Observation Method of Data Collection for Mystery Audit- Advantages and Disadvantages

observation method of data collection

The observation method of data collection is known for getting unique insights into business operations. This blog will explore the advantages and disadvantages of the observation data collection method for mystery audits.

In this blog, we will dive into the complexity of observation methods and uncover the types of observation methods in market research. But let us first understand what the observation method is.

What is an Observation Method?

An observation method is a research approach observing interactions, phenomena, and behavior to collect data and get valuable insights about a particular subject. It is a popular research technique in anthropology, social science, market research, and psychology. The primary objective of this method is to provide an account of the observed subject.

The observation method is also known as Participatory Study because the researcher has to establish a connection with the respondent. For this, he must get immersed in the study because only then is it possible to record and take notes on the subject. The observation process involves using various tools and techniques like taking notes, video and audio recording, and using checklists.

The researcher observes and records people’s and groups’ actions, behaviors, and interactions in the observation method. This observation can be done in two ways- Participant and Non-participant Observation. In Participant Observation, the researcher actively participates in the observation, while in Non-Participant Observation, he only observes the activity without participating.

Why do Mystery Shoppers Use Observation Methods of Data Collection?

Mystery shopping is a tool businesses use to analyze and better their customer services. Mystery shoppers use various methods, such as observation, to interact with the employees and record their experience of the customer journey.

The observation method of data collection enables researchers to gather data naturally by observing the relationship between customers and employees. This way, mystery shoppers can acquire accurate data without disturbing or influencing the usual flow of the business. This method ensures that the employees act genuinely without any biases that may arise if they know they are evaluated.

The observation method captures the non-verbal and subtle cues that may be missed during other observation methods. Surveys and interviews fail to record non-verbal cues like facial expressions, voice pitch, and body language, as they rely on verbal responses. The non-verbal details can convey remarkable information about employee engagement, customer quality, and service quality of the business that can be picked up by the observation method.

Physical aspects of the workplace vitally impact customer satisfaction. Mystery shoppers can examine the cleanliness and ambiance of the business using the observation method. They can get comprehensive feedback related to these aspects that may help the business to look for the areas needing improvement to ensure a welcoming environment.

Types of Observation Methods in Market Research

Many distinct observation methods are used in market research depending upon the purpose and the type of insights required to be acquired. Here are some of the most used types of observation methods in market research

Naturalistic Observation:

In Naturalistic Observation, the researcher observes the individual and their behavior in a natural environment. With this method, the researcher gets valuable insights into the customer’s behavior, decision-making, and references in a real-life situation. In naturalistic observation, there is no fixed behavioral code; instead, the researcher takes instant notes to code it later.

Controlled Observation:

As the name suggests, Controlled Observation involves influencing the environment to observe the behavior and the reactions. He creates a controlled setting to understand customer behavior and control variables like study times, participants, and the observation environment. The coded data are easily analyzed and quantified in controlled observation.

Structured Observation:

Structured Observation involves using predetermined checklists or categories to lead the observation process. Here, it is certain what behaviors will be observed and, therefore, focuses on predefined behaviors. The researcher creates a well-structured framework to note the occurrences. Structured observation is particularly helpful in data consistency and facilitates easy comparison.

Participant Observation:

In Participant Observation, the researcher observes the individual or the group by actively participating in such an environment. By immersing them in the environment, this method enables a deeper understanding of the customer’s motivations, experiences, and perspectives. Participant observation methods allow us to get valuable insights that are most likely difficult to capture in other methods.

Covert Observation:

Covert Observation involves observing people without their consent or knowledge. It is also known as Hidden Observation. This method is used when it is difficult to get the actual behavior of the people when they know they are being observed. Though this method is known to provide genuine insights, it requires careful consideration as it raises ethical concerns.

Overt Observation:

In Overt Observation, the researcher openly observes the individuals or groups with their consent and knowledge. It enables transparency and inclines ethical practices. Overt observations are conducted in settings where participants are aware of the observations and that their behavior is being recorded.

Time Sampling:

Under Time Sampling Observation, the individuals or groups are observed at specific intervals. Researchers choose a predetermined time to observe and capture the behavior and events within those periods. The time sampling method enables the utilization and management of resources with systematic data collection.

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Advantages of the Observation Method

The observation method is a known research technique that offers many advantages for data collection for mystery audits. Some of the advantages of the observation method are as follows:

Provide Objective Data

The primary advantage of the observation method is that it provides first-hand objective data. Here the researcher collects the data directly and actively by observing the behavior rather than depending upon the self-reports that might be based on biases or inaccuracies. This allows for collecting real-time data that accurately represent the studied behavior.

Flexibility and Versatility

The observation method is known for its flexibility and versatility in the context of the research approach. It can be conducted in virtual spaces, naturalistic environments, and lab settings, depending upon the objective and the purpose. The observation method has a certain kind of versatility to the study of behavior in the actual context, which improves the quality of the finding.

Capture Subtle Details

Observations enable the researcher to seize the subtle details and the nonverbal cues often missed in other known data collection methods. Since nonverbal details like body language, facial expressions, and voice pitch can convey important information about the respondent, it helps understand the stimuli’s individual responses and social dynamics.

Rich and Qualitative Data

The observation method offers rich and qualitative data through comprehensive observation. Researchers collect a pile of descriptive details like patterns, context, and the behavior of the individuals. This data provides a nuanced understanding of the complicated phenomena with an in-depth subject analysis. Qualitative data also act as the base for further research and hypotheses.

Best to Study Sensitive Behavior

In the observation method, studying sensitive and socially desirable behavior is easier. In situations where the respondents are reluctant to share information, observation helps acquire the exact representation of such behavior. This method helps tackle the social desirability biases usually arising from self-reporting.

Real-Time Feedback

The observation method allows real-time feedback and enables immediate changes when necessary. Researchers can make instant alternatives to their interview protocols and data collection approach based on the observations. This adaptability enables it to be responsive and dynamic with emerging insights and improve the validity of the data.

Disadvantages of the Observation Method

While the observation method offers many advantages, its disadvantages must not be overlooked. Here are some of the disadvantages of the observation method:

Observer Bias

The primary disadvantage of the observation method is the likelihood of observer bias. The observer may have insecurities, biases, expectations, and preconceived notions that may affect the research process and influence the recording and interpretation of the behavior and events. This bias can result in inaccurate data and compromise the result of the research finding.

Hawthorne Effect

The Hawthorne effect implies the changes in the individual’s behavior and actions when he knows he is being observed. People are likely to change their behavior, consciously or unconsciously, to be more favorable and meet society’s expectations. This change may result in an inconsistency between the observed and natural behaviors.


The observation method is a time-consuming and resource-intensive approach. It demands a significant amount of effort and time, particularly when the observation is to be conducted in a natural setting. Researchers also need to invest in scheduling observation sessions, training the observers, and examining the large piles of data. With that, observation is usually costly when advanced technology or equipment is required to capture the behavior accurately.

Limited Scope

Another limitation of the observation method is its limited scope and narrow focus. Researchers observe the behavior and events but may not understand the cognitive processes, underlying motivation, and emotions. In this case, the researcher must supplement the observation with other necessary methods for a comprehensive understanding and insights.

Changes in Natural Dynamics

The observer’s presence can change the observed setting’s natural dynamics. People’s behavior changes when observed, which may lead to modified or artificial behavior. This change can be especially problematic in extensive settings where individuals might feel self-conscious and, as a result, modify their behavior. The presence of the observer can affect the authenticity of the observed data.

Difficulty in Translating

Translating the data into measurable variables can be challenging in the observation method. Observation often results in qualitative and descriptive data unsuitable for statistical analysis. Due to this, the researcher must create categorization schemes and coding systems to convert the qualitative data into a quantitative one. This process can lead to subjectivity and errors.

what is observation method

Why Should You Choose HS Brands Asia As Your Mystery Shopper?

If you’re looking for a mystery shopper, HS Brands Asia is the best choice, as we are India’s most trusted mystery shopping company. We provide innovative strategies to ensure solutions to the challenges you face in your business. We protect known brands worldwide and provide service to industries like hospitality, retail, food service, automotive, etc. Let HS Brands Asia help you protect your brand!

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