Ethnographic Research in China

How does daxue consulting do Ethnographic Research in China?

observation-research-chinaDaxue consulting’s team leverages methodologies to provide its clients with pragmatic, agile and close-to-market research approach. Ethnographic research analysis in China offers practical advantages regarding the thorough understanding of the context and cultural background shaping the Chinese consumers. Ethnographic research allows us to:

  • Observe groups of people in their natural setting and daily context, which proves to be also completely different than the environment of western consumers
  • Pay attention to the context, artifacts, environment, shop-along, and interactions of Chinese participants to identify some cultural aspects and patterns shaping Chinese consumption
  • Study regular patterns and routines of the Chinese audience, as well as observing how the Chinese consumer responds to new stimuli or different situations by observing subjects over a long period of time


Daxue’s aim is to provide clients with a thorough understanding of the social cultures of target market segments in China. Ethnographic research allows companies to realize and determine information based on our researcher’s analysis on different Chinese cultural environments to learn and understand customers’ values, motives, and practices. By understanding how people live and consume, researchers will discover elusive trends that inform the company’s future strategies. Our goal is to understand the perspectives of consumers and help our clients understand their consumers and adapt to fast-changing markets. Below are a few examples of when and how ethnographic research is used:

  • To search for the impact of Chinese cultural norms and views in business perspective
  • To examine and try to find reasons for the use of certain consumption behaviors and practices
  • To examine social interactions, encounters, shop-along, and market trends in China
  • To understand the roles of families, relationships, and organizations in the Chinese consumption

When daxue consulting uses this method, we seek to impose as little personal bias into the data as possible. We cross-analyze our ethnographic research in China using the following methodologies:

All these complementary methodologies can be adapted to reinforce our ethnographic findings. In-Depth Interviews with Key Group Members simply modifies the model of In-Depth Interviews with Market Insiders to collect key data regarding cultural background and therefore be used for ethnographic investigation. Furthermore, when doing a Cultural Survey, we use our online/offline survey methodology, but we focus the questionnaire design and analysis framework on ethnographic issues that are relevant to the interests of our client. Finally, when executing a Cultural Study through Focus Groups, we use the Focus Group setting to conduct observational research about the culture of a particular market segment through the focus group interactions.

Observation Research in China, on the other hand, is a unique four-step process:

  1. Establishing Rapport: In the case of a closed setting such as a group of restaurant managers or wine importers, the researcher gets to know the members of the group. In the case of an open setting such as a mall, the researcher blends into the crowd.
  2. In the Field: The researcher does as the locals do, doing his best to be accepted as a member of the group. This allows the researcher to have access to otherwise closed-off spaces to get a holistic understanding of the culture he is studying.
  3. Recording Observations and Data: This includes field notes, In-Depth Interviews with Key Group Members, and Reflexivity Journals. A Reflexivity Journal is where the researcher records his personal thoughts and feelings about the subjects of study. This helps the researcher to evaluate his biases.
  4. Analyzing Data: This takes the form of a Thematic Analysis and a Narrative Analysis. A Thematic Analysis seeks to identify common themes in the data, and a Narrative Analysis seeks to turn the data into a coherent story. Both forms of analysis help the client glean a full understanding of the data collected.

What is an Ethnographic Research in China?

Ethnography is an anthropological study that seeks to understand how people live their lives. Researchers use various methods to answer questions that cannot be answered through quantitative measures. Unlike traditional market research that asks specific and purely statistical or qualitative questions, this observation research in China emphasizes observing people’s behavior on their terms. This method can help us, for instance, to understand how Chinese customers would use a new product and incorporate it into their daily lives.

At daxue consulting, we understand how important a clear and holistic understanding of a culture is for successful market entry in China. With an ethnographic research report in hand, the client’s firm can gain the upper hand over the competition by paying attention to the subtle but significant signs within the culture of the client’s target market segments.

ethnographic-research chinese consumer

Methods of Ethnographic Market Research

Ethnographic market research (EMR) helps companies understand a consumer’s cultural trends, lifestyle factors, attitudes and how social context influences product selection and usage. EMR is much more realistic than typical product testing methods – gathering information from the real world compared to a controlled environment. Using anthropology as its foundation, EMR utilizes a variety of techniques and practices to present a complete picture of consumers and how products and services fit into their daily lives. Some different methodologies involved with EMR are:

  • On-Site: This research takes place wherever the consumer is using the product or service, such as a restaurant, store, office or even car. Conducting place-based research allows the researcher to interview and observe the behavior first hand, and ask follow-up questions afterward
  • In-Home: These sessions are similar to on-site events, occur within the home environment. They can include one or multiple family members, and often last for several hours. The researcher is immersed in the home environment and observes, asks questions and listens to obtain insight into consumer trends, reactions, problems. In-home sessions provide businesses with insight into how to improve products, what new items are needed and how changing needs affect usage.
  • Virtual: Virtual EMR sessions are done online and require the participants to carry out a variety of tasks, usually over a period of days or weeks. Consumers might be asked to write essays on a product, select pictures or even film themselves. This full immersion process is designed to reveal a complete image of the consumers’ attitudes, emotions, and perceptions
  • Peer Parties: Peer parties mirror the traditional focus group, in that multiple consumers gather to discuss a product or service, answer questions and provide feedback. The two formats differ in that the EMR peer party event takes place in a residence and participants know each other. This atmosphere is often more relaxed to bring forth feedback and insight that would otherwise be less likely to surface. A researcher moderator assists in guiding the conversation, but otherwise remains in the background

Cross-Cultural and Organizational Analysis: This method helps businesses identify obstacles that they might encounter in foreign countries, and assists in redefining how specific corporate values or products might need to be altered for maximum success and productivity

Ethnographic research in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and more

For all the services listed above, daxue consulting has developed the resources and research network to provide them throughout China + Hong Kong and Taiwan. Although based in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong, we are used to travel in China for our clients and know very well the specificities of each area of the country. We therefore work in the following cities: For all the services listed above, daxue consulting has developed the resources and research network to provide them throughout China + Hong Kong and Taiwan. Although based in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong, we are used to travel in China for our clients and know very well the specificities of each area of the country. We therefore work in the following cities:
  • Tier-1 cities Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Tianjin as well as
  • Tier-1+ cities such as Nanjing, Chongqing, Kunming, Xi’an, Wuhan, Shenyang, Dongguan
  • and many tier-2 cities and tier-3 cities.

ethnographic research china

Contact us