In-person vs. technology-based observations

Following on from our last blog which talked about the use of eye tracking technology, we will now focus on the use of observational technology for shopper insight.

Observational research is key for understanding shoppers, as it provides the most objective insight into how shoppers truly behave at the point of purchase.

HOW we observe shoppers is key, and there are essentially two major choices… in-person observation vs. technology-based observation. The techniques naturally come with very different price tags, so it’s important to understand when it’s appropriate to use each one.

In-person observations

Let’s start with in-person observation. Putting it simply, this involves using a trained observer to stand in a store with a tablet/pen and paper, discretely capturing quantitative metrics of behaviour for individuals. For example how long do they spend shopping? How many products do they touch? Which brand do they buy? It’s fairly basic in its approach, and therefore usually offers the most cost effective solution to capture some key in-store metrics over a short space of time. There is no need for complex camera installation or post fieldwork footage streaming, which can make it the simplest and most scalable approach, especially when conducting global projects where some markets simply won’t have access to technology to do this any other way.

Technology-based observations

So why would you go to the trouble of installing expensive cameras/technology and streaming footage? There are several key reasons why …

Accuracy – using human observer’s in-store means that you are liable to human error. If the area of observation happens to be very busy, it will be impossible to expect an in-store observer to accurately capture everything that is going on.  The beauty of using cameras is that the footage can be re-watched and re-watched until all the data is collected, making it a far more accurate technique for measuring multiple behaviours.

Detail – building on the point about accuracy, some measures that we want to observe may be too difficult for in-store observers to capture – for example are shoppers studying (engaging without physically interacting with the category)? How long are shoppers spending at specific sections or sub-categories within their total category time spend? Are shoppers reading the front, back or side of particular product packs?  If you require more complex metrics, then filming allows you to watch the footage in slow motion, accurately capturing each and every measure.

Sample Size – if you’re just looking for a read on behaviour, then a good observer will be able to capture the behaviour of dozens of shoppers over a few days and perhaps a couple of hundred in a week, which is perfectly robust for many shopper research needs. However, if our question is about conversion, then a more robust base size over a longer period of time might be required. Observational technology can capture thousands of shoppers over a longer period of time, and with the more automated techniques available, can actually be a more cost effective way of collecting some simple metrics with this level of scale.

There are also various types of technology available to help us observe shoppers too, including more automated techniques such as Xbox motion tracking and smart phone wi-fi tracking through to manual video capture and coding. Again each technology will have pros and cons, the choice you make is largely down to your objectives, budget and timeframes. More on these next time…..

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