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Ethnographic Research

Ethnographic research has become an indisputable way to understand your customers. This type of research requires that the user/consumer (not customer) of your product be observed while using your product. Many times a company thinks they fully understand how the customer uses their product. Unfortunately customer usage is usually not understood by companies.

Ethnographic research is very enlightening to product managers, engineers and developers of products. The research involves interviewing the user to understand why they used the product the way they did. Interview questions should attempt to understand why features and alternative methods of your product were not considered or used.

Ethnographic research is a real "outside-in" approach to researching users' opinions and demands. No one can argue with it. The information is coming directly from the user while using your product, not while imaging or recalling how they once used it. Marketing Excellence has been using this type of research for many years. We have been very successful conducting ethnographic research with software and computer-based products as well as products that are complex to operate (electronics), personal (garments/clothing), or seldom used (home improvement tools for the do-it-yourselfers).


  1. Is this just a fancy name for secret shopper?

  2. A secret shopper is someone posing as a customer. The primary purpose of using secret shoppers is to audit service quality. It is not attempting to fully understand the user or customer experience. Other times secret shoppers have been used to observe visitors (users) experience to a business. Secret shoppers are very popular for restaurant chains and department stores.

    What we are talking about in this posting is more than secret shoppers. It is capturing information via observation to understand your product or service from the customers perspective.