The inherent nature of human psychology makes it hard for the average person to accurately describe an event. Physiological and cognitive processes occurring in our brains as we experience and think about our lives serve to retain, categorize and recall only the pieces of information we deem most valuable, thus creating memories for us that reinforce and build upon the way we (as individuals) already think about the world and the values that we hold. This means that one person may recollect the same event in a different way than another, believing that he’s remembering it as it happened, but in actuality, remembering it only as it was perceived. This phenomenon of recollection bias affects all of us — whether we’re trying to remember our own experiences (like parents do when they call to mind their babies’ first words) or whether we’re relying on others to tell us theirs (like market researchers do when they rely on consumers to describe their shopping habits). To mitigate the possible (and indeed probable) disparity between what we say and think and what actually is, we must seek systems of recall that corroborate information rather than rely on single data sources. The best way to do this is via direct observation. In the market research world, in particular, where veracity of details is critical for profitable outcomes, observation (also called “fieldwork”) allows a more objective analysis of the facts at hand, moving directly to the information source instead of relying on someone else’s interpretation of it. But while observation provides a valuable perspective in any situation, it’s not without its own set of issues, especially when considered in a market research setting. Take a look at the pros and cons of using market research observation as a data collection technique:
Observing people as they decide upon, shop for and buy a product in real time is the only way to eliminate certain response biases. These include situations where subjects try to perform in ways that they believe the researchers want; or they are dishonest in their answers in an effort to alter the research in some calculated way; or they simply forget what they did or meant to say. It also removes a level of subjective interpretation that the self-reporting of facts always requires (as highlighted above) and provides the chance for researchers to garner meaningful nonverbal clues to consumer behavior. Market research observation similarly provides opportunities to evaluate how consumers are influenced by specific factors (such as group vs. individual behavior, marketing displays and even store temperature).
It’s true that market research observation can highlight important evidence for many market behaviors. And while it can negate much response bias, it can still fall prey to several other biases stemming from the observing researcher’s own prejudices. A researcher’s unconscious attitudes about everything from the subjects themselves to the observation circumstances — the weather, the comfort of the onlooker’s chair, etc. — can cause judgements to be made, altering the description of the observation, as well as its analysis. Furthermore, observations do not reveal consumer thought processes nor do they provide a robust representation of the market (as questionnaires and surveys can and do).
Ready to Learn More?
Market research observation is a great component of a quality research plan. When coupled with feedback garnered from other data collection techniques, it can give companies a unique frame of reference, making it easier for them to interpret all their research results. Our team at Communications for Research (CFR) has over 20 years of experience designing well-rounded research studies that garner actionable and profitable results. Contact us to learn how we can help you.
You may also wish to download our free eBook, “6 Keys to Accelerate Growth with the Right Data Collection Partner,” for additional tips on choosing the right research partner.