User Research: Observing Practices

I participated in a user research exercise and observed practices occurring within a local store, which was Trader Joe’s. I chose three specific practices and observed individuals participating in those practices, taking notes in a field notebook, then formulating conclusions later from the observations. The observations I mainly took included actions that stood out to me, in addition to patterns I observed, such as which way people walk, but I didn’t tend to include too many personal details about the individuals themselves, rather just their actions. My first practice was the act of picking up a shopping basket. The second practice I noticed was the practice of people choosing which cashier to approach. For the third practice, I observed the interactions at the cashier and customer closest to me. Specifically, I honed in the specific interaction of the cashier asking if the customer would like a bag and the customer’s response. I then compiled my observations into a memo, linked here:

The entrance/exit to the store I observed.

My experience surprised me because I felt out of place observing individuals, as everyone appeared to be shopping, but I was standing or sitting nearby (depending on which scenario I was observing) and looked out of place as I was clearly not there to purchase anything. People looked quizzically at me, and I felt odd that I was taking observations about them without their consent necessarily. I assume they did not act differently despite my presence, as they rarely looked back at me again, only upon entrance to the store as I was located right by the entrance. If this was actual user research product testing, consent from the participants would most likely be required.

An example page of my field notes.

What would you do differently?

If I were to change something, I would do two round of observation. One round I would determine the behaviors I would be searching for, and determine the best viewpoint for observation for them. My second round of observation would be honing on the specific behaviors, rather than spending some of that time attempting to figure out which behaviors I would actually like to observe, to give me more time for general observations to find out the most interesting practices to observe.

Reflecting on Reflexivity

Reflexivity could have influenced my own research because I had prior expectations of how people were to act around the store, as I often shop there and could relate to the things that I was observing, as they were occurring. Therefore, I may have made assumptions of why people made the choices they did, such as choosing a line because there were less people, while they could have made that decision for an entirely separate reason, like knowing the cashier. My unintended prior expectations could have influenced observations. Generally, it is important to recognize unintended actions, reactions, and expectations which could be detrimental towards observations because biases are prevalent and could influence the observations. It is important to only write down what you see, rather than what you perceive, as you cannot write down the conclusions you already may have drawn in your head without meaning to.