Point-of-Experience Insights: Using Ethnography to Capture Real-World Contexts and Real-Time Behaviors

Most research methods fall into two categories of data-acquisition: real-time point-of-experience methods and panel-based methods. Point-of-Experience methods capture consumers, shoppers, and customers in their real-world and real-time behaviors. Panel-based methods target specific environments or rely on recall of past behaviors.

SmartRevenue's Point-of-Experience Ethnographic approach integrates data typically kept separate:

  • Observational: what people DO
  • Behavioral: what people BUY
  • Attitudinal: what people SAY

By capturing and integrating what people DO, BUY, and SAY we are able to get to the where, when, what, how, and importantly the why behind decision-making processes and behavior. SmartRevenue's integrated point-of-experience insights helps clients with marketing and merchandising strategies and solutions. Our ethnographic lens supports innovation by identifying segments, need-states, purchase drivers, decision trees, and behaviors.

Since 2000, we have innovated ethnographic methods in the business world. Our methods include: Quantitative Ethnography, Qualitative Ethnography, Digital Ethnography, and Ethnographic Mystery and Expert Shops

SMARTREVENUE’s Ethnographic approach integrates qualitative and quantitative methods to provide clients actionable insights with breadth and depth.

Learn More About SmartRevenue's Ethnographic Methods

Activate Your Insights

Download SmartRevenue's Philosophy on Shopping Principles to see how we leverage ethnographic insights to help clients:

  • Integrate and align consumer and shopper decision-making models (e.g. market structure, consumer PDH, and shopper decision tree)
  • Identify key shopper segments
  • Understand how shoppers de-select, navigate, and select

Read on for more about observational, behavioral, and attitudinal data, and how SmartRevenue Ethnography captures and integrates all three.

Observational: What Shoppers DO

Captures: Navigation, comparison, time spent, buy vs. walk, shopping styles (grab & go, search, explore)

Data Pool: Real Shoppers and Panel

Data Collection: Video, ethnographer observations, digital click tracking


  • Quantitative sample
  • Shows what people do:
    • How they navigate the store, shelf, or online sites
    • What they shop first, second, third
    • Where they pause and linger

Weaknesses: Does not provide the “why behind the what”


Behavioral: What Shoppers BUY

Captures: Product & brands purchased, bundle analysis for trip missions, etc.

Data Pool: Sales data

Data Collection: Sales data, loyalty card data, basket scan, etc.


    • Quantitative sample
    • Identifies “the what”; foundational to any shopper insights platform—what is bought, how often, and where
    • Used to illuminate market structures, purchase decision hierarchies (PDH), and conversion rates at brand and channel/retailer level


    • Does not always cover:
      • Alternative channels
      • Products with low turns (long purchase cycles)
    • Does not provide the “why behind the what

    Attitudinal: What Shoppers SAY

    Captures: Planned vs unplanned, Purchase driver

    Data Pool: Panel-Based

    Data Collection: Interviews - questionnaires, online interviews, focus groups, etc.

    • Quantitative: online, mall intercepts, phone interviews
    • Qualitative: focus groups

    Strengths: Deep dive into

    • Who the shopper is
    • Where they buy and why
    • What they buy and why


    • Depends on recall and removed from context (or context is simulated)
    • Panel-based research can lead to professional respondents (not real shoppers on real trips)

    Ethnographic: What Shoppers DO, BUY, SAY

    Captures: Observations and interviews between ethnographer and shopper

    Data Pool: Real shoppers on real trips in real context

    Data Collection: Observations, Interviews, Product Scans at the point-of-purchase, experience, consumption


    • Based on real shoppers, real trips and real purchases
    • Integrates data that are typically separated: behavioral, observational, attitudinal  
    • Captures real context
    • Identifies the why of decision-making processes and purchases


    • Not as much time with respondent (10-15 minutes as opposed to 20-30 minutes)
    • Can require coordination with a third party for permission (retailer permission