Observational Research in Marketing: Definition, Methods & Techniques

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  • 0:00 What Is Observational…
  • 1:00 When to Use…
  • 1:50 Observational Research Methods
  • 2:50 Observational Research…
  • 4:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Francis

Jennifer has a Masters Degree in Business Administration and pursuing a Doctoral degree. She has 14 years of experience as a classroom teacher, and several years in both retail and manufacturing.

This lesson discusses observational research, how it is conducted, and how it can be utilized to gather qualitative market information. After completing the lesson, take the short quiz to see what you have learned.

What Is Observational Research?

Have you ever been in a store or fast food restaurant and witnessed behaviors of unsatisfied customers? How useful do you think your observations would be to the store managers? Observational research, also known as field research, is a category of market information collection in which the researcher observes the ongoing behaviors of the study participants. It is used with participants in naturally-occurring situations such as students in a classroom, employees at work, or customers in a restaurant.

Successful observational research will involve extended engagement and clear guidelines on how the observation is to be done. It also requires systematic and strategic inventiveness to develop a good understanding of the surroundings. Standardized attention and accurate recording of observations are also vital. Researchers need to be very focused on the particular behaviors being observed so they are not distracted by other things occurring in the environment.

When to Use Observational Research

You can use observational research when questions such as 'How?' or 'What?' need to be answered from the research. This type of research can also be used when the research topic has not previously been addressed and there is very little that is already known about typical behaviors in the particular setting. Additionally when gaining a deep understanding of the environment is pertinent, observational research can be used.

This type of research can also be used when the phenomenon being observed needs to be done in its natural setting. Furthermore, if the researcher feels that the observation would be a truer reflection of the 'truth' than would other forms of data collection, observational research can be used. Lastly, observational research can be conducted when the researcher is implementing some type of intervention and needs to measure before and after effects

Observational Research Methods

There are three main methods of conducting observational research based on how involved or visible the researcher is in the particular environment.

In a participant observation the researcher is an active member of the group being observed. An example is a member of a volleyball team observing team behavior. Participant observation is also referred to as covert observation, because they are undetected by the participants who are unaware that they are being observed.

In non-participant observation, the researcher is not directly involved, such as a researcher observing children on a playground. The participants are not addressed directly by the researcher, so they may or may not know that they are being observed or that research is being conducted.

In overt observation, researchers identify themselves to the participants and then explain the purpose of the research and what will be observed. Many researchers shy away from this type of research because they believe that participants may modify their behavior so that the researchers do not see their 'true selves.'

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