The best method to examine people isn’t always to ask questions or have a conversation. We often say one thing and do another. That’s why observation studies are carried out when you want to know about actual behavior. For example, most consumers aged 50 or over state that they don’t like being in shopping centers, yet a lot of customers in shopping centers are 50+ years old.

An observation, where you simply put, spend hours and days in shopping centers watching actual behavior, would in this case give a more comprehensive view of customer behavior. It turns out that these customers like to grocery shop in these shopping centers, but don’t like to spend time there drinking coffee or just being there.

The merits of observation

Observation studies can also be used when we want to know something about the utilization of products or services. It is far better to observe behavior in a kitchen than to ask the user how they’re using the kitchen.

There are many advantages to observations over in-depth interviews, focus groups or questionnaires, but there are also situations where the others are better.

Observation can take place either openly or hidden. The observed can either see what’s going on or the observer may be hidden. In the same vein, people may have had prior notice about the observation or it could take place without their knowledge. There is very often a requirement that people are notified beforehand and it requires strict moral consideration before doing these types of study surreptitiously.

A combination of methods

Observation studies and in-depth interviews can be combined. The interviewer can speak to the person who is the focus of the in-depth interview and at the same time, observe this person’s surroundings.

Here at Fremforsk, we’ve used this combination many times and have had great results with it during interviews in people’s homes. We’ve done interviews, for example, where we talk about the individuality of the home and at the same time have asked to see what they consider to be the most important thing. We have also asked to their energy consumption and then to see their electric meter.

The combination gives – when possible – more information in the same amount of time than the individual methods on their own.

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