Public Observation of Augusta Mall: Observation and the Role of Context, Bias, and the Researcher

Physical Settings

Augusta Mall is a major shopping mall that is present in Augusta, Georgia. Physically, Augusta Mall is located at 3450 Wrightsboro Road in Augusta, Georgia, where it serves the population of Georgia. Its strategic location makes it have numerous business entities and customers. The mall is at the junction of Deputy James Highway and Wrightsboro Road, but the entrance is on Wrightsboro Road. When accessing the mall, one uses the entrance on the southern part of the mall and accesses ample parking area before entering the mall. Since Augusta Mall is a huge shopping center, it comprises anchor tenants such as Sears, Macy’s, Dilliard’s, Noble & Barnes, Dick’s Goods, and JCPenney.

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The mall also hosts some stores like Apple, Ann Taylor, Pandora, H&M, and Sephora, although many others are yet to come because it has a huge capacity. Augusta Mall has over 90 retail spaces for diverse business entities that are operating their businesses in Georgia. Thus, like a shopping center, Augusta Mall offers diverse products and services to its customers, who throng the mall daily.

Augusta Mall, 3450 Wrightsboro Road, Georgia.
Augusta Mall, 3450 Wrightsboro Road, Georgia.

Augusta Mall is visible from Wrightsboro Road. I choose Augusta Mall because it is a busy mall in Augusta. Thousands of people flock to the mall daily to shop for various products or access diverse services. Opening hours of the mall are 9 am to 9 pm from Monday to Saturday and 12 pm to 6 pm on Sunday. However, the operating hours vary from one store to another, depending on the nature of the businesses that stores are conducting.

Throughout the week, the mall is very busy and full of business activities in virtually all stores and shops that are in it. The mall is a favorable place for observation because it does not restrict people from entering, has ample parking area, and has many stores, where one can shop for diverse products. Customers, who shop at the mall, have ranked the mall as the best in Atlanta, Georgia.

The View of Augusta Mall from Parking Area
The View of Augusta Mall from Parking Area.

Results of My Observations

I employed the non-participant observation method because I did not participate in the activities that took place in the mall. Barbour (2007) states that the non-participant observation method has no hawthorn effect on study participants. This means that I undertook a reliable study, which has valid findings. I observed the physical environment, activities, consumer behavior, and demographic variables of consumers.

In sociological studies, human activities and demographic factors are important variables that show consumer behavior (Engel & Schutt, 2005). Hence, in my observation, I examined the activities and demographic factors of the participants, with a view of elucidating consumer behavior in Augusta Mall. Since the period of observation was very short, I started observation at the parking area, “Fashion for Men and Women,” Apple Computer store and Computer Games store. These observations did provide an insight into the customer behavior in August Mall.

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I arrived at the location of Augusta Mall in Augusta on Saturday at 12:30 pm and started to undertake non-participant observation. As a non-participant observer, I prepared myself to overcome influences, which could distract me from making unbiased observations of the mall, people, and activities taking place. In this case, I decided to visit the mall as a window shopper to prevent the hawthorn effect. Babbie (2013) asserts that non-participant observation is the best approach to conducting observational studies because it prevents the hawthorn effect. In essence, diverse people in the mall did not identify me as an observer because they would have changed their behaviors.

Moreover, observational study is effective in social studies because it examines people in their natural environment (Campos, Graesch, Repetti, Bradbury, & Ochs, 2009). Therefore, the study aims at observing the behaviors of customers in August Mall, which is a natural setting where customers behave freely.

I entered the gate of the mall at around 12:30 pm on Saturday and started making my observation. As I approached the parking area, August Mall was quite visible because I could see different anchor tenants. I stayed in the parking area for a period of five minutes and observed how people behave. The parking area was very busy for people were entering and exiting the mall. Since the parking area was extensive, it was difficult to count the number of vehicles, which were packed in it.

Approximately, over a hundred vehicles had been parked, yet there were some spaces remaining for other vehicles. The entry and exit gates were jammed with vehicles, which indicates that the mall is very busy. In the parking area, I could see people parking products that they have purchased into their cars. At the same parking area, some people were standing while conversing as they waited for their friends and family members to emerge from the mall. On the right side of the mall were Sears, Banana Republic, Apple, and JCPenney, while on the right side of the mall were Barnes and Noble Booksellers, Dilliard’s, and Macy’s. These anchor tenants were evident because they used huge labels to indicate the names of their respective stores and shops.

At the entrance of the mall were male security officers, who watched keenly how people enter and exit the mall. In the mall, I entered a section indicating “Fashion for Men and Women” and I noted that customers were busy shopping. The fashions were arranged in an appealing design. The fashions for men, women, and children were in separate sections, which were visible for customers to identify their tastes and preferences. After observing keenly, I noted that most of the customers were women and children because men were countable. Moreover, White Americans were dominant, followed by African Americans, while Hispanics and Indians were rare.

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I went past the section, where the men’s fashions were placed, and viewed the purchasing behaviors of men. Men were mainly purchasing shoes, while women purchased dresses, shoes, and clothes for their children. After spending a period of about 10 minutes in the fashion section, I went into the section of the Apple store, where computers, tablets, and phones were available. Men were the dominant customers in this section. The White men and Black men were almost the same proportion as neither of them dominated Apple store. After about 10 minutes, I noted that phones were the products that customers bought frequently when compared to tablets and computers.

Before exiting the mall, I saw a group of youth entering the mall. The group of the youth comprised of about 10 men, who were conversing loudly as they entered a section indicated as “Video and Computer Games.” When I examined the youth, I noted that they were African Americans. They joined a group of White American youths, who were in the section of “Video and Computer Games,” and interacted with them. It was evident that the youth were the major customers of computer games. As the 30 minutes expired, I went out of the mall and entered the parking area. From there, I departed from the mall and headed home, leaving it busy as I entered.

Bias, Context, and Roles of Researcher in Qualitative Research

Researchers have significant roles in qualitative research, especially the one that involves observation. In qualitative research, researchers become part of the research instrument because they interpret themes and assign meanings to certain behaviors that participants exhibit (Kawulich, 2005). This implies that the findings of the research are dependent on observations that researchers make during a certain study. Since the observation method of data collection is prone to bias, qualitative researchers always strive to overcome biases by employing a number of strategies. Non-participant observation is an effective way of eliminating the hawthorn effect.

Fundamentally, the hawthorn effect is the change of behavior among participants due to the realization that someone is observing them. Monahan and Fisher (2010) state that qualitative researchers, who are using an observation method of data collection, should categorically indicate how they would overcome the Hawthorne effect. In this case, I went to Augusta Mall as a window shopper to prevent shoppers from noticing that I was observing them. Clearly, I managed to camouflage my intention during the period of observation, when I was in the mall.

Research bias could also emanate from the choice of the mall because I choose Augusta Mall, a shopping center because I have visited it several times before the period of observation. Since I am used to the environment and the mall, I overlooked some observations that exhibit negative behavior of the customers. Lacono, Brown, and Holtham (2009) highlight that the nature of the environment under which observation takes place determines biases of qualitative researchers.

Researchers are always keen when they go to a new environment, but they become reluctant when they are in the usual environment (Creswell, 2013). For instance, I never took much attention in examining the demographics of people in the parking area because they seemed obvious to me. What I considered obvious might have significant importance to the study because obvious features influence the validity of the findings.

In the process of heading to Augusta Mall from the parking area, I concentrated on the security officers, who guarded the entrance, and overlooked noticeable posters and signposts that display the types of businesses that are in the mall. I overlooked them because I premeditated to attend the fashion store, Apple store, and Computer Games store. Fox (2004) argues that the biases of researchers emanate from their premeditated outcomes. In this view, my premeditations dictated where I went and what I observed in the mall. Hence, the role of qualitative researchers is to avoid biases that relate to premeditations and to overlook trivial things (Babbie, 2013).

When I entered “Fashion for Men and Women,” I was biased because I did not visit the section where fashions for women and children were situated, but instead, concentrated on the fashions for men. Mattingly and Bianchi (2003) assert that gender bias is an issue that influences sociological studies. Although the number of women was more than the number of men, gender bias dictated my observation. In this view, the role of the researchers is to avoid gender bias because it affects the outcomes of the study.

When I visited the Apple store, I observed that the men comprised the dominant gender, but I did not bother to confirm the extent of their dominance. To me, it was obvious that men are the majority of customers of computers, tablets, and phones. Spano (2009) argues that the generalization of observations has a detrimental effect on the outcome of the study because it is dependent on the experience, beliefs, and intentions of qualitative researchers. Practically, no two or more researchers can derive the same meanings from a given social phenomenon. The complexity of beliefs, norms, values, and traditions, influences how people derive meanings from the same social environment (Patton, 2002). Therefore, my beliefs, norms, and values regarding gender influenced my observation since I focused on one gender and neglected the other one.

The aspect of cultural diversity influenced my observations at the mall since I only focused on the major races such as White Americans, African Americans, Latino, and Hispanics, but disregarded the presence of other races. Based on my observation, one can conclude that Augusta Mall is a shopping center for White Americans, African Americans, Latino, and Hispanics only, which is quite wrong. According to Knight-Lynn (2011), a research expert at the Center for Research Support of Walden University, experiences form the lens through which researchers view social phenomena. Hence, my experience with intercultural diversity influenced the way I observed customers in the shopping mall.

Researchers recommend that observers should have diverse cultural experiences for them to make impartial observations, which are free from cultural biases (Janesick, 2011; Merriam, 2009). Hence, the role of researchers in a qualitative study is to examine issues from a neutral point of view. In the observational study, the theoretical basis of the observation is phenomenology because the approach of non-participant observation seeks to examine consumer behavior as a social construct among the customers in Augusta Mall.

References

Babbie, E. (2013). The Basics of Social Research. New York: Cengage Learning.

Barbour, R. (2007). Introducing Qualitative Research: A Student’s Guide to the Craft of Doing Qualitative Research. New York: SAGE Publisher.

Campos, B., Graesch, A., Repetti, R., Bradbury, T., & Ochs, E. (2009). Opportunity for interaction? A naturalistic observation study of dual-earner families after work and school. Journal of Family Psychology, 23(6), 798-807.

Engel, R., & Schutt, R. (2005). The Practice of Research in Social Work. London: SAGE Publisher.

Fox, C. (2004). Observations, and Reflections of a Perpetual Fieldworker. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 595(1), 309-326.

Janesick, J. (2011). “Stretching” exercises for qualitative researchers (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publisher.

Kawulich, B. (2005). Participant observation as a data collection method. Qualitative Social Research, 6(2), 43-50.

Knight-Lynn, L. (2011). Doctoral research: ensuring quality in qualitative research. Web.

Lacono, J., Brown, A., & Holtham, C. (2009). Research methods: A case example of participant observation. Electronic Journal of Business Research Methods, 7(1), 39-46.

Mattingly, M. J., & Bianchi, S. M. (2003). Gender differences in the quantity and quality of free time: The United States experience. Social Forces, 81(1), 999-1030.

Merriam, S. (2009). Qualitative Research: A Guide to Design and Implementation. London: John & Wiley.

Monahan, T., & Fisher, J. (2010). Benefits of “observer effects”: Lessons from the field. Qualitative Research, 10(3), 357-376.

Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative research and evaluation methods (3rd ed.) Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publisher.

Spano, R. (2009). Potential sources of observer bias in police observational data. Social Science Research, 34(1), 591-617.

Speer, A. & Hutchby, I. (2003). From ethics to analytics: aspects of participants’ orientations to the presence and relevance of recording devices. Sociology, 37(2), 315-337.

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