Using Mobile Ethnography to Research Online Shopping Behaviors

Category : Mobile Ethnography ; Qualitative Research

There is some debate as to where the term Black Friday originated, but one of the more prominent theories ascribes the honor to Philadelphia, where it was used to describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic that would occur on the day after Thanksgiving.

Regardless of its origins, Black Friday has joined Cyber Monday and Singles Day as key calendar dates for retailers around the world. These various events have all had a dramatic impact on the percentage of shoppers who moved their budgets to online shopping over the past decade based on these ‘trigger events’.

Black Friday, Cyber Monday & Singles Day

Spotting the enormous potential of Black Friday, online retailers have quickly got in on the act since 2005 when the term Cyber Monday was first coined in the US. Since then the event has grown rapidly to the point where, according to CNBC, a whopping $7.9 billion was transacted online in 2018. 

On the other side of the globe, consumers in China are gearing up for their equivalent; Singles Day. Singles Day which happens on November 11th every year is a shopping holiday popular among young Chinese people that celebrate their pride in being single.

Although Black Friday and Cyber Monday (the Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States), will be earmarked by big brands as the ‘make-or-break’ day in the Q4 calendar, it may pay to look Eastwards on the map. In 2018, Alibaba registered $30.8 billion worth of sales across its online platforms on Singles’ Day, representing an annual growth rate of 27%.

Simply put, retailers cannot afford to ignore the enormous value of these annual online shopping events.

Challenges for Researchers


However, as single-day events, this can cause headaches for researchers tasked with understanding online shopping behaviors, experiences and expectations on these key days.

The window for understanding these retail phenomenons is short and the manic rush and impulsive decision-making processes of online shoppers can be difficult to research using traditional methodologies.

Capturing the Online Shopping Journey with Mobile Ethnography

Although the shopping might be done in a single day, your research should not. 

As the big day’s approach, getting a true insight into how consumers will prepare, what stores they will visit, and what goods they intend to purchase is the perfect time to embed yourselves in their lives using Mobile Ethnography

Mobile Ethnography gives researchers the ability to understand all shopper personas from the super-organised Holiday Season Shoppers to the first-time Black Friday shoppers. With shoppers spending $717.5 billion on Black Friday in 2018, retailers simply must be prepared to seize the biggest opportunity in the shopping calendar.

By letting consumers show you the adverts that resonate with them in the run-up and letting them tell you in their own words, in their own time how they feel about the day, you can gain the authentic insights that will guide successful strategies this year and in the years beyond.

Mobile Ethnography offers an agile, cost-effective of understanding the behaviors and motivations of consumers whether they’re shopping online in the US, China or anywhere in between. More powerful still, it offers a quick and easy way of understanding what the days mean to these shoppers using multi-market mobile research.

The ‘Digital Stampede’

Whilst brick-and-mortar were traditionally the primary outlets for big bargains, consumers have shifted their search for killer deals online in recent years. As they trawl Amazon, eBay, AliExpress and Walmart in the digital world around the big day, understanding their experiences and expectations can be particularly difficult. Although the internet has unquestionably opened up the world of opportunities for retailers (literally), it has provided a headache for researchers who want to understand consumer behaviors beyond the raw quant data. The numbers are there, but who are these shoppers in real life and what are they doing in the short window of time?

Indeemo’s mobile screen-recording can provide the human insight into the digital behaviors that will be missing in the reams of quantitative data left over for researchers to decipher in the aftermath of the day itself. Using mobile screen-recording, you can see how consumers will search websites and apps for the best deal on the items they desire this Black Friday. 

In addition to showing you how they navigate and search their mobile, the voice-over functionality of the app will allow them to explain their navigation, experiences and feelings as they go about their business.



As consumers have moved online for their Black Friday shop, another critical insight has been lost (or added depending on which way you look at it) by retailers: Context.

Flexibility and convenience are two of the biggest advantages online shopping boasts over their in-store retail equivalents. This means that you can order that pair of shoes on the train to work, the present for your sister at your desk during lunchtime and a new TV from the comfort of your sofa later in the evening.

Web-data won’t tell you where people are doing the shopping, but by allowing them to show you how they act and what they are thinking about, you can gain a greater understanding of the in-the-moment, contextual motivations and experiences.

From an ethnographic perspective, the apocalyptic scenes outside stores on Black Fridays in decades past (we’ve all seen those clips on YouTube!) served up an intriguing case for study and research. But what lengths are people going to online to get the deal they want? It’s time to let them give you that periscope into the big day with mobile ethnography

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We’ve supported researchers trying to understand the path to purchase for everything from smartphones to domestic appliances to cars to hotels to garage doors and aquarium filtration systems!

The one thing they all have in common is that the journey is non-linear, random and omni-platform.

If you’d like to discuss how we might be able to support your next project, please submit your details here and we will be in touch ASAP.

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