Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Consumer Behaviour Tracking Studies

Now that I am out of University and actually have time to read books, I have started making my way through my list of books that I have been meaning to read for some time now. It was always hard in University to find time to read books that I actually wanted to read when I had a stack of $200 textbooks that I couldn't find the time to read.

I would have to say, one of my favorite classes in University was Consumer Behaviour. I found the whole process of why we buy to be very interesting. I have finally gotten around to reading the book Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill. I couldn't help but laugh about his description of a ‘tracker’ and how studies of purchase patterns and why we buy are conducted.

During my last semester of University I was taking a Consumer Behaviour class where our teacher required us to go out in the field and actually conduct market research and observe consumers in their natural buying habits. The teacher I had had been conducting market research for years, spending countless hours observing consumers shopping in a variety of stores.

Our first market research field trip was to the local mall where we were tasked to observe one male and one female in different store to compare the difference in their shopping habits. Within 20 minutes, our class was escorted out of the mall by security, who didn't seem to approve of what we were doing in the mall. Our second attempt at market research was in the local Wal-Mart, because one of the students knew the local store manager who approved of our presence ahead of time. We were paired in groups of two, and again were tasked to walk around and follow shoppers while they shopped for groceries and household items. Being that it was our first 'tracking' experience, it was a little awkward to be following people around the store observing what they touched, looked at, and purchased, didn’t purchase, and how they behaved while waiting in the checkout lines.

My personal experience as a tracker in Wal-Mart lasted about 20 minutes before a Coca-Cola shelf stalker asked us if we were trying to steal something. That broke our confidence level, and we were unable to continue our study because we felt like someone was watching us. Funny how the tables turned. Before we were approached by the Coca-Cola salesman we successfully tracked a lady from the front of the store, down the food isle, and on to the checkout line up. It was interesting wanting her reaction after waiting a few minutes in the lineup. Part of our tracking duties were to time how long consumers were in line for and how long until they became finicky and started looking for another lineup. The only lady we observed because very unhappy when the cashier had to do a price check for the customer in front of her.

Overall it was a very interesting experience watching consumers shop in their natural buying habits, I couldn’t imagine doing this full time. I guess it’s the sense of rejection of being caught by the consumer that I would be uncomfortable with. Something to consider the next time you are in your local mall or grocery store, someone might actually be watching you.

If this is something you are interested in, I would recommend reading Paco Underhills books. It will open your eyes to a whole other world of shopping.  

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