Magazine article Marketing

A Watchful Eye on Consumer Habits

Magazine article Marketing

A Watchful Eye on Consumer Habits

Article excerpt

Observation is the Key it you really want to get under consumers' skin.

We pretty much take security cameras for granted inmost stores, now. But if video clips from these cameras are used for research purposes, and people who appear are identifiable, what are the ethical implications?

This is just one of the questions facing possibly the fastest growing area of market research: observational research. The phrase is an umbrella term, covering a range of methodologies, from observing people as they go about their everyday lives to actually living with them for weeks at a time.

The value to retailers is that, while quantitative research offers a broad overview, observational research can pick up how customers interact with products and staff, and how they behave at the point of purchase.

Safeway is using video footage as well as in-store researchers to analyse the way customers shop. "A lot of research doesn't give the full story, whereas video gives a very real picture of how customers interact with the store," says Helen Carruthers, Safeway's head of market research.

Valuable insight

Claire Wilson project manager at Consumer Insights, the research division of Adidas International, is another recent convert. "Qualitative research is good, but the observational work gives you another level," she says. "In groups you get a stock answer based on their knowledge of the brands. The insights come from talking to people when they are actually in the shopping environment, finding out why they would reject one brand for another."

This has also proved useful in the brewing trade. At Tennent's Caledonian Breweries, the aim was to understand what triggered buying decisions in the premium draught market. "We wanted to understand how consumers behave when they go into a bar," says David Peacock, consumer insight manager at Caledonian.

"We could have recruited on the street, but we thought it was more appropriate to capture individuals in situ--out for a night and unconcerned :hat they were going to be interviewed," he says. "We looked at their behaviour, then introduced ourselves, and asked why they behaved that way. Because the group were young Scots, they were very gregarious. The research held the project together and gave us an illuminating picture of consumer behaviour."

However, the very popularity of the discipline is driving the need for clearer guidelines. In addition, changes in the legal framework governing market research make all film, video and audio recordings subject to the requirements of the Data Protection Act. This is something few practitioners are aware of.

"These factors create a real need for guidelines in observational research," says Jon Chandler, managing director of Context Research International and a member of the Market Research Society's professional standards committee. "It is not about inventing them from scratch, but reviewing what is helpful in existing codes and using these to construct something that can be of use to anyone engaging in research. This also represents an opportunity to explore and shape ideas of best practice."

Ethical concerns have spurred the Market Research Society to revise its Code of Conduct. But what muddles the water is that observational research is not just carried out by market researchers, but by ad agencies, direct marketing agencies, design consultancies -- even clients. This makes it difficult to impose one code of conduct across all practitioners.

Last year saw the launch of a new body called the Observational Research Forum, headed by Culture Lab's Siamack Salari. …

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