We discuss several categories of observational marketing research including: (1) Naturalistic situations, (2) contrived situations, (3) human observation, (4) Machine observation, and (5) direct and indirect observation. Observational research for marketing purposes has roots in experimental psychology. Famous experiments on conformity from the psychology lab can either directly or indirectly apply to marketing research that is done today. Three examples discussed are as follows: * “Study of prisoners and guards in a simulated prison. (1973) * “Environmental and Social Correlates of Physical Activity in Neighborhood Parks: An observational Study in Tampa and Chicago”. (2008) * “An Observational Method for Tim Use Research: Lessons Learned from the Middletown Media Studies”. (2009) The biggest advantage of observation research is that researchers can see how people actually behave rather than having to rely on what they say they did, which eliminates many biasing factors.
Also, some forms of data are more quickly and accurately gathered by observation. The primary disadvantage of this type of research can only examine the behavior and physical characteristics of research participants. The researcher learns nothing about motives, attitudes, intentions, or feelings. People watching or objects can take the form of ethnographic research, mystery shopping, one-way mirror observations, shopper pattern and behavior studies.
For our hands-on project, we conduct a disguised observation where we monitored shoppers in two Wal-Mart stores without them knowing they were being watched. The study was designed to analyze consumer buying behavior based on gender, age, number of people shopping together, and brand name vs. store brand. Two products, soup and laundry detergent, were chosen to observe consumers in order to perform our observational research study.