Yogesh Chauhan's Blog

Observation of Human Behavior [Shopping Observation Example]

in Miscellaneous on October 25, 2019

What is it?

Observation is often use method to gather data on the behavior of humans. It is performed by marketing people many times to get insights from the consumers. The actions that can be detected include the simple movements to behavior patterns of social or shopping interactions. Many behaviors are done unconsciously without being aware that we are doing them. For example, many people will frequently touch their face when anxious or to pause direct eye contact with a stranger.

You can see a lot just by observing. -Yogi Berra


I've performed this exercise when I was earning my masters in marketing and was designed to show that different types of data collection are required to obtain a real picture of a person's shopping habits.

The findings demonstrate how we can create a questionnaire.

I am sure this example will be helpful to many students and professionals to gain the experience of observational research.

The data I intended to observe and collect

Location: Any shopping place like grocery stores

Time of day: I'd prefer weekends because more people are shopping.  I'm going to start from the parking lot and follow a person for their entire shopping trip. 

Also, I'll avoid following so closely because it can make the person nervous. 

[ADVICE: If you think that the person is aware of you following them and it is freaking them out then you should approach them and explain what you were doing, kindly apologize, and start over.] 

Who: I will select one consumer (must be a stranger).

How?: I'm going to take a cart with me to shop [you can do shopping at the same time]. I'll keep paper and pen (it's easier for me to write notes in paper than phone) with me.

Observation list

Time of day

Some facts about Appearance

Gender, approximate age of the person

How dressed

Some facts about person's belongings 

Type of car

Did the person have a list?

Some facts about the store [whatever you can observe, here are some example]

Was the store crowded?

Some facts about their behavior [FOCUS on this part more]

Did the person look like checking items off the list?[frequently checking notes or mobile and look at the product or vice versa]

Did the person look like he's following the list and not buying anything extra?

Did the person look like suddenly buying an item, if yes then describe that item and your immediate observation what made he do that.

Did the person buy family or single serving packs?

Did the person seem like making a comparison of items or did he/she go directly to the item?

What type of items were purchased by the person for example convenience, grocery, pet food, sports, non-grocery, produce, seasonal, meats?

How did the person pay? Card, cash, or check?

Did the person have any help carrying out the items? Did he ask for it?

How did he behave on register while checking out?

Did he ask for price check or did he/she has any confusion about the price or the product? 

Check afterwards about the item with confusion. Try to figure out why the person has the confusion? Because of price mix or incorrect stocking?

Did they have any trouble while shopping? [Write down the products name and ailes if you can.]

Did he/she try to buy items that were low on the shelves or very high on the shelves? Did he/she has to ask for any assistance?

Did the person appear to be friendly with the store?

Did they use any coupons or digital discounts?

Did they visit every single aisle in the store? 

How did he/she visit through the store (i.e. outer-side first, inner shelves/aisles afterwards)?

How many people were with the person shopping? Did those people make any impact on the person while shopping? Did they buy anything?

Observation Stats: Time: 3:00 PM


Sam’s Club[Marketing people disclose the full details in order to give full insights for a particular store to the company]

Here is the full observation in my words:

It’s 3 PM in the afternoon and I am at the Sam’s club of clearwater. The outside is a bit crowded as always. I started to follow an American guy who is going very fast inside. His age should be around 40-45. He’s wearing sand color short sleeve shirt and black shorts. Going very fast inside. I think he’s in a bit rush than other customers. He just grabbed a cart from the middle of the waking area and never even went into the cart room. He’s in a hurry. 

He’s walking so fast that I couldn’t even keep up with him. I lost him for a moment. The store is a bit crowded inside as usual. He directly went to check the mobiles section where all the iPhone and Samsung mobiles are in sale. He doesn’t seem interested in buying any, but I guess he’s just curious about the deals. At the end, even if he’s in a rush, he’s acting as natural human and showing a curiosity about the deals and surprises that he might get. After checking the prices, he quickly leaves the mobile section. 

I think he’s going into an electronics section. He is just called by a customer representative from a new product company. He politely said no and start walking into the store. The electronics section contains TV, Android watches, Wireless headphones, sound systems and all other electronics items. Now that guy is checking his mobile. He’s taking some time to check the mobile, so I guess he got some emails or texts. But it looks like he’s checking something off, so I guess he is having a to-do list and he’s now checking the items to buy. He left the electronics section while walking and checking his phone and now he’s going into each section and checking the items. But not buying anything till now. I don’t understand this. If he’s not buying any items why would he checks it off from the list? Maybe he already bought those stuff or maybe he just wants to wait for a couple of more days. Almost 3:10 now and he’s not even buying anything. He’s still checking the list and products. Maybe he’s looking for offers, but this is wholesale store, so I don’t think that’s the reason. He’s been to pharmacy, pet care, laundry, and sanitary sections till now. None items bought till now. There is a free sample for a new laundry detergent from a Sam’s club in laundry section. But he’s not interested at all. 

I lost him again as he’s walking very fast and knows about the sections more than me. So, I am looking for him again and I found him after few minutes. He’s now in Condiments, Oils & Sauces section and he already bought the twin pack of Jif Peanut Butter. He is quickly leaving that section and going to Candy section now. He took two large size candy packets, but I can’t see the name as he put those candy packets at the bottom of the cart. I can see family size written on the packets. So, he’s either buying it for his family or he’s a small business owner. One more thing I notice is that he’s not taking his cart to the inside the sections. He keeps his cart at the front of the section, goes inside, grabs the packets, comes back and puts all the items into the cart, arranging them quickly and goes to another section. Time saver! 

He keeps checking his to-do list. He goes to the section and pick up the items. That’s it. No price checking. No comparison at all. I think he’s a regular customer and buys from here almost every other day. So, he might be a small business owner. He’s checking snacks, cashews, and almonds now. He’s quickly leaving the section as those things are not in his list I guess. And one more thing about the small business owner is they always like this, quick shopping, focused, with a list of items, in a hurry. And they are used to buy at least twice in a week, so they know the sections and are familiar with items too. So, I guess he must have a Sam’s club business membership card and that might be the reason he’s not bothered about the price from other wholesale store because business members can get 5-10% more discounts at checkout. 

Now he’s in wines section. He just took 6 twin packs of wine and quickly left the section. He doesn’t have anyone helping him. He’s buying all alone by himself with a to-do list. It seems like he knows what he’s buying, he’s firm in decision making and has some plans for the things just bought. It doesn’t seem like he’s having any difficulties in finding any items or in grabbing them from shelf. He knows every corner of Sam’s club. He is focused, and his eyes are looking for the things in the checklist. He is not impulse at all. Now he keeps his cart aside and quickly went for fresh fruits. He took 2 wrapped packets of bananas and some sliced fruit packets. He didn’t even look for any other fruits. He directly went into the meat section. Now he’s checking the meat, whether it’s fresh or not. No purchase. Then he went for rotisserie chicken. He quickly grabs the chicken and puts into his cart. Then he goes to bakery section. Checks everything around and comes back to his cart without buying anything. He puts his cart in the corner and goes into restroom. I am waiting for him since last 5-6 minutes. I am checking the cart from a nonvisible distance. Now it’s almost 10 minutes and still he didn’t come back yet. 

After 12 minutes he came back. Now he’s going to personal care section. I can’t see which product he took because now it’s visible area from where I am and where he is going. I’ll check afterwards. It’s Listerine Pocket Breath Strips 12 packs box he took a minute before. That’s the last item he took and now he’s going to make payment. It is interesting though that after he came back from the restroom, he never checked his phone for the items list. Maybe he just needed one last item and he grabbed it in a minute so. He is not going for self-checkout although self-checkout lane is empty. He quickly went for empty checkout lane at the very end. He is quick in decision making. He just met a friend of him and now they are having a talk. Now he says good bye and helping the cashier to scan the items. That’s a good gesture from him. After, the scanning he’s making payment through a card. He’s a business member of Sam’s club. I can see his blue card from a non-visible distance. I am not sure whether he’s using a debit or credit card to make a payment. After a payment, he quickly leaves. 

Outside, I can see his black car and he’s putting the products inside. He has Sam’s club business card, he’s having a good car, his behavior with employees and other customers was very good. I think he’s from upper middle class. Now he puts the cart back which is an important thing, because normally people tend to keep the cart where it is after they are done with it. And he leaves now at 3:45. He spent an hour if we count from the time when he parked his car. 

Following are the Survey Questions I came up with after the observation that can be distributed to shoppers at any grocery store based on above observations 

The guy I observed, he started shopping after going all the way back. So, that was a time-consuming distance for business persons like him. So, we can ask following 2 questions. 

What's the least favorite part of shopping at ____ store? Can you tell me why you don't like it? 

What's the best favorite part of shopping at ____ store? And why? 

Do you think we should move some sections to the front area? Why? 

He did check the meat whether it’s fresh or not. And he bought some fruits too. 

What do you think about our meat and chicken section? Do you think you get the fresh products every time? Any suggestions? 

How often do you buy fruits? Do you get fresh fruits each time? Suggestions? 

He didn’t check the new laundry detergent launched by Sam’s club. 

Did you take the free sample product that we just launched? If not, why? If yes, what makes you try this sample product? 

He didn’t buy anything from per care, laundry and some other sections that he went through. 

If the item/items you were looking for was/were not available, what other item/items did you check out or would you like to see? Can you please tell us why? 

He didn’t even visit the customer representative for the new product. 

Would you like someone to contact you like the way that representative contacted to you today? If not, why? 

Did you talk to the customer representative about the new product launch from ____ company? If yes, what makes you excited about the product? If no, why that product or company couldn’t encourage you to have even look at it? 

He visited the phones section but didn’t buy. 

Did you like the ongoing deals in the iPhone and Samsung? If yes, do you want to see more deals on the same companies or do you want some other companies cell phones to be displayed too? If not, it’s just the price that you didn’t like or something else? 

Some broad questions. 

How would you rate your overall experience at this store on a scale of 1 to 10? 

What do you think of this store as compare to the other grocery stores? 

Do you have any suggestions, if any, for improving your shopping experience?

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