Methods of Gathering Consumer Information

In both cross sectional and longitudinal designs, there are two general ways of collecting consumer behavior data: observation and communication. These two basic approaches can be further divided, however into three information gathering methods: observations, experiments and surveys.


One way to study the consumer is to observe their overt behavior. In some cases this alternative may be better than asking consumers how they act, because frequently discrepancies exist between how consumers say they behave and what they actually do. For example, soap makers have never been sure about what to do with the color pink. Whenever they put different colored bars soap in front of us, we always point to the pink one as our favorite. But observation of store sales reveals that pink soaps are rarely among the best sellers.

Another benefit of the observation method is that it frequently can be accomplished subtly. So that consumers do not realize that they are subjects and then change their normal behavior. Therefore this method may be quite successful in obtaining certain types of behaviors. For example hidden cameras are sometimes used to observe shoppers’ behaviors in a retail store environment. Because subjects are unaware that they are being observed such cameras have the potential of recording true activities of consumers.

There are several other illustrations of the observation technique being used for consumer research. In many cases these involve mechanical means of observations. For example the AC Nielsen company gathers television viewer ship data from a selected group of families by means of an electro mechanical device that automatically records the times and channels of television viewing in a given household. Other forms of observation are the use of specially designed cameras to record eye movements and pupil dilation. Eye movement tracking is able to document what aspects of an advertisement actually attract consumers’ attention. Also, measuring eye pupil dilation with another device the emotionally arousing aspects of advertisement packages and products can be documented by the extent the pupil dilates when observing the stimulus.

Another observation technique that holds great promise for certain marketers and researchers is the use of automatic scanning devices in retail stores. When a product bearing a Universal Product Code (UPC) containing information related to the brand is passed over an automated scanner at the checkout counter the scanner translates the UPC. In addition to recording the sale, output from the system creates an opportunity to expand our knowledge of the sales effects of advertising, sales, promotions and other marketing stimuli. Such systems have the ability to segregate purchases electronically as opposed to relying on consumers to record what they actually did. In addition when scanner technology is used in conjunction with advanced cable television systems, the two offer additional research possibilities. Scanner panel members homes in one city were linked to cable television, half might receive the same commercials being shown to the general public and half could receive a set of test commercials. Purchase response at the store levels would then show up via electronic scanning to indicate a measure of that test advertisement’s effectiveness. Another system has been developed that enables companies to direct advertisements into homes that are not wired for cable television, so that companies can now test within a representative’s sample of an entire market.


In experimental investigations the researchers selects consumer stores and so on (known as test units) and seeks to measure the effect of specific situations or conditions (known as experimental treatments) on a particular dependent variable such as consumer attitudes or purchase behavior. In this process an attempt is made to control or hold constantly the effects of the other so called extraneous variables so that they will not influence the results. For example if we wanted to determine whether the size of a magazine advertisement affects readers attention then the size of the ad might be varied while such extraneous variables as the message or appeal, used, and the color of the ads are held constant so that they would not influence the results and confuse the issue.

Source: Consumer Behavior