Observation panels

There are several panels in operation in which observation is the primary method of data collection. These cover household consumer goods, shopping behaviour and television viewing. For the first of these a panel of informants is recruited who agree to allow an auditor to come into the home each week and check what products are in the house in the product fields being investigated. Informants are given a plastic bin in which to place discarded wrappers and packets of products used during the week. From this data both purchase and usage rates can be calculated. These are sometimes referred to as 'pantry checks' and 'dustbin checks'. The research company collates the data and presents monthly reports to clients purchasing the service. Shopping behaviour is observed by recruiting a panel of housewives who agree to do all their shopping in a travelling shop. This is a mobile shop laid out inside to look like a supermarket. The housewife simply shops in the usual way. From time to time new brands are introduced on to the shelves to test how the housewife reacts to them in a purchase choice situation, and more importantly, whether she buys the product next time or goes back to her original brand.

One of the advantages of observation techniques is that in an age of sophisticated electronic technology it is not always necessary for an individual to collect the data, since this can be done using the appropriate hardware. Television viewing is a case in point.

PeopleMeter is a recording device that is attached to the television. It records data on when the set is on, and which channel it is tuned to. This gives a measure of 'sets tuned'. To convert this to 'viewers', members of co-operating households push buttons on the meter as they enter and leave the room. The system also allows guests' age and gender to be entered and additionally video playback is monitored._

Observation by hardware is also useful for all kinds of 'flow counts'; for example, to investigate traffic and pedestrian flows past poster sites, or around supermarkets or exhibitions. Usually the recording periods are randomized to give flow patterns on different days of the week and at different times of day.

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