Internet Ethnography – Research 2.0

by Peter Sorgenfrei

As researchers, we are constant consumers of information. We conduct or absorb primary and secondary research daily. When it comes to consumer research, we believe in surveying and interviewing people but feel strongly that it is only part of the equation.  The real art to understanding consumers is not just querying them but also observing their behavior and their surroundings.  This act of gleaning insights from consumers via non-verbal behaviors and their personal artifacts is called Ethnography.  It provides fascinating insights to a person’s true being.

We are adept at ethnographic research but are always looking at ways to take it to the next level. A story on Mashable got us discussing what we call Internet Ethnography – the art of looking at data about Internet user’s behavior and creating a better understanding of a specific site’s users based on that data.  We are not talking about WHAT a consumer looks at (we do that with multivariate optimization techniques for clients) but rather HOW they are looking at it.  More specifically, which browser they use to visit a site and how that might give one insight to a site’s user.

The Mashable article discussed the ascent of Google’s Chrome browser in the marketplace.  This is an interesting point – Chrome users must go to Google.com, download and install the program.  Similar action is required for users of Firefox, the Internet browser from Mozilla.  While many of you consider those actions commonplace, there are massive numbers of people that cringe at the thought of doing it.  They would rather just use the little blue “e” icon that they know takes them to the Internet.  In fact, according to Mashable, a majority (62.18%) of Internet users do just that.

Internet Site A Site B Site C
Chrome 5.20% 6.60% 1.80% 4.40%
Firefox 24.40% 27% 44.80% 31.00%
Safari 4.50% 9.70% 9.20% 28.40%
Opera 0.24% 2.60% 0.40% 0.60%
IE 62.18% 48.10% 43.60% 33.20%
Other 3.48% 6.00% 0.20% 2.40%

Based on what we know, it is safe to classify the users of Chrome and Firefox as tech-savvy consumers that are exhibiting early-adopter behavior.

Then there are the users of Safari.  They are either Mac owners or Mac aficionados that installed Safari on their PC.  Apple users are generally more style focused, have a bit more disposable income and are over represented in the fashion, advertising and design fields.  It is safe to say that people using Safari are members of the “creative class”.

Based on those observations and assumptions, we looked at three sites that we are involved with (Site A, B & C) to understand if our assumptions are correct.  One is a woman’s swimwear site primarily targeted to wholesale buyers and designers, one is our corporate site and one is a site targeted to LGBT automotive shoppers.  Can you guess which is which based on the browsers used to access them?

Site A users are above the norm for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera and “other” but still have the most of the three using IE.  Its users seem to be tech-savvy and early-adopters.

Site B, Firefox was the dominant browser, a disproportionate number of visitors access the site via Safari but significantly fewer access it using Chrome compared to the internet at large.   These users are definitely tech savvy but the low usage of Chrome and “other” might suggest corporate users that can’t experiment with the newer tech.

Site C gets over six times as much traffic from visitors using Safari than the Internet at large, with IE being the biggest loser.  There is a very strong chance that the users of site C are members of the creative class based on the incredibly high incidence of users accessing via Safari.

So, did you guess correctly?  Site A is the LGBT automotive site (www.gaywheels.com), site B is our corporate site (www.sorgenfreillc.com) and site C is the women’s swimwear line (www.kathleencook.com).

Gaywheels.com has the highest traffic of the three sites (60K uniques a month) so it makes sense that they have the highest occurrence of IE users but the data really gives credence to the survey research indicating that the LGBT consumer are early adopters and very tech savvy.

Sorgenfreillc.com gets a lot of corporate traffic from a wide variety of industries.  Our clients (and those we seek out) tend to be less stodgy (read less flexible on the IT side) and probably allow the use of browsers like Firefox rather than just IE. Chrome on the other hand might not be mature enough for those ‘chill’ IT departments to allow on to the corporate network.

Kathleencookswim.com is a site that features elegant swimsuits and accessed primarily by wholesale fashion buyers and designers.  Mac seems to be the preferred computer in the fashion industry based its superior ability to handle graphic design applications.

Looking at this type of data is not a substitute for traditional research and as part of Internet Ethnography, it is just one of a myriad of data points to digest in conjunction with each other.  It should be, however, a part of a holistic approach to understanding online consumers, whether they be your customers or research subjects.

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