Why Customers Buy

Watching how your customers shop is as important as what they shop for.

Once upon a time, market research tools consisted mainly ofsurveys, phones and a pile of pencils. Now a new research companyis breaking all the rules, using such high-tech data-gatheringtools as video recorders, beepers and even disposable cameras.

E-Lab LLC is a Chicago-based research and design consulting firmthat's helping businesses understand not only why theircustomers buy, but also how, when and with whom. One method thefirm uses is a process called "video ethnography." Byvideotaping subjects while they're in the process of buying,the E-Lab team can get a clearer picture--literally--of theprocess. E-Lab's evaluation team consists of the requisiteanthropologists and social scientists, but it also includes actors,computer specialists and others who bring unique perspectives tothe interpretation of data. According to E-Lab partner RickRobinson, all his employees must have a strong ability to interprethuman behavior.

Try using some of E-Lab's philosophies on your own:

  • Don't assume that buying is universal andpredictable. Try to gather as much information about theprocess of buying as you can--from when your customer puts aproduct on a grocery list or makes the decision to buy, to enteringthe store and making the purchase.
  • Use multiple vehicles to gather information about yourcustomers' buying habits. Have your employees stay on thelookout for patterns in buying and have them record customercomments.
  • Try to understand how people are using the products you sellor manufacture. This could lead to important new markets oropportunities.

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