women using a smartwatch in a store

Can the Smartwatch Transform Qualitative Market Research?

The idea that a person could search for information with a special pair of glasses, check their fitness level with a bracelet, or receive an urgent message on their watch used to be the stuff of science fiction. But today wearable technology is a reality. It has a long way to go, but this rapidly developing sector is of particular interest to those involved in qualitative market research. 

Of all the wearable tech available, the smartwatch has become one of the most desirable items. The Apple Watch and Android Wear are among the most popular smartwatches, and these devices have a number of current and potential applications, ranging from GPS capabilities to serving as a music player. While these smartwatches obviously have both practical and recreational appeal for consumers, they also could very well have a big impact on the way that qualitative market research is conducted.

Introducing the Smartwatch into Qualitative Market Research

Increasingly, market researchers are integrating advanced technology into their studies and focus groups. While the traditional question and answer methods of research are often still effective, people now use smartphones, tablets and wearable devices as a regular part of their everyday lives, so it’s only logical to utilize them in the research process. 

In market research online communities, for example, respondents are frequently encouraged to use technology to view digital media and to provide responses, whether it’s by sending emails, answering surveys, recording video diaries, or taking photos. The smartwatch could be very useful for MROC participants, making it easier for them to stay engaged with the community by reading incoming messages from the moderator and fellow respondents, or by viewing videos or graphics for a task.

Potential for the Smartwatch in Ethnographic Research

The branch of qualitative market research where the smartwatch (and wearable tech in general) could have the greatest potential is ethnographic research. Typically ethnographic researchinvolves a researcher being “embedded” with the participant, whether at their home, in the workplace, or perhaps out while they do their shopping. The idea is that the researcher can observe first-hand how the person behaves and interacts in their everyday life as a consumer.

Qualitative Market Research

However, a device like the smartwatch could potentially eliminate the need for the researcher’s presence in ethnographic research. While this is still a developing technology, once smartwatches have all or most of the capabilities of a smartphone – e.g. taking good quality photos, video recording – they could be used by the participant as a means to document their experiences themselves and then send the data to the research team.

Features like the smartwatch’s GPS tracking could enable the research team to easily gather useful data regarding the participant’s location and path. The fitness monitoring capabilities of a smartwatch could also yield some very interesting information about different aspects of a person’s physical status. Heart rate monitoring alone could be very illuminating in market research, revealing whether or not certain questions make a respondent excited or anxious, or demonstrating how strenuous tasks and activities might be for the participants. For healthcare market researchers in particular, being able to monitor a respondent’s heart rate could provide a valuable way of helping to ensure their comfort and safety during the research process.

Managing Privacy Concerns

Ever since people began carrying around smartphones that can track their location and movements, concern over personal privacy and security has skyrocketed. That concern is perhaps even more heightened when it comes to the matter of wearable technology. Qualitative market researchers have important ethical obligations when it comes to maintaining the privacy of research participants, so if they want to begin encouraging respondents to utilize smartwatches, it is vital that they ensure the information that they gather is secure and remains completely private. 

A Valuable Ally for Research Participants

Smartwatches are one of the most innovative and most coveted gadgets in the marketplace right now, and they are gaining new abilities practically by the minute. At the pace that this technology is moving, it’s easy to imagine a not-too-distant research study in which a participant goes on a shopping task in which their smartwatch is the sole device used to document the experience.

What might that be like? Well, the participant refers to a message on the watch that explains the instructions for the task. Then the participant takes photos of the product that they are looking for, and records a video describing their search for it. Meanwhile, the research team gathers the GPS data to determine precisely where the participant was and how many steps they walked in search of the product.

In this scenario, not only could the use of the smartwatch allow the participant to take the reins of the research process, but it could also rid the process of quite a bit of human error. No more worrying about the respondent inaccurately describing their experience, or the researcher missing a critical moment. Armed with a smartwatch, the person taking part in the study will be able to capture the important details that help drive qualitative market research.

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