Observation in Marketing Research | Meaning | Characteristics

What is observation in marketing research?

Observation is a natural way of gathering data. It is recognized as a scientific procedure. It is the direct means of studying people when one is interested in their overt behavior.

Observation - Meaning & Characteristics

Image: Observation – Meaning & Characteristics

Scientific data originate by some experience or perception gained through observation. It may range from the most casual and uncontrolled to the most precise and scientific, involving modern mechanical and electronic means. Observations may also be made under controlled conditions. It is possible by selecting the place, the equipment, the people who make up the group, special forms of stimuli and the observers.

Characteristics of observation for Marketing Research

The general characteristics of observation method can be described as one that

  • serves a formulated research purpose,
  • is planned systematically rather than occurring haphazardly
  • is systematically recorded and related to more general propositions; and
  • is subjected to checks and controls with respect to reliability, validity and precision.

Thus, the fundamental characteristics of observation include clarity, precision, impartiality and caution. More specifically, scientific observation must comply with the following criteria:

  • systematic observation
  • specific observation
  • objective observation
  • quantitative observation
  • immediate recording of observation
  • expertise
  • verifiable observation.

1. Observation is systematic:  Observation is not haphazard. It is not a chance of dropping in, when one happens to be passing by. The length of the observation period, the interval between them, and the number of observations are carefully planned. Reliable arrangements may be made for controlling the situation if special factors are to be studied.

2. Observation is specific: Observation is not just looking around for general impression. Only those specific aspects which are significant from the standpoint of the purpose of the study are,observed. Observations look for definite aspects. As such aspects are carefully defined, nothing is left to the discretion of the observer. Only significant aspects are correctly identified.

3. Observation should be objective: To some extent, observation is free from bias. Hypotheses guide observations. They avoid the risk of prejudgement of the observer coloring his perception. Prejudgement is needed only in the early stages of observation, where the observer must maintain maximum flexibility. The observer with his neutrality cannot deviate from his original plans.

3. Observation is quantitative: Perhaps all the important phenomena of research cannot be quantified. But there are means of quantifying observations in order to increase their precision. Even the quality should be converted into quantity.

Qualitative data is subjective and quantitative one is objective in itself. It can be further interpreted in an objective manner. Information is gathered in quantitative terms. e.g. time spent on shopping, number of shops visited, number of product comparisons, distance traveled, intervals of rest, etc.

4. Recording of observation: The findings of observation are registered in human memory. But if the observer relies on it totally, he/she may forget the finer details of observation after some time. So, prompt recording of observation is quite essential.

5. Need for expertise: Observation needs an eye for the detail. The observer should be knowledgeable. With his needs clearly defined, he knows what he has to observe. The observer will follow the established procedure and should be good at judging.

According to Symonds, the expert observer must have several qualities — good eyesight, alertness, the ability to estimate, the ability to discriminate, recording observations quickly, good physical condition, good perception, freedom from preconceptions and emotional disinterest.