Observation Technique in Market Research

Observation technique is probably one of the best ways of gathering data about customers in their natural setting without having to interact or talk to them. One has to simply observe people as they go about their usual activity such as buying and using products and services and assess how they behave. Having a clear objective in mind will help the researcher focus on the important things to observe or watch out for. Recording the event as it happens may be the best means to capture the information. However, the researcher must be discreet so as not to attract the attention of the one being observed. In the absence of a video recording, jotting down observations will do.

These observations must be documented and tallied for proper analysis later on. Prior to doing the observation, it is important for the researcher to ensure that the following conditions are met:

  1. The needed information must be observable or inferable from the behavior that can be observed. For example, if a fast-moving consumer goods company wants to know the first thing that a person does upon entering a bathroom after waking up in the morning, then observation is not the most appropriate research methodology. The person probably does not want anyone watching him or her in the morning.
  2. The subject matter contains some sensitivity that needs detached observation. For example, during Philippine elections, vote-buying is rampant. However, when a research group conducted a nationwide Voter’s Behavior Survey, only a measly 3% admitted to selling their votes. Next time, it might be better for the research group to just observe what happens outside voting precincts.
  3. The behaviors of interest must be repetitive, frequent, or predictable in some manner. For example, if a local food manufacturer wants to know customers’ buying behavior of canned goods, then observation technique is highly recommended. The canned goods section of any supermarket is often frequented by shoppers and this category of products almost always ends up in the grocery cart of a shopper.
  4. The behaviors of interest must be of a relatively short duration. For example, a popular fast food chain wants to know the customers’ buying behavior in their outlets (e.g., do they took at the menu board and decide or do they immediately know what to order?). In this case, an observation research would yield the answers because the whole process would probably take no more than 10 minutes.

Let us take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of observation technique.

Advantages of Observation Research

  1. It allows the researcher to see what customers actually do rather than rely on what they say they do.
  2. It allows the researcher to observe customers in their natural setting.
  3. It does not subject the researcher to the unwillingness of customers or their inability to reply to certain questions.
  4. Some information are better gathered quickly and accurately through observation.

Disadvantages of Observation Research

The researcher can only see the outside behavior of the customer, but cannot determine the inner motivation of the customer.

  1. The researcher cannot get the reasons behind the behavior.
  2. The researcher can only focus on the “here and now.” It cannot cover the past nor cover the future.
  3. Finally, the observation technique may border on the unethical because the respondents have not agreed to be observed.

There are two different types of observation techniques. The first is human observation and the other is mechanical observation. In human observation, humans observe the events as they happen; while in mechanical observation, mechanical devices are used to record events for later analysis. Below are the guidelines in conducting observation research.

  1. Determine the pre-observation objectives.
  2. Prepare your pre-observation tips:
    • Prepare and clarify your observation points and issues.
    • Prepare your observation materials.
    • Identify the persons to be observed.
    • Position yourself strategically without being noticed.
  3. Focus on what you want to observe:
    • Is it customer demographics?
    • Customer buying behavior?
    • Customer usage behavior?
    • Other customer information?
  4. Observation proper:
    • Observe keenly and listen intently.
    • Be mindful of the surroundings.
    • Be alert for obvious movements.
    • Be sensitive to subtle movements.
    • Look at the customer when the customer is not looking.
    • Do not be obvious.
    • Observe and take note of other things that you feel are important.
  5. Post-observation tips:
    • Review your notes.
    • Make sure that the flow is correct.
    • Tabulate what needs to be tabulated.
    • Interpret and analyze your data.
    • Make a formal report.