Ethnography in market research is using observational techniques to study and understand a consumer or user in a given environment. In its simplest terms, ethnography plain old observational research. Watching and learning. It is very popular in the B2C realm and in retail in particular.
Many believe ethnographic research incurs less bias than traditional market research methodologies such as surveys and focus groups. Observational research is more pure and can be conducted using eye-tracking data, observational check-points in stores, and even simple techniques such as license plate counts in parking lots. Those who are fans of observational research state the data from what actually happened is more reliable than a respondent replaying an experience after it happens.
When it comes to comes to product decisions made in-store, observational research could prove key to your study. Often, consumer purchases are made on a subconscious level meaning the consumer is not consciously aware of why a decision is made to purchase a product or one product over another. This is strongly supported in the book written by Philip Graves titled Consumerology (and on a personal note is one of my favorite books.) So when market researchers explore decisions through follow-up surveys, results can be biased because respondents may not be able to accurately reflect his or her decision-making factor(s) hours, days, or even weeks after the purchase was made.
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