“How Many Couches Have You Sat On?”: Why In-Home Qualitative Research is So Important

“How Many Couches Have You Sat On?”:  Why In-Home Qualitative Research is So Important

“How many couches have you sat on?” is the qualitative research equivalent to the question “How much ya bench?”  If you are not getting in-front of your consumer regularly and developing a deep understanding of how she thinks, it will show.   The same is true if you take a few months off from the weight-room.  It will show.  The whole purpose of qualitative research is to develop an innate, gut, understanding of your consumer.  As a qualitative research expert, you want to be able to be your consumers’ authentic voice to your client or organization.  If you haven’t observed your consumer in her home environment, ever, or at least for several months, are you really as credible an expert on her as you think?

Why I Prefer In-Home Ethnographies Over Focus Groups for Qualitative Research:

In a previous post in our Market Research Blog, we talked about some of the key negatives involved with using focus groups.  In my opinion, there are two big negatives about focus groups that in-home qualitative research addresses:

Context:  You actually see your consumer in her home context, interacting with the products as she naturally would.

Consumption:  In some categories (e.g. Baby Care, Pet Care) your consumer and your shopper are not the same.  In a focus group you are getting second-hand information about your consumer’s habits.

There are several other disadvantages to doing focus groups, but in my opinion these are the two that are instantly overcome by doing qualitative research in the home.

Three Major Advantages to Doing In-Home Qualitative Research:

In my personal experience, I have found that doing in-home research has many advantages.  The three that keep bringing me back to in-home qualitative research are:

It Brings the Insights to Life:  It is one thing to hear a consumer talk about her product experience.  It is another thing to watch and record that experience in action.  Pictures and videos can say a thousand words.  They are also often more compelling than a thousand slides of data.

It’s Harder to Lie:  In other qualitative research, where the consumer is in an artificial environment, you can’t fact-check their story.  If something doesn’t sound right, you can’t look around the house to “fill-in” the blanks and get at the truth.  In in-home research, you can more often.  They can’t deny, or hide, or ignore what’s sitting in their pantry.

Cost:  The last advantage to doing in-home qualitative research is a cost.  This is a big one.  Doing an interview in a respondent’s home saves on the rental fee for a market research facility.  After getting enough training and experience, it’s also something you can do on your own.  As a result, you can choose to save on the cost of moderating.  As a result, your main costs are just recruiting and respondent reimbursement.

A Reminder to be Safe When Doing In-Home Qualitative Research:

I should also add, if you choose to do in-home research “on your own,” be smart and safe.  Always bring someone with you.  Never go into a respondent’s home where you feel unsafe.  Also, you should always bring a video camera.  Video cameras capture the research AND provide evidence of what really went on.  Lastly, your company may also have its own policies about who can enter a consumer’s home.  Be sure you are aware of those policies.

So I Can I Have Big Impact With All This Qualitative Research?:

My personal favorite way to drive these insights to action is as a meta-deliverable.  Keep track of how many in-home interviews I’ve done and then doing a meta-report on what I’ve learned.  Milestones like 50, 100, and 200 shoppers work great.

Just imagine, if you sent out an invite titled:  “What I learned after Interviewing 100 Kroger’s Shoppers” or “What I Learned Cooking With 100 of Our Consumers,” who would want to attend?  Would Your Marketing Director? Your Merchant?  The GM?  The CEO?  With enough qualitative research experience you will become a walking encyclopedia of your consumer.  That has untold advantages for both your company and your career.


In-home interviews aren’t the only legitimate form of qualitative research.  In fact, there are several instances where in-home qualitative research isn’t the best method.  Like anything, in-home this method has its limits.  However, for my money, it is one of my go-to approaches.  Feel free to share some of your favorite in-home qualitative research stories in the comments below.  If you need help or consulting on how to execute in-home qualitative research, contact us.

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