Public Radio’s Marketplace has a nice piece on the company Actionspeak, which hires people to go shopping while wearing small video cameras. The claim is that the cameras are unobtrusive enough that the research subjects quickly find themselves acting as they always do while shopping, and Actionspeak then analyzes the video to learn ways their customer can improve their presentation or marketing. They’ll also do runs where subjects are asked to give a running monologue about what they’re thinking as they shop.
These videos might give some straight marketing info (like which family member actually decides the sale or whether to focus on self-position, packaging or price), but I bet the real win is in showing designers how their product actually gets used in the wild. The combination of seeing as your customer sees, along with the ability to ask about particular moments afterwards, is really powerful. Not only can you learn things you’d never learn from interviews alone, but the overlay of first-person video with explanatory customer interviews has much more impact on a designer than would a table of survey results containing the same information. (Take a look at the consumer goods video especially for examples.)