Ben Hewitson considers the ways in which optically wearable technology will enable researchers to gain deeper insights…

Back in January, NewMR.org hosted a webinar on the potential for Google Glass to be used within Market Research. I, along with many others watched and listened intently as David Zakariaie, CEO of Glassic outlined his thoughts on the role the technology could play in our industry.

Google Glass

As the product is still in development, it is difficult to discern how, or even if Google Glass will be useful to us as researchers. However, my view is that over time, optically wearable tech of all descriptions will develop into resources that we can add to our methodological toolbox. There are two key applications of Google Glass in Market Research; both of which concern the practicalities of gathering data, but also require increased societal acceptance of the technology:

As an alternative to ‘in-situ’ eye-tracking: The technology holds particularly exciting implications for shopper and retail research, especially when we’re seeking to understand in-store decision making processes. Currently, eye-tracking equipment (goggles and backpacks) can be cumbersome and uncomfortable, impeding ‘natural’ behaviour. Participants often feel self-conscious because their attire attracts unwanted stares from other shoppers and this can in turn influence their behaviour. The equipment also needs to be precisely configured by a technician and can’t be adjusted by the participant.

Optical wearable tech could change this. Whilst it isn’t yet ‘conventional attire’, it could only be a few years before it is. And when it achieves ‘normalisation status’, participants will own their own versions of Glass: They will be familiar with them, they will be calibrated to their specific requirements and there will be a range of styles to suit even the most fashion conscious – stares of admiration will replace stares of bemusement.

Optically wearable tech will enable respondents to capture hands-free footage

Providing a better way of capturing ‘real life’ moments in consumer’s lives: Using the record function built-in to Glass, respondents will be able to capture their world – literally as they see it. Currently, we draw on smartphones or flipcams to gather this data – and Google Glass would work in the same way. However, the key differences with Glass are not only its ability to allow respondents to conduct ‘hands-free’ filming, thereby opening the door to experiences where we need to use our hands, such as cooking, shopping and driving, but also its ability to capture ‘natural’ footage more easily.

However, whilst these applications present exciting advancements, there are some clear barriers to Market Research appropriating the technology. First is our tendency to be slow in adopting and applying new technology to our studies. Many of us still perceive mobile as a ‘new’ medium through which to conduct research – it’s well over five years since smartphones began their march towards ubiquity.  Second is the cost of the devices. With the launch price of Glass expected to be around $1000 USD, will the opportunities present good value for money for research agencies? It seems unlikely. It is more likely that Glass will become the domain of specialist providers – much in the same way that eye-tracking firms operate today. Finally is the issue of bespoke software or apps developed for market research purposes – which don’t currently exist for Glass. Much of the potential for Market Research applications rests on the development of usable programmes – both at their front and back ends.

Ultimately though, Google Glass isn’t yet ready for Market Research purposes and Market Research isn’t yet ready for Google Glass. Indeed, I’m not sure society is ready. We’re going to need to wait until optically wearable tech becomes at least accepted, if not normalised in popular culture for us to be able to extract research value out of it.