Behavioral observation (including ethnographies/ experientials, accompanied shopping etc.)


It is the systematic process of recording the behavioral patterns of people, objects, and occurrences as they are witnessed.

Whenever automated behavior patterns are involved, it is difficult to verbalize them. And it is not unusual for there to be discrepancies between what a person who is questioned, says and what they actually do – whether this is due to the inability to remember or lack of awareness. Questioning as a market research method quickly comes up against its limits, opening the way for observation.

The different types of observations are:


  • Biotic (concealed under real conditions): In the natural environment, without the person under observation knowing that he is being observed, so he knows neither the purpose of the observation nor his task, e.g. route analyses/customer path studies at the POS, mystery studies
  • Quasi-biotic (or also semi-biotic) in the natural environment, the person under observation only knows that he is being observed, but does not know the purpose or his task, e.g. eye tracking studies of newspapers
  • Non transparent: The person under observation knows that he is being observed and knows the task, but not the purpose of the observation, e.g. accompanied shopping
  • Open: The person under observation knows that he is being observed, knows the purpose and the task, e.g. viewing figures for television research

    Sophisticated tools are also used to aid observation  basis physiological reactions e.g. skin resistance measurement with the tachistoscope, eye tracking monitors, pupilometer, voice pitch analyzer etc.




    In order not to rely purely on the interpretation of the one monitoring and to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the product-consumer relationship, observation is often combined with questioning, e.g. thinking aloud during the accompanied shopping, or an in-home interview with video recording as part of the ethnographic research.
     The advantages of behavioral observation are:


  • Realistic and authentic
  • High validity
  • No or low reflection on their own behavior by the person under observation
  • Captures spontaneous utterances, reactions, moods
  • Explanation of previously known, non verbalizable and/or non-remembered aspects with processes using equipment and biotic processes
  • No or reduced interviewer influence
  • No or reduced social desirability

    A key branch of this method is…Ethnographies/ experientials-




    In conjunction with offline approaches it is used to create insight platforms for brand, product and communication strategy.

    Some areas where it could be applied are..


  • Consumer insights: Lifestyle, attitudes, values, motives, usage habits
  • Co-creation or evaluation of concepts (products, brands, communication)
  • Identification of market opportunities (through differentiation potential and variations), segments, drivers and barriers
  • Discussion and detection of trends

    A key branch of this method is…Ethnographies/ experientials-




    It is research in a real-life context, in the places where products and services are actually consumed, used and experienced. 


    Ethnographies emphasize direct contact and observations of the consumer in the natural context of product acquisition and usage, thus gaining vital understanding for manufacturers from "a day in the life" with consumers.


    Types of ethnographies typically include home visits, accompanied shopping and window shopping, simulated shopping, unguided discussions, video analysis and self ethnography.

    Accompanied shopping is one of the most regularly used out of the above and takes place while the participant is engaging in the activity of interest i.e. shopping.  Such a trip may include a range of related contexts within one interview, so the researcher would visit the respondent at home, go shopping with her or him, then go back to the respondent's home for further discussion and observation. The approach may also be applied to other retail or leisure activities, involving accompanied visits to places such as pubs, clubs or sports centers. This method allows relevant aspects of the respondent's experience and the processes by which choices are made to be explored.


    Experientials is all about accompanying people in their everyday lives, whether they’re shopping or cooking a meal, going out or hanging out, feeding their pets, shaving or putting on their make-up. Direct observation in combination with qualitative exploration provides real insight and a comprehensive understanding of the situational and less conscious aspects of consumer behavior and product or brand relationships. Experientials provide a real experience of real behavior.

    Pre-work is regularly commissioned beforehand to maximize learning from the ethnography/ experientials. Such pre-work may include collages, short essays, photo diaries or written diaries, offering a preview of consumers' affinities and motivators.

    The actual exercise is a combination of explorative discussion and accompanying camera recording. Results are mostly presented along with photo collages, audio visuals sometimes even short films to vividly depict the living environments and routines of the consumers




    The objective of ethnographic interviews and experientials is to gain a better understanding of the consumer’s environment and hence the context in which personal attitudes develop. It helps discover daily routines and attitudes which consumers are frequently not aware of and which therefore evade discussion. Also what they say is often not the same as what they do. Also they themselves do not know what is worth mentioning to the interviewer as they are so accustomed to doing things in a certain routine way that they feel all others maybe doing it the same way and are not able to highlight what they do differently. Thus, It is particularly useful in bringing to light aspects of behavior that the respondent may not be aware of or may not be able to verbalize.

    Questions it provides answer to:

  • How is a product used by consumers in their daily life?
  • How is a brand experienced in daily life?
  • What role do products and brands play in the respective living environment?
  • What cultural differences are there in dealing with products and brands?

  • Answers to questions such as these are fundamental to consistently focusing product design or brand communication on the needs of the target group in the different markets and therefore contribute to the success of your products.



    All kinds of research including..

  • Concept and product development
  • Need and motive analysis (to find need gaps, develop on new product ideas to ease their lives)
  • Target group analysis
  • Advertising impact research
  • Advertising pre-tests
  • Usability tests
  • Designing marketing strategies