Incentives for User Research: What You Need to Know?

What are research incentives?

In the context of UX research, incentives are rewards or compensation offered to participants in user research studies in exchange for their time, knowledge, and efforts. They can be anything from cash and gift cards to company merchandise or charitable donations.

User research incentives are essential in conducting your user research for several reasons:

  • They encourage participation – People are more likely to sign up for a user research study if they know they’ll receive something in return for their time.
  • Help with recruiting a broader pool of participants – By offering incentives, you can attract people from different backgrounds and experiences. This way, you can get more diverse feedback and insights.
  • They show appreciation for participating – User research can be time-consuming, so as a researcher, you should show your participants that you appreciate their input.

Why user research incentives are important?

User research incentives are important because they can help you:

  • Recruit a more diverse and representative pool of participants – Without incentives, you may recruit only people already interested in your product or service, which can lead to biased feedback and insights.
  • Improve the quality of your research – Incentives can help you attract more engaged and motivated participants, who will help you collect more meaningful data.
  • Incentives can help you build relationships with your customers and users – By showing that you value their feedback, you can encourage them to participate in future research studies and provide valuable insights.

Downsides to user incentives

While user research incentives can have many benefits, there are also some potential downsides to be aware of:

  • Cost – Offering incentives can be expensive, especially if recruiting many participants or conducting complex studies.
  • Bias – Incentives can attract participants primarily interested in the incentive rather than the product or service. Because of that, researchers may receive biased feedback, which will lead to false conclusions.
  • Ethics – Researchers should consider the potential impact of cash incentives and financial need on research participation, especially among low-income individuals.

There are a few things you can do to mitigate the downsides of user research incentives.

Firstly, choose the right incentive. Consider your target audience and what kind of incentive would be most appealing to them. You want to choose an incentive that will attract engaged and motivated participants but not one that will bias your feedback.

Be transparent about the incentive. Let participants know upfront what they will receive for their participation, and you will avoid surprises or misunderstandings.

Use incentives in conjunction with other recruitment methods. Don’t rely solely on high incentives to attract participants. Use different channels for recruiting participants, such as social media outreach or email marketing, to reach a broader pool of potential participants. To learn more about that, check out our article: “Recruiting Participants for User Research Study.”

Screen participants carefully. Ask participants about their skills, habits, and motivations for participating in the study. Screener surveys can help you identify any potential biases and exclude participants who are unqualified for your study.

If you want to learn more about creating screener surveys, check out this article.

Ethical considerations

As a researcher, you should be aware of the ethical implications of offering incentives for user research. 

Cash incentives may impact the benefit claims of some individuals. Some participants may be unable to receive incentives due to their employment status or tax situation.

For example, students may not be able to accept cash payments, and contractors may be unable to accept gift cards that could be considered taxable income.

Moreover, people with low income may agree to participate in research they are not comfortable with or interested in, simply because of their need for additional source of income. Their answers may be focused on completing surveys or interviews as fast as possible rather than giving accurate feedback and, therefore, not providing valuable insights.

Depending on the target audience of your research, it is something researchers must consider. 

Tips for making incentives ethical

  • Be inclusive – Make sure all your participants can receive the incentive you are offering. If you offer cash payments, consider adding an option for receiving another kind of reward, as a broader range of people can use them. Provide multiple incentive options so that participants can choose the one that is best for them.
  • Be transparent – Let participants know upfront what they will receive for their participation and how they will receive it. This will help to avoid any surprises or misunderstandings.
  • Be respectful – The incentive should be fair and reasonable, and they should reflect the time and effort required to participate in the study.

Consider these examples for implementing those tips:

  • If you are recruiting contractors for a study, you could offer a fixed fee or an hourly rate.
  • If you are recruiting participants from a specific demographic group, you could offer gift cards to stores or restaurants that are popular in that demographic.
  • If you offer cash payments for a study that takes a long time, consider providing a smaller payment upfront, with the remaining payment given after the study concludes. Ensure participants stay motivated throughout the study.

How to create an incentive plan?

1. Who are you recruiting?

Before you can create an incentive plan, you need to have a clear understanding of who you are recruiting for your user research study. It includes:

  • Demographics – What age, gender, and location are you targeting?
  • Digital literacy – How comfortable are your target participants with using technology?
  • Experience with your product or service – How much experience do your target participants have with the product or service you are studying?
  • Motivations – What factors would motivate your target participants to participate in your study?

Once you have a good understanding of your target participants, you can start to develop an effective incentive plan.

Here are some tips for choosing the right incentives for your research participants:

  • Consider your budget – How much money do you have available for incentives?
  • Think about your target audience – What kind of incentives would be most appealing to them?
  • Be creative – There are many different ways to incentivize participation in user research studies, which we will cover in the next section. Be bold and think outside the box.

2. Choose the incentive type.

Once you have a good understanding of who you are recruiting and what their motivations are, you can start to choose the right type of incentive for your user research study.

Here is a brief overview of some of the most common types of incentives used in UX research:


An illustration of cash

Cash is a popular and the most straightforward incentive for UX research. Participants can use the cash however they see fit, and it is not subject to restrictions like expiration date. However, cash payments can be taxed depending on the participant’s employment status and tax situation, so you should consider that before selecting it as an incentive method.

Gift cards

An illustration of a gift card

Gift cards are another popular incentive for UX research. They often have the cash value attributed to them, but they can only be used at a specific store or restaurant. It is a good option if you want to target your incentives to a particular demographic group, like customers of a specific shop. 

For example, if you’re offering a gift card to a specific store, you may only attract participants interested in shopping at that store. In the case where you are currently conducting research for which your target audience and the target audience of the gift cards’ store overlap – great. But if you are looking for data from a more general population, then this incentive may taint your data.

Credits and discounts

An illustration of credits and discounts

If you are a company with your own product or service, you could offer participants credits or discounts for that service as an incentive. An additional benefit of this incentive type is that it encourages participants to try your product or service after completing the study. However, this type of incentive may bias your feedback, as participants may be more likely to give positive feedback to receive the credit or discount.

Company merchandise

An illustration of company merchandise

Merchendise, such as company-branded t-shirts, hats, and mugs, can also be a good incentive for UX research. Company merchendise is a tangible way to show participants you appreciate their time and feedback. However, choose products that are high-quality and that your target participants will want to use.

Other incentives

An illustration of other types of incentives

In addition to the traditional incentives listed above, there are many other ways to incentivize participation in UX research.

For example, you could offer to make a charitable donation to the participant’s favorite charity, or you could offer them exclusive perks, such as early access to new products or features. 

You could even offer lottery tickets as an incentive, but be sure to check your local laws and regulations to make sure that this is legal.

When choosing an incentive type, consider the following factors:

  • Your budget – How much money do you have available for incentives?
  • Your target audience – What kind of incentives would be most appealing to them?
  • The length and complexity of your study – More time-consuming or complex studies may require a higher incentive.
  • The ethics of offering incentives – Consider who is your target audience and select the incentive type accordingly.

3. Calculate the incentive amount

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to “how much to offer participants” in a user research study. No fixed number will fit every type of research. The amount of the incentive will depend on a number of factors, including the type of study, its length, the kind of target audience, and the study budget.

The incentive should be high enough to motivate people to participate but not so high that it would exceed the available funds.

There are online calculators for user research incentive amounts, for example, the UX Research Incentive Calculator by Ethnio or User Interviews The UX Research Incentive Calculator. Use them, but as mentioned before, always consider your budget, where the study will take place, and where your participants will be.

An image of Ethnio UX Research Incentive Calculator

Here are some general guidelines for calculating incentive amounts for different types of user research studies:

Moderated studies with general consumers:

For moderated studies with general consumers, which typically last for 30-60 minutes, a recommended incentive is between $50-$125. 

For example, a usability study that takes approximately 45 minutes incentive should be around $75.

Moderated studies with professionals:

Industry professionals often have tight schedules and higher incomes. To encourage their participation, you will often need to offer them a higher honorarium. Depending on the level of their expertise and the study duration (which typically lasts for 60-90 minutes), the recommended incentive will vary between $100 to even $500.

Unmoderated studies:

During unmoderated studies, participants will complete the assigned task themselves. They will record themselves as they do it, and participants can do it whenever they want. The unmoderated study will take as long as it will take them to complete the tasks, usually between 5 to 15 minutes.

For these studies, it is recommended to offer participants an incentive of $5-$10.

Importance of consistency:

It is essential to be consistent in your incentive amounts across your studies. Each participant should receive the same payment for the same type of study.

There are two reasons for that.

First, it should make the study data more reliable – unequal incentives mean each participant has a different motivation to complete the study.

Second, it ensures that each participant is fairly compensated for their input. It is crucial, especially in building good relations with participants, which may be essential to your future studies.  

Additional tips for calculating incentive amounts

  • Consider the cost of living in the region where you are recruiting participants. A higher incentive amount may be necessary in areas with a higher cost of living.
  • Factor in the time and effort required for participants to complete the study. For example, if you ask participants to complete a long and complex survey, you may need to offer a higher incentive.
  • Consider the value of your product or service to participants. The unique value of your company may be used as an incentive. Benefits from this approach come both ways. In exchange for their time and effort, participants will receive something unique to your company. For you, the monetary cost of research may be less significant.

Once you have calculated the incentive amount for your study, clearly communicate this amount to participants in your recruitment materials. This will help to avoid any surprises or misunderstandings.

4. Paying incentives

Generally speaking, you should distribute incentives as soon as the study session ends; however, for some studies, some researchers suggest that incentives should be paid even before the session. 

For longer projects, incentives can be broken up and paid at different times throughout the study. If you offer a significant incentive or the study is complex and requires multiple rounds of participation, it should keep participants motivated throughout the study. For example, you could pay participants half of the incentive upfront and the other half after they have completed all of the study tasks.

Always clearly communicate to participants how and when they will receive their incentive. This information should be included in the study recruitment materials and any communication – in person or via email – that you have with participants during the study.

You should also treat participants with respect and be kind to them. Thank them for their time and effort, and let them know that their feedback is valuable to you.

  • Be timely. Pay participants their incentive promptly after they have completed the study.
  • Be transparent. Be clear with participants about how and when they will receive their incentive.
  • Be flexible. Be willing to work with participants to find a payment method that works for them.
  • Be professional. Treat participants with respect and be kind to them.

These tips should ensure that research participants are adequately compensated for their time and effort.


  • User research incentives are a valuable tool for attracting and retaining participants. By offering incentives, you can improve the quality and reliability of your research findings.
  • Let’s repeat that when choosing incentives, it is vital to consider the type of study, the length of the study, the target audience, and the budget. It would be best if you were consistent in your incentive amounts across your studies.
  • There are several ways to distribute incentives to research participants, such as cash, gift cards, credits and discounts, swag, and other incentives. For longer projects, incentives can be broken up and paid at different times throughout the study.
  • It is essential to communicate to participants how and when they will receive their incentive. You should also treat participants with respect and be kind to them.

With these tips, you can create an incentive plan to help you recruit the best participants for your user research study and collect valuable feedback.

Further reading

Paying incentives by the UK Department for Education

Guidelines for Paying UX Research Participants by Kathryn Brookshier