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Observational Research


Observations are a simple and inexpensive way to collect research information. Observations can be tailored to suit your organisations and the thing (subject) you are observing. There are a number of subjects suitable for observations including how customers behave in your stores, how your employees carry out their work and how people behave in a certain situation. Results from observations can be used to design marketing strategy.

The diagram below shows the 3 types of subjects that are observed

Observational Research Diagram


Observing customers while they shop is an effective way to collect primary data. Retailers will place people in their store to observe customers or they review CCTV camera footage showing customers in their shops. Footage from CCTV can be analysed by the organisation and appropriate decisions about layout, store displays, shelf height etc. Many retail firms design the layout of their stores based on results from customer observations. Observations will reveal shopping habits and patterns. For example the direction in which customers (automatically) head after entering the store and the sections of the store where they will easily notice products. Observations have helped retailers work out how to encourage consumers to spend more time in their shops and purchase products from them. For an effective observation customers should not know that they are being observed, otherwise they will change their behaviour and affect the accuracy of the results.


Some organisations will observe employees carrying out their job and interacting with customers. Employee observations help employers improve customer service and identify training needs. They may also reveal problems with company procedure or breaches of important rules such as health and safety. Unlike customer observations employees are usually told that they are being observed especially if the observation involves just one employee. After the observation the results will be discussed with the employee and if necessary an action plan to rectify areas of concern will be agreed with the employee. If the employee performed very well during the observation their behaviour may be highlighted to other employees as an example of excellent practice that all employees should adopt.

The Public And People Carrying Out Everyday Activities

An organisation may decide to observe people to help them identify a product development opportunity or problem. This type of observation is likely to take place in a public area such as a park, street or shopping centre, so that it is easy to carry out. A people observation may observe the public in general or a particular segment of the market such as the elderly, children, drivers or young professionals; it all depends on what the organisation would like to find out. For example a road authority may observe how drivers are using the highway, to identify road layout changes that will help traffic flow better. Just like customer observations an effective people observation will involve subjects who do not know they are being observed.


Observation can yield useful results particularly when subjects are following their usual routines. Results are better when subjects do not know about the observation, as it is very difficult for people to behave as they "naturally" would, once they know they are being observed. Instead they will usually behave, in the way that they think that the observer would like them to behave. With the exception of employee observations, as observations do not involve interaction with the subject it is useful to review the results with other forms of research such as opinion surveys. This will give you a better understanding from which to develop marketing strategy.


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