What You Need to Know: Secondary vs. Primary Research

Research is a form of scientific investigation that uses empirical methods to collect data through various methodologies, is topical and always begins with an industry question. The data gathered and/or disseminated is then used to inform industry professionals, such as those in the home improvement industry, so they can make appropriate decisions that are relevant to their own goals.

Not all home improvement research is conducted the same, however. While there are multiple methodologies used in research, the two main research types are primary and secondary research. It’s important for home improvement industry professionals to know the difference between them and what benefits each research type can bring to their knowledge and project execution.

We’ve created this resource on primary vs. secondary research to help you broaden your knowledge base and become more empowered with future, insightful decision-making.

What Is Primary Research?

Primary research is also known as “proprietary data.” This is research that has been designed around specific, one-off needs. This data collected is unique, detailed and gathering it is a very involved — and usually costly — process. 

The steps to determine research methodology can be complex and require research experts to create, execute and collect information from a targeted group of respondents. Primary research can be a long process as well, meaning that if results are required quickly, primary research probably isn’t your best choice. 

An important thing to remember about primary research is that it cannot easily be used for other brands or purposes beyond what it was originally intended for. This is because the data collected is specific to the original researcher’s question and methodology, and may not be applicable to what future investigations require.  

In summary, primary research is designed to deliver deep insights to a specific area and may not serve as a good source for broader market intel.


Primary research will tell you what attributes are most important for your audience during your development of a new product. This is especially critical to ensure that your internal team is investing in designing a product for the needs of your customers. 

Surveys about specific use cases or products are considered primary research, as are surveys about specific brands. Focus groups are another great example of primary research, as well as face-to-face (or telephone) interviews.

You can also do direct research by going to competitor’s stores and observing the customers, purchase habits and more.


The main benefit of primary research is its ability to dig deep into one particular area. It gives you the specificity you need around the exact questions you ask. If you need deep analysis, primary research is your best choice. It provides a micro view that may not show you trends — unless repeated regularly which can be expensive. 

What Is Secondary Research?

Secondary research is your wide-angle view. Secondary research looks at broader questions, giving you a high-level view of industry trends. Unlike primary research, secondary research allows your company to get a variety of questions answered around an industry, channel or customer type. 

Secondary research may not be able to tell you what product attribute customers prefer, but it will tell you about the likelihood of DIY activity in 2020 that may result in people buying more of your product.

Secondary research is easier to compare over a longer period of time for a more reasonable cost. Because primary research is so detailed and focused, it is more expensive, whereas secondary research is more affordable due to its broader view, so it can be conducted multiple times for less money than a single primary research survey.  It’s also often available right off the shelf, making the timeliness an advantage of secondary research.


Data on demographics is essential to industry professionals. This usually comes from census reports. For instance, how many people are homeowners in a region, and of those, how many are single income earners versus dual? This type of information is critical to determining industry health. 

Examples include the US Size of Market report created by HIRI. It is the only multiyear forecast of the consumer and professional segments of the U.S. home improvement market. Or HIRI’s Product Purchase Tracking report. Conducted biennially for more than 25 years, this comprehensive study examines products, projects, and services bought by U.S. homeowners.


Because secondary research is often very cost-effective, it allows small businesses the financial ability to access the same information used by large corporations.  It’s also an affordable resource that will apply to various departments in your organization: finance, product development, merchandising, marketing and sales.

Secondary research is also very timely.  In many cases, organizations may need information immediately for a presentation or product review that is happening the next day.  Secondary research allows you to pull insights from an existing report that can support your understanding of the market. 

Why Is It Important to Know the Difference?

Knowing the difference between primary and secondary data will help you understand which source may be best given your organization’s needs.  Start by defining what you’d like to understand within the home improvement industry.  The broader the questions, the more likely secondary data will be your best resource.  The more narrow your focus, then you will need to conduct primary research to truly uncover answers unique to your business. 

But whether it’s primary or secondary research, any good, up-to-date data is a critical component in the health of industry professionals’ businesses. Knowing trends, risks and areas of possible investment can make or break a business. 

We’re Here to Help

At HIRI, we’re here to help home improvement professionals gain the industry knowledge needed to promote the health of their business with up-to-date and relevant information on channels, customers, products and projects. 

As the leading secondary source for Home Improvement information, we conduct research exclusive to our members, giving them immediate access to a variety of foundational insights on our industry.  All for an affordable annual member fee.

For more details about our research or becoming a member, contact us today or sign up for our newsletter.

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