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Market Researchers Taking Work Home with Customers

Crain’s Small Business (6/1997)

By Linda Mae Carlstone

Employees at Doyle Research Associates, Inc admit they have closely scrutinized people sorting their laundry and cleaning their bathrooms.

But they’re not stalking or spying—they’re market researchers, and they’re using a technique they developed called ShopTalk®, which observes people selecting and using a product.

The technique extends market research beyond the focus group, said Lynn Kaladjian, director of marketing and sales at the Chicago firm.

Watching people do what they do in a real-life setting can reveal a lot of unconscious behavior and details participants forget to bring up in a focus group discussion, said senior research associate Tom McGee.

One good place to gain insight about consumer habits is at the point of purchase—“it serves a s a memory jog,” he said. Observations can be followed up with questions on the spot, such as what customers noticed or missed about such details as hang tags, product features, color and competing products.

The ShopTalk® service also goes right into the home (with permission of course) to see how a product fits in consumers’ lives. Is the toy out on the bed or desk? Or is it collecting dust in the closet? These types of questions can best be answered by observing, Doyle researchers say. They have also watched people sort their laundry, clean bathrooms and play with their kids.

The method “uncovers missed opportunities,” Ms. Kaladjian said. “People will say in a survey they sort their laundry into two piles, but if you watch them, they actually have five piles for all kinds of things: brights, lighter colors, patterns.” The information helps businesses explore new market opportunities, make packaging and positioning decisions and understand product usage patterns, she said.

Even if a business cannot afford to hire professional researchers, it should not overlook the wealth of information it can gain by on-site observation, said Ms. Kaladjian.

“The more you get out of the ivory tower, the better. If a business does not get in the store aisles, it can lose touch with why people buy its product and how they use it,” she said

“I have used Doyle Research on numerous occasions, and have found the team to be knowledgeable, creative in recommending solutions for qualitative that works, able to turn on a dime when we needed it. We’ve had solid results and some highly insightful analysis that opened business partner eyes to some things they didn’t know but needed to.”

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