

McCormack, B. & Hill, E. (1997). Conducting A Survey. The SPSS Workbook. London: International Thomson Business Press.


John Byrom

Department of Retailing and Marketing,
Manchester Metropolitan University

John Byrom is a research assistant at Manchester Metropolitan University. He read geography at the the University of Aberdeen and is currently undertaking a PhD concerning the use of geographic information by retail organisations within local decision making activity. His other research interests include loyalty card schemes and retailing in rural areas.

David Bennison

Department of Retailing and Marketing,
Manchester Metropolitan University

David Bennison was educated at the Universities of Leeds, Durham and Lancaster and currently holds the post of Reader at Manchester Metropolitan University. He specialises in the areas of retail location and planning, retail internationalism and marketing research. He has published widely in these fields, and has also acted as consultant for a wide variety of retailers, developers and local authorities.