Retail ethnography

Helping you to understand your customer motivations, retail ethnography is the study of shopper behaviour. Ethnography is the scientific categorisation of groups of people and their mutual customs, differences and habits. It is a primarily a qualitative research discipline, branching from sociology and anthropology.

In the content of retail, ethnographic research is basically the investigation of shopping habits.

Ethnography research for the retail sector

This type of research can offer very different and often more interesting results from shopper surveys. They tend to look at consumer behaviour in the context of real life buying situations, as opposed to asking shoppers what they do in those situations. The latter gives the researcher opinions, incomplete data and perhaps an idealistic view from the shopper about how they ‘would’ behave, rather than a view of how he or she actually ‘does’ behave.

The difference in results between retail surveys and ethnographic research is perhaps due to the fact that shoppers do not realise how much emotion plays a part in their interaction with brands.

Ethnographic research can help a company to understand how shoppers interact with their brand in store and at home, and can offer insights that can inform packaging design and intuitiveness, store placement of products, graphic design, promotional campaigns and more.

Innovation is playing more and more of a role in this area of business analysis. Leading experts like Mary Yoko Brannen are bringing anthropological study and qualitative research principles to understand how regional and cultural differences affect a retailer’s success. Their tools can include embedded participant researchers and cross-cultural study teams.

As user experience design (UXD) becomes an increasingly popular concept to consider in the corporate sector, companies such as Spotless enable clients to outsource study into their customers’ needs and behaviours. Even huge brands such as Facebook, Pizza Express and Disney Channel have engaged their services.

This type of service can be extremely beneficial as staff often can not help but be ‘too close’ to the product or service they offer to really understand it objectively, from a customer perspective. Services offered by the likes of Spotless can deliver insights that transform user experience (UX), customer experience (CX) and broader innovation and business strategies.

This type of insight into consumer behaviour allows product development teams and retailers to not only see the numbers on what shoppers are doing, but helps them to understand why, in order to deliver experiences that better meet their motivations, wants and needs.