BMGT 311 (SA): Assignment #5, Observation

One of the most powerful marketing research tools we can use is the one that is often overlooked: simple observation of customer behavior.  By using observation in a real world environment, or using ethnographic techniques, researches can lean a lot from a very small sample, and design experiences around customer needs.

A good example of this was a new ATM designed by BBVA in Europe.  In a partnership with IDEO (Pioneers in human centered design), they were able to use observation to redesign an ATM with the end-user in mind.

This type of observation is a powerful tool for marketing research.  Your last assignment is to focus on the world around you, and take notes of customer behavior in a real world shopping environment.  How do customers choose products?  How do they pay?  Do they feel rushed or stressed?  What recommendations would you have from this observation.

Take some time this next week and observe the world around you, and let us know what you observed.  Share with us what you found in observing customers around you in a real world environment.

Chris Lovett


10 thoughts on “BMGT 311 (SA): Assignment #5, Observation”

  1. For the Assignment 5, I choose two different places and atmospheres to observe. The first place was a local convenient store and sandwich deli, Shuman’s Market in Wilkinsburg. The second place was the Monroeville Mall. I thought it would be interesting since both places are completely different. One might say Shuman’s Market is primarily servicing the North Wilkinsburg area, and the Monroeville Mall is catering to the entire East Side of Pittsburgh.

    One thing to recognize about both places is the products and service difference. Shuman’s Market caries items such as bottled beverages, chips, candy, cakes, cleaning supplies, tobacco products, sandwiches, hygiene products, and other things of in that nature. The mall sells and provides clothes, jewelry, books, cards, gifts, electronics, health and beauty supplies, optical services, music, sporting goods, wireless services, and more. As far as food, Monroeville Mall has a variety of eating places.

    At Shuman’s Market, most customers I have observed have chosen their product on their own. The sales greeting is pretty much on a “How you are” or “How everything is going John Doe” type of bases. Secondly, in a place like this, it seems as if nobody browses, but more so already know what they want. They may do a little browsing between brands I have observed. Another thing to consider is the size of the establishment…leaves customers with very little options. Also, the price of things rarely changes. So even if it was a “supply and demand” situation, customers from what I have observed would deal with it.

    At Monroeville Mall, most customers I have observed customers choose their products either by what’s on sale, how new the product is, and/or by the quality of the product. It seemed to be more to it than the need factor, especially with all the varieties and brands. I also noticed how customers really chose products strongly by brand vs. brand. For example, Ralph Lauren Polo vs. U.S.P.A. (United States Polo Association.

    At Shuman Market, customers in this establishment pay in a variety of ways; cash, credit/debit card, and food stamps. The major of customers I have observed have paid in cash and food stamps.

    At Monroeville Mall, customers paid in cash or debit/credit card. Mostly credit/debit from what I have observed.

    At Shuman Market did not appear to be that the customers felt rushed or stressed. It more so seemed like a relaxed shopping situation. Maybe because of the size of the store? Maybe because of the selection of products? Maybe because of the fact that the products rarely change? I think these are all factors to consider.

    At Monroeville Mall, it appears customers to be relaxed, but sometimes annoyed as well with customer service. The difference is that these workers are probably trained to assist customers.

    The only recommendation I would have is for the smaller establishment to try to use the same customer service as a larger establishment.

  2. For my first place of observation, I conveniently observed the Starbucks across the street from the West Penn building. Immediately upon walking in,I noticed the atmosphere seemed very hectic. There’s a line barely stretching out of the door, everyone is talking all at once, and the overall behavior seemed very rushed, stressed and ready to be on the move. I began to pay attention to the behavior of those about to order. I noticed quite a few people make some impulse buys at the counter as they frantically were trying to decide on which latte to buy, while other seasoned Starbucks veterans were ordering drinks in a lingo that I have never heard before. What is a dirty chai tea latte? I felt that there was a huge disparity between those who order Starbucks for breakfast, lunch and dinner versus those who very well could have only been visiting a starbucks for their first or second time this year. People knew either exactly what, where, when and how they wanted their drinks or people just fumbled over their words at the counter getting stressed out due to the multitude of choices and the sea of customers at the rear anxiously awaiting their turn. Most of the people in their were either in between classes, already late for class, or on their way to work. Due to these factors, every single person I witnessed make a purchase paid with a debit/credit card of some sort. Who wants to fumble around with change while you are on the go like that? My biggest recommendation from this observation is to simply just open another location up the road (if franchise zoning laws allow.) Starbucks is a place to be associated with a calm, relaxing atmosphere that one can briefly escape their daily stresses in. This location in particular is the complete opposite reminiscent of a South Side bar at 1:30am on a Saturday. It was noisy, crowded, completely and utterly chaotic which actually left me slightly irritable after the experience versus happy I just scored a piping hot vessel of caffeinated goodness. My second recommendation, due to the location being in an extremely high traffic location, the menu absolutely needs to be simplified in order to get people in and get them out. It needs to be simplified in a way that some restaurants simplify their menus around the holidays due to the high customer load. I should be feeling good about making a Starbucks purchase, not irritated that I had to push and shove my way in the door like they do in 3rd world countries only to have 20 people in front of me ordering special dirty skinny chai tea lattes over easy shaken not stirred on the rocks with room for cream.

  3. For this week’s assignment I also observed consumer behaviors at the Starbucks. I observed people at the Starbucks in the US Steel Tower. I am at this Starbucks on a daily basis for one reason or another but have never invested any time observing the people around me. That is to say that I have not given any thought to who was there, what was being bought and how it was being paid for. Over the past week I have kept an eye on what was happening around me each time I went down to grab a coffee. I didn’t have time to actually count the people at the register or tally drinks but I did make the following observations:
    – People buy more coffee in the morning and more specialty drinks in the afternoon
    – Peak purchasing hours are between 7:30am – 8:30am
    – Credit Cards and Gift Cards are preferred methods of payment
    – Mid-morning (after the rush) people go to Starbucks in groups
    – People buy the most food in the morning
    None of these observations are striking but this exercise did make me start thinking. People are in a hurry in the morning and there are a large number of people that are just getting coffee perhaps Starbucks could have a line for people that just want a coffee, not a specialty drink. I enjoyed this exercise and if I had more time I would develop a chart that I could just tally some quick observations such as payment method, bar or drip (specialty or coffee), male or female.

  4. For the final assignment, I chose to observe customer behavior at Yankee Candle in Robinson Mall. I go into this store a lot to shop but never really paid attention to others and how they shop. The atmosphere in the store is very relaxed and comfortable. Recently the store was remodeled so it is more open and brighter. The employees are very committed to customer service and were friendly and helpful to all customers who entered the store. From what I observed, most customers appeared to be relaxed and not stressed or rushed. They took their time smelling the different scents of candles and chose which ones they liked best. For some customers, it appeared as if it was their first time in the store since they smelled almost every candle on the shelves, while other knew exactly what they wanted and where it was. As far as payment methods, I observed that the elder customers mainly paid with cash, while the younger customers paid with credit or debit cards. I also found it interesting that about 75% of the customers I observed had some type of coupon with them to get a better deal on their candle purchase. This obviously made me think that Yankee Candle has a lot of loyal customers who enjoy their products and using the coupons to purchase those products. From my observations and my own personal experience with Yankee Candle, I feel that the company is doing very successful and has a strong dedication to their customers and the quality of product that they are selling to them. The only recommendation that I would make is to provide customers with a favorite scent card before they leave the store. For first time customers, Yankee Candle can be overwhelming with all of the different scents. This may be helpful for customers on other store visits to help them find exactly what they liked.

  5. I observed in Joann Fabrics because I live there. It was Wednesday evening, so not super crowded. I noticed most of the customers were older women. They seemed to be gravitating towards the new products such as the Halloween and fall merchandise. This made me assume they were like me and there all the time because “Oh! New stuff!” I noticed everyone in line was using coupons, which means they are doing well with their direct mailing. Also, almost everyone was buying something related to sewing or Halloween decor, despite 50% of the store being focused on things other than sewing.The craft side of the store was also much emptier than the sewing. I know it was only one observation on one night, but if it was a continuing trend, it would be wise of Joanns to focus more on their fabrics and less on their craft sections (which have overpriced products in my opinion.Fabrics are much better priced.) Also I noticed all the purchases were not complete projects, they were bits and pieces for projects. I think it is safe to assume most weekday purchases are little things for projects that people didn’t know they needed until they were half way through. Just a hunch though.

  6. I observed Macy shoppers on Wednesday which is cardholder day with additional 20% off. Most of the shoppers were baby boomers, mothers and daughters and friends out taken advantage of the 70% off shoe rack. Everyone was comparing prices through the electronic price device that gives customer the discount price on any item in the store. I sat down and observed several women taking out dresses they bought at Macy’s and matching shoes with their outfit. One women ask me for my advice on the the shoe she picked to go with her brown and beige dress. I told her the shoe was perfect for the dress, because it had the same colors in her dress. I even complimented her stylish look as a “matured” fit women (60 plus years}. We chat and shared our eating habits. The salesman were hustling to get shoes for customers without stepping over each other. I observed an Asian women renewing her credit card to purchase several pairs of shose. At first, her credit card decline. It was interesting to see her and the salesman communicate to resolve the declining issue. The Asian women ask the salesman if she can apply for new card.He said yes … she filled out the application and it was approved. She smiled and thanked the salesman, as I waited patiently in line. I was pushing for time and the process was longer than anticipated. The salesperson waiting on the Asian women is the salesperson I had to wait on to service me. I finally got out of line and into another. I realized that the salesperson was new and he was slow processing a two-minute application. I was amazed of all the women out shopping like it was the last sale of the year….women buying clearance sandal for next year and boots for the winter. I will not go to Macy’s on a Wednesday mid morning, but early mornings.

  7. So sticking with the trend it seems I went out to observe people and how they act while buying at the Sewickley Starbucks (where Kate works I drink for free). This Starbucks is a destination, walk in only Bucks meaning that it is right downtown on Beaver St in Sewickley so you either have to drive down to get your wonderful drink or stop in while walking by. Because of this the weather can play a big role whether someone will go or not, but there are the brave few that will go and get their drink no matter what. But what I’ve noticed that most people buy coffee in the morning to get their day started the right way with a steroid injected caffeine cup of Joe. People mostly pay with gift cards or their Starbucks card, secondly with credit/debit cards then lastly with cash. The kids love their Frappuccino’s in any and all kinds and sizes they want that sugar like the adults what the caffeine. Something else I saw that I thought was funny was how when someone would order a drink they were surprised that as soon as they finished ordering the drink didn’t magically appear in their hands. Chill out they’ll get to it in a timely manner, also when ordering don’t say your in a hurry and ask if they can makes yours before everyone else when five people are in front of you. That’s stupid and so are you, don’t come in if your in a hurry. Lastly these customers should start treating the employees better stop acting like your the next big thing.

  8. The first place I observed was Dunkin Donuts on West Liberty in Dormont. This place is always so slow with their service, but every time I go there their line is to the door and every time I am there you see people in line rolling their eyes and switching their weight on their feet in annoyance, but yet, they still go there, including myself. I know when I want to go there I have to allow about 15 more minutes than I would if I was just going to run to the competitor Starbucks or even a different dunkin donuts, but I still go. It is something about this fad of special coffee that seems to have every one addicted and they are willing to stand in line for 15 minutes, pay their $2.80 and wait 5 more minutes for their drink to be made – why? I ask why because in that time limit of driving there and all the waiting time, you could’ve made the coffee yourself at home and had 2 cups by then. Do you go because you really enjoy it? Do you go because it is a fad? Do you go because you are lazy?

    From the time I was there until the time I left was about 30 minutes. granted 15 of that was in line and then 15 I sat eating my bagel, but within that 30 minutes there was a wide range of customers. There were a couple parents that had their toddlers with them and they would let them pick out which donut they wanted, which seemed to be the only way to occupy them while standing in line. With their pumkin spice flavor out there were a lot of customers who ordered that and then the regular coffees. The parents and the children seemed to leave right after they were done ordering. The ones who seemed to stay were the older customers that would sit down and read their newspapers or sit down and talk with their friend. But most customers would just get their order and leave.

    I do have to say, while I didn’t go to the starbucks on 6th ave downtown to observe I did find it fascinating that they had a lot more business and went a lot quicker than the DD. I also noticed that the employees were much friendlier at the Starbucks and also knew their customers by name and new their order. The employees at DD seemed as though they were just going through the motions and did not want to be there, but again, I still go to that DD? I guess I am one of those caffeine addicted, lazy, willing to spend money customers.

    Another fun place to observe is the T. I often find myself wondering what people are like off of the T, because everyone is so unsociable on the T, myself included, annnnd there are a bunch of characters, but that is a different assignment on a different day 🙂

  9. I shopped at Sam’s Club Mt. Nebo Road, in the North Hills on Wednesday, September 25, 2013. I have never taken the time to observe people’s actions while shopping. In other words you may see someone do something or react in different ways, but to actually pay attention was a different experience. I notice a lot of different activity. Let me give you a example, while shopping I noticed that you have three different groups of people, you have one group that is in a rush, running in to pick up one or two items these are people who uses the self checkout. The second group, of people have a cart or two full of groceries, but is frustrated because each line is long and they need to hurry in order be on time for their child (ren) from school. The third group is just there to hang out and have a place to be so they just stroll up and down the aisle just too past time. So these are the three groups that I have observed with my experience shopping.

  10. People watching has always been an interest of mine but I never looked at it from the marketing perspective, even when I was retail. My initial interest began in my late teens when I wanted to become a state trooper. I had read several books on identifying criminal behavior and forensic science…well before the various CSI shows were on TV. Encylopeadia Brown and the Hardy Boys were favorites. For the City of Pittsburgh and the Pennsylvania State Police exams a portion is looking at a photograph for 30/60 seconds and then answering questions and as part of completing the PA Act 235 certification there was a level of investigation and observation as well. Watching people in uniform and carrying a sidearm is vastly different than watching people to observe their behaviors and interaction in a shopping environment as shoppers, only shoplifters. When I was in retail the observation was mostly loss prevention as I didn’t work on commission.

    The past two weeks have been busy and my retail visits included Lowe’s (several times), Giant Eagle (ran into Bob O’Gara), Macy’s, JC Penny, Marshalls, Wine and Spirits, and Joanne Fabrics. Even as a consumer I still ‘observe’ more from a loss prevention perspective than a marketing perspective and tried to adjust my ‘eye’ and would like to share these points.

    The culture and ethnicity does have an impact on how some people shop. People from India are used to haggling in an aggressive manner and they show that behavior more strongly in department stores. Both males and females behave that way and sometimes they have what appears to be heated discussions with each other at the checkout line.

    African-American (black) women can also be very demanding and pushy and black men can be stern, yet friendly depending on the perceived attitude from the associate. And race of the associate does seem to have an effect at times but not always, and not always negative.

    Elderly people are many times confused and frustrated while shopping, and can be some of the meanest…or the nicest. Elderly people as sales associates can be frustrating to younger consumers as well, especially the millenials, and moreso if technology is an issue for the elderly associates.

    Teenagers are across the board in packs of peers or with parents. I have observed some teens behaving in the typical ‘drama’ way with embarassment that their parents are there and clearly not getting them what they ‘need’ in style, color, or price. To being very loving and friendly with thier parents as well as the associates. Even in packs they may be loud and ‘teenagery,’ especially when a pack of the opposite sex is passing, but they can be pleasant and certainly know what they want.

    In MOST cases the recommendation is more cashiers! Understandably that has a cost associated with it, so if the bottom line is truly an issue, then look for ways to speed the process or at least make it entertaining for the people while they wait.

    The self-serve checkout lines at Giant Eagle and Lowes can be helpful, but the stations are not intelligent enough in the stores to make people use them frequently. If you have a large shopping trip with coupons or other promotions, then forget. A dozen fully-loaded carts ‘illegally’ in the express lane with go faster. And appearently there is only one person in the store who can assist with the technical errors and are helping the actual human cashiers more than the automated cashiers. So again, the checkout process should be analyzed and perhaps using the “Perks” and “My” cards to track buyer preferences could also generate times and days and look at peak hours to help segment the checkout experience.

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