How Mobile is Shaking Up Market Research

Mobile lets users tell you what they are experiencing in the moment & in their natural environment

Mobile lets users show you what they are experiencing in the moment & in their natural environment

People who work in retail often believe they can spot the mystery shoppers who come in to their stores. Mobile phones are making it easier for them, since a growing number of mystery shopping, or secret shopping, companies are asking their shoppers to film the stores they shop.

While I see the appeal, there’s no way that you can go into a store with a regular camera or phone and film without it being obvious that you aren’t a real customer. If you use a button-hole camera, maybe. But that’s not what the companies are asking their testers to do.

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Mobile Does Have A Place In Market Research

That said, mobile can be tremendously valuable for market researchers, as today’s guest, Daniel Weber of iTracks, told me in our interview.

Now that we are all becoming so accustomed to filming everything and making spur-of-the-moment videos, it no longer seems as unnatural for friends or family to film what goes on behind closed doors.

Mobile smartphones are letting market researchers get a close-up view of what customers really do

Mobile phones are letting market researchers get an close-up view of what customers really do

That makes “ethnographic” research — where a researcher studies people in their natural environment — potentially much more comfortable and realistic.

I know the theory is that people stop noticing the researcher who sits in a corner watching what their every move, but I’m not convinced that’s so true. You’d have to be there for many weeks or months for them to forget you completely and act the way they really would without your presence.

But with mobile, they can easily film themselves and give researchers “in the moment” feedback about their thoughts, feelings and experiences. This is tremendously valuable.

Data Overload

The challenge that remains, though, is analyzing the data and selecting excerpts to present to colleagues. If you have more than a handful of users the volume of data to analyze quickly becomes overwhelming.

Daniel pointed out that even uploading the videos users film can be a huge ordeal. Often you want to do this kind of research with people who don’t live in big cities with fast, reliable internet connections. It is super-frustrating to your testers if every time they try to upload their video the system crashes part-way through. That’s why iTracks has developed special technology so that you don’t have to start all over again if that happens.

What About Text Messaging and Chats for Market Research?

Later in the interview we also discussed a growing interest in using chat apps on phones for market research. I can see it having value when trying to reach teenage and 20-something testers, who have fast phone fingers.

Some people are trying to hold focus groups that way, and here too, I’m a bit skeptical. If you’ve ever followed an active Twitter chat, like #custserv (one of my faves, which is on Tuesday evenings at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time) you’ll discover how hard it is to follow a conversation when there are several participants scrolling by. You can jump in and out, but it is almost impossible to follow everything that is going on.

Of course, I think focus groups tend to be overused even in-person.

They can be valuable at the beginning of a research process, to give you insight into what issues may arise when you go to real user testing, and to help you formulate good survey questions.

But there is clearly a peer-pressure effect that skews the conversations in the focus groups themselves. That peer pressure is arguably greater when the participants can all see each other, but it still exists, even in the world of chat. Who really wants to risk being the person who said that “dumb” thing?

I’m still waiting for my “invisibility cloak” for ethnographic research! But for now, mobile is getting to be a close 2nd best!

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