It’s 10 p.m. on Saturday night. Do you know where your shopper is?

You have no excuse not to with today’s dramatically informative market research methods, which encompass everything from old school surveys to secret-agent-caliber equipment. The market is changing, and market research methods are changing right along with it. They are evolving into increasingly shopper-focused, in-store-oriented techniques… because at-retail is the new mass medium.

Let’s take a look at the cutting edge.

1.)    In-store ethnography.  Given the importance of in-store marketing, market research to test its effectiveness should happen in the store. Surveys might prove helpful, but in-store observation bypasses the dishonesty and bias that might taint the effectiveness of surveys. Plus, why ask shoppers how they shop when you can literally watch them do it, and possibly ask them to take your survey when everything is still fresh in their minds. Odds are good that if you ask a consumer in the salty snacks aisle their snack packaging preferences they will provide you with a LOT more information than a consumer sitting in a conference room trying to remember.  This type of research is critical for those who work on point-of-purchase displays.

The term “ethnography” refers to anthropological research centered on gathering scientific descriptions of cultures. In the context of market research, it refers to researchers who observe consumers in their “natural habitats” and compile detailed descriptions of what they are doing. If the ethnographer is only there to observe, he or she will visually record, take notes, or record a quiet spoken description of behavior, like Animal Planet hosts focused on humans interacting with brands. If the ethnographer is there to observe and then survey, he or she will approach the consumer once they’ve finished their business in the aisle and ask them a series of detailed questions, piecing together a combination of demographic data, quantitative rankings, and qualitative descriptions of the respondents’ thoughts and feelings. Ethnography is complex, but if done properly it is immensely rewarding.

It is also more powerful than ever thanks to brilliant advances in technology; consider the secret chest-mounted cameras used by Actionspeak and the hand-held computers used by SmartRevenue ethnographers to administer discreet, “create-your-own-adventure” interviews.

2.)    Virtual retailing.  If you are considering an innovative new store layout, point-of-purchase display, or other potentially costly element, you can now watch consumers interact with it before investing money in installing it in stores. Cutting-edge researchers are now creating smart environments that simulate an actual environment while invisibly gathering valuable data on consumer behavior within it.

Fifty percent of all purchasing decisions are made in the store – do you have the intelligence you need to influence that statistic in your favor?

It’s 10 p.m. on a Saturday night. And somewhere, someone else is watching and learning from your consumer.

Don’t be left out. Necessity breeds invention, and in these difficult economic times market research has been anything but dormant. Now is the time to take advantage of these trends and invest in your brand in a serious, laser-targeted way.

Author: Mr. Timo Matero, Founder and Director, Accelerator Advertising, Inc.