Sometimes, you just have to be there.

With ethnographic methods, we watch people do their thing – shop for an item, use a product, or navigate a webpage – in their natural environment. We carefully observe, and then we follow up and ask participants to explain their behavior to better understand it. In cases in which the moderator’s presence can itself bias respondent behavior, we conduct virtual ethnography via online journaling/immersion or via smartphones.

Over the 25 years that we’ve been conducting ethnographic research, we’ve seen it all. We’ve conducted ethnographic research in the car, on the construction site, on the hiking trail, even in the bathroom! By combining in-context observation, expert interviewing, and deep category expertise, our qualitative consultants will tell you what it all means.

In-Home, On-Site Ethnography

Ethnographic interviews are used to help you better understand the context in which your product or service is used; and to understand how, when, where and why consumers do the things they do. They allow you to pick up details you would never see in a controlled research environment and can lead to breakthrough product innovations and marketing.

In-home ethnographic interviews are pre-recruited and can include a single individual or as many members of a household as are pertinent to the topic. Photos and video are used to document the interview and to provide a visual “story” of the findings.

On-site ethnographic interviews take place in the work place, the retail environment (see shopalongs), on the beach, in the car, at a rest stop or wherever a product or service is used or sold—outside the home. Depending on research objectives, these interviews may be pre-recruited or may involve intercept interviews. We have conducted interviews at swimming pools to explore sun care behaviors; pre-recruited interviews in the work place to better understand office needs; and intercepts at interstate rest stops to explore auto storage solutions.


Shoppers are pre-recruited or intercepted on-site to allow an interviewer to accompany them during their shopping trip. In-store behavior is observed as they shop: to evaluate traffic patterns, information seeking, and product consideration and choice. Detailed questions and probes help us understand what the customer is experiencing during the shopping trip.

Like in-homes and on-sites, shopalongs allow a researcher to observe shopper behaviors, in context, as they occur naturally. We have observed plumbers shopping for plumbing supplies, pet owners shopping for pet food, moms shopping for kids’ toys, teens shopping for jeans, families shopping for cars, etc. If your product is sold in a retail location, this method can yield valuable insights that don’t surface when asked to recall behaviors after the fact.

Virtual Ethnography

Virtual ethnography studies allow marketers to easily and cost-effectively conduct longitudinal ethnographies, immersing themselves in their customers’ lives over time. They also complement in-person ethnography studies (using a hybrid approach) and are ideal for exploring emotional perceptions, attitudes and responses.

Virtual ethnography studies, utilizing online platforms and/or mobile apps, take place over multiple days or weeks as needed to achieve your research objectives. Through a series of activities and exercises, integrating essays, photos, audio and video files, they offer a “real time, real life” look into your customers’ behavior.

“We really felt like we got to know some amazing respondents, stories, and insights to inform some awesome work so thank you for making it all happen!”

Senior Strategist | Joan Creative

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