Fieldwork Isn’t Easy!

This weekend, I got an assignment from Rhizome to go do some observations for one of their clients.  My task was to go to three electronics stores to observe the store layouts and customer behavior.  I have to say that it was probably one of the most uncomfortable situations I’ve been in since coming to China.  Anna, a fellow intern from Germany, and I first visited Suning on Friday evening.

When we walked into the store, there were almost no customers.  We had a huge task list that included taking pictures of merchandise, taking pictures of customers, watching what customers bought, watching how store employees helped, and watching general customer behavior.  I made the mistake of bringing a Rebel camera to take pictures.  About ten minutes into our visit, employees began to approach me, scolding me for taking pictures.  I quickly tried to explain that I was a student. They grumbled and glared at me.  Eventually I stopped taking pictures.  Employees were less likely to hassle Anna with her small camera and so she took the rest of the pictures.


We were asked to spend 1.5 hours at each store, which was extremely difficult.  Suning had about 30 customers the entire time we were there. Guomei, another electronics store, had about 8-10 in the 30 minutes we stayed there.  At both stores, it got to the point where employees recognized us because we were constantly passing the same products.  There was at least a 2:1 employee to customer ration which made it even harder to take pictures of products without the employees noticing.

Our third stop, Media Markt, was a little bit easier.  This was a more Westernized electronics store.  During one walkthrough of the store, we saw over 250 customers.  It was amazing how many more people were at this store compared to the other ones. We discretely went around the store, taking pictures of customers, and watching general buying patterns.  While it was fun, it was also very tedious to walk past the same aisles over and over for an hour and half.

I had a good experience doing this fieldwork, but I’m not sure if I’d be able to do it as a full time job.  I am interested to see how Rhizome will use the information we compiled this weekend, and am happy to help the company out.  I have often felt lost at their meetings (mainly in Chinese), and so I’m glad to have finally contributed something of use to the company.