What Are Observational Techniques? (With Pros and Cons)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published November 22, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Marketing professionals use observational methods to help a company forecast customer behaviour and market trends. They can use these techniques on social media platforms, web pages, or physical stores. Learning more about observation methods and how they allow you to improve your marketing and research skills may help you advance your career in these professional fields.

In this article, we discuss what observational techniques are, list various pros and cons, share some tips on how to develop yours, and provide examples of observational methods.

Related: How to Use an Observational Learning Example (With Tips)

What are observational techniques?

Observational techniques are marketing methods that companies use to measure the performance of their products qualitatively. These techniques employ a series of methods that rely on observation and analysis of customer behaviour and product usage. Observational methods can include online or digital tools techniques that marketing professionals can use in person. These techniques can also help companies determine how to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

This is possible because they can observe and listen to customers' behaviour to understand how the competition isn't addressing their needs. With this information, they can create specific products or upgrade existing ones to meet their customers' requirements and expectations.

Related: The Types of Observational Studies for Scientific Research

Pros and cons of observational methods

Here are the pros and cons of observational methods:

Pros of observational methods

Marketing professionals and companies might benefit from using observational methods to understand customer behaviour and preferences because they can use this data to adjust advertising campaigns, pricing, and product development. They can also obtain unbiased insights into customer behaviour, as they can observe customers in natural settings. For instance, if a store is recording customer interactions, they can use this information to change the shelving layout, add more products, or increase inventoried items.

This information can also help companies and web developers create more intuitive websites that are easier for customers to navigate. They can track consumer preferences and change the way they display products on their websites or advertise their products on social media platforms. Observational methods can also help companies identify what their customers think about their brand and how this brand is influencing customer behaviour. For instance, marketing professionals can use specialists to observe and take notes on how many prospects are using their products at a shopping mall.

Related: Social Learning Theory in the Classroom (4 Crucial Elements)

Cons of observational methods

As these techniques offer a qualitative perspective of customer behaviour and preferences, they lack the ability to provide accurate data to the companies. This can affect their decision-making process and lead to ineffective marketing strategies. For instance, as the effectiveness and importance of a focus group depends on its participant, a company cannot rely solely on this method of data collection. This is because the participants might not represent the company's ideal customer accurately or may not feel encouraged to express their thoughts freely.

This means that the company might incur more costs and time if it wants to collect quantitative data. To overcome these disadvantages, companies can combine the use of quantitative and qualitative research methods to collect data from their customers. For instance, they can use surveys with open-ended questions on a website to gather qualitative data and also collect quantitative information by tracking the website visits, page views, and purchases.

Related: What Is Naturalistic Observation? (Types and How to Perform)

Tips on how to develop your observational techniques

Here are various tips on how to develop your observational methods:

  • Participate in focus groups. If you're a marketing professional or a student interested in pursuing a career in marketing, it's beneficial for you to participate in focus groups to develop your observational methods. By doing this, you can observe as a participant how a focus group operates and learn how to conduct one.

  • Answer online surveys. By doing this, you can learn how other marketing professionals structure their questionnaires and if they use open-ended or closed-ended questions. This can also help you assess for how long these professionals keep their questionnaires on the internet.

  • Talk to your manager. You can ask your manager to help you earn a certification in marketing related to observational tools. They can also assign you projects that require you to use a specific observational method for gathering customer data.

Related: 7 Research Methods in Psychology (Importance and Types)

Examples of observational methods

Here are various examples of observational methods that you can use to conduct marketing research:

Conducting focus groups

Focus groups can help marketing professionals study the potential behaviour of customers. Here, these professionals select a group of potential customers based on their demographics and their similar purchasing habits to the company's ideal customer. Next, they can introduce the product or service to these selected customers and observe their reactions and ask them questions to understand their thoughts and feelings.

Marketers can use focus groups before introducing a new product into the market, test prototypes, upgrade existing services, and study customer attitudes towards their company. These observational tools can also be useful for politics and sociology, as researchers can use examples and case studies to understand the impact of a certain law, government policy, or social issue.

Related: What Are Focus Group Questions? (With How-to and Benefits)

Implementing cookies on computers

Computer cookies refer to small files that web servers send to a user's browser to get and store the user's browsing history and preferences. By using cookies, developers, marketers, and data analysts can notice what browser the user is employing, the hours of the day they're browsing, and the pages they visit. It can also tell them if the user was using a mobile device or a computer and if they were using an e-mail platform or a social network before they came to the website.

For instance, suppose you enter an online store, accept the cookies the website sends, and then buy a pair of shoes. Here, the next time you visit the same website, the server might show you shoes, discounts on shoes, or other products related to this one, such as a pair of socks. This is possible because marketers and marketing apps can use the information collected by the cookies to create patterns, accurate customer profiles, and predict purchasing habits.

Related: How to Clear Cookies on a Mac (Various Browsers and Devices)


When marketers want to understand the spontaneous thoughts of their customers, they can use interviews or online questionnaires to gather qualitative data. They can create questions based on specific scenarios that they think might occur if they introduce a new product or service into the market. They can also interview potential customers to explore unexpected scenarios.

For instance, suppose a company wants to understand what customers might think about a new size of a product, such as a new smartphone. Here, they might not be able to predict what customers might say or think, as there's no precedent for this scenario. They can then use interviews to gather data on potential reactions to the new device, sorting the information by demographic characteristics, education level, and income.

Related: What Is an Interviewing Bias? (And How to Avoid It)

Video and audio recording

Video and audio recordings are observational tools that marketers can use to monitor and study the behaviour of customers in physical stores. They can track shopping patterns, assess the effectiveness of shelf placement, and measure the impact of advertising on customers. For instance, if a clothing store is launching a new line of shirts for men, they can use video to see how many times they stop to look at the new shirts. Marketers can use this data to determine how to promote the product, understand if it's necessary to use more visual displays, and learn how to encourage customers to purchase it.

Related: How to Send Video through E-mail in 2 Different Ways

Drawing and taking notes

Sometimes, marketers use specialists in customer behaviour data to study a company's target audience. They can instruct these professionals to observe and write notes about how people interact with the company's products. For instance, suppose a customer arrives at an airport and wants to rent a car, but there are various companies located at the airport that can provide this service.

Here, the specialist can watch how the customer selects an option, how the chosen company promotes its services in the airport, and what type of car the customer chooses. This information can help these specialists recommend marketing strategies to increase the customer's likelihood of choosing a given company.

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