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Tips and tricks : using observation as a market research tool

In our latest article we dealt with an experiment carried out by the Virginia Tech University that used innovative observation techniques to study human behaviors when faced with self-driving cars.
Today we want to dig a little bit more on observations as a market research tool and highlight settings where such a technique can be useful. At the end of the article we will also give you 3 useful tips.

When to use observation as a market research technique

Observation is one of my favorite market research techniques. Yet, as I explained in the previous article, it is far too rarely used.
I find it most useful is some particular situations :

  • when studying human-machine interfaces
  • when studying purchase decisions made by customers in self-serving settings
  • when analyzing drop or rise in sales in retail settings

You’ll mostly use it in B2C as you can understand from the examples given above.
One very cool example is the project we are currently carrying out for the world’s best winebar, the N5 in Toulouse. We are combining Big Data analysis (a quantitative market research technique) and ethnography to understand how consumers decide on the wine they’ll taste next. Quantitative data alone can’t give you the answer. Qualitative research is key to understand what’s going on.

Tips and tricks when using observations as a market research technique

My first real use of observation as a market research tool dates back to 2005 when I had to carry out a project for a retailer. I spent hours in the stores observing employee-customers interactions as well as customers coming at lunch time to buy something to eat. I learned from there a series of tips that I always try to remember when I need to use that technique.

1. Try to know as few as possible

Fortunately the project mentioned above was one of the very first I won as a market research agency. I knew very little at that time and it actually helped me. The less you know the more neutral you will be. You’ll have a fresh new look at something that you ignore and that might in fact improve your conclusions.
When you’re used to something you can’t see the details of it.

2. No more than 1 hour of observation at a time

I find it very difficult to observe well more than 1 hour. This is because observation requires that you be very concentrated. After one hour your level of concentration will decrease and so will the quality of your observations.
During that 1 hour of work, I find it most useful to write as much as possible. When I force myself to write I also force myself to have a structured thinking, to build hypotheses, which further helps me to look at things in a different way. Don’t forget your pen and paper.

3. Wear earplugs in busy settings

Observations requires much energy and you’ll soon be exhausted. If I take the example of the N5 winebar, standing there is particularly exhausting because it’s so crowdy. To avoid losing too much of your energy, use earplugs to isolate yourself from the noise.

Don’t hesitate to share your tips and tricks too. Have you ever used observations in your market research projects ? If so, what did it bring ?

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Pierre-Nicolas est Docteur en Marketing et dirige l'agence d'études de marché IntoTheMinds. Ses domaines de prédilection sont le BigData l'e-commerce, le commerce de proximité, l'HoReCa et la logistique. Il est également chercheur en marketing à l'Université Libre de Bruxelles et sert de coach et formateur à plusieurs organisations et institutions publiques. Il peut être contacté par email, Linkedin ou par téléphone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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1 Comment

  1. Good tricks, I’m going to try it. It sounds cool especially the last one

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