Morning at Otago Farmers Market

We went on a trip to the farmers market on this beautiful summer day. We were briefed nicely by Richard on observing as a design tool for research to solve problems. This is one the place to find high involvement customers or foodies. We were actively looking for actions like who was purchasing, when were they purchasing, what and how much were they purchasing. We also were going to quietly observe interactions happening between the buyers and vendors and different kinds of groups in the buyers category. Since the project involved us being a vendor one day selling our cherry based product, it was obvious that we were going to study vendors very closely too.

As a team we strategically decided to closely monitor the merchandising and see what vendors were actually doing. Whether their actions were having an impact on the sales and if they were leaving their mark on the customers as well. We were also briefed on the fact that free tasting does generate a notion of reciprocity and customers end up buying some goods from the vendor.

Part of the observation was the context. Dunedin is a small city and a rugby game or a cruise ship can have a huge impact on not only the number of people visiting the market but also the mix. Similarly, weather plays an important role indicating if the market is going to be busy. Early part of the year and students in town definitely promotes the visitors to the market.

We were also looking for people who visited the market from demographic point of view. Equally important was to note what sort of groups were they flocking in. Friends circle, families, local or tourists, economic status, lifestyle were some of the parameters that were to be observed as well.

With this new acquired knowledge through lectures from Richard and Adrian, we landed in the market on this beautiful sunny day at 9 in the morning. The market was packed and it was such a vibrant scene at the enter acne where an artist was playing piano. Since it was the Saturday at the end of the O week, the market was exceptionally busy with students new to the town exploring the city. Unlike some of the regular older customers who would go to their favourite fruit and vege vendor, students were going around in circles just chilling basically. These loyal customers had shopping bags and stuff while students hardly had bags suggesting that they were there to consume food/drinks and buy minimal take home stuff. Sometimes these so called loyal regular customers go to their specific shops and are hard to convince to try new products and vendors.

We also made another general assumption that majority of the younger crowd were females. Those who were typically wearing Lycra and sneakers and those who were wearing designer tops and flash sunnies. A lot of these were choosing juices and staying away from baked sweets. It was evident that they came to the market to socialise. Also interesting was the fact that majority of the interactions were face to face. There were hardly any people on phone. Owner operator vendors were actively doing relational interactions as well while employee manned stalls had predominantly transactional interactions. Girls selling strawberries at the Waimate stall and girls at Who ate all my pies stall were a typical example of the above observation. On the other hand people at havoc,mcheese stalls, honey vendor, organic herb lady were all keen to have a chat to build relationships.

Another key observation about the stall itself was that the busy ones definitely had a well stocked up stall. Stack them high and watch them fly. Some of these guys had stalls built at lowere level and had minimum physical barrier between them and their potential customers. It would be safe to make another general assumption based on our observation today that fresh produce stalls were the busiest and meat stalls were the quietest.

There are many regulars who come to this market each week. There were so many shopping with the official farmers market bags. Overall, it was a very happy experience and it certainly made me look beyond the produce and products. There is plenty to be learned if I keep my eyes and ears open and just simply observe with an open mind.

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