The primary objective of many businesses is to make profits from the sale of goods and services. As a result, many organizations engage in various marketing activities to create awareness of the existence of their products in the market. Some of the marketing activities include advertising, sales promotion, market research, and public relations.
Moreover, business entities acknowledge the vital role that customers play in ensuring their continuity and sustainability. With this in mind, several companies have established customer relationship management centers and activities that are aimed at creating positive relationships with their target consumers and handling complaints. However, although the marketing activities have a positive impact on organizational performance, some entities may engage in actions that endanger the safety and health of consumers.
Examples of unfair business practices include the inclusion of harmful ingredients to make products more durable and the use of inferior materials in the production/service processes to cut production costs. These practices have also triggered the emergence of institutions and culture that monitors how marketers manipulate data through a process called market surveillance. Market surveillance plays an oversight role that involves detecting and investigating manipulative or illegal activities in companies. The concept helps in ensuring that consumers get safe and quality goods that match their attached value. Furthermore, apart from the consumers, market surveillance also protects companies and investors from unfair business practices from competitors and management, respectively. This paper analyzes the concept of surveillance culture and techniques. The essay also looks into the impact of consumer surveillance on society.
Surveillance can be described as watching or monitoring an object or activity. Surveillance is a common term in various fields, including security, healthcare, business, and marketing. The concept is not to society as it dates back to several decades ago (Galič et al., 2017). However, the concept has changed over the years due to the changes in the business or external environment. One of the primary reasons for the change in surveillance is technological advancements, which have improved various aspects of society (Galič et al., 2017). Moreover, the adoption of new technologies by businesses and individuals has created the need for more advanced surveillance techniques. Another factor that has led to changes in marketing or surveillance practices is culture change and the wave of civilization (Ellis et al., 2010).
Surveillance is part of the culture of many societies globally. Furthermore, the advancements in technology have also increased consumer awareness of their rights and obligations as the users of various products and services (Galič et al., 2017; Ellis et al., 2010). As a result, surveillance can be conducted from multiple levels, with differing or similar objectives. An example of the levels of consumer or market surveillance is the national level. One of the roles of the government is to protect its citizens from harm. As a result, many countries have established national surveillance agencies and protocols to oversee the products and services that flow into their borders from other regions. The governmental surveillance agencies usually inspect the quality of products and services to ensure that they meet the set national standards.
Apart from international trade, national surveillance agencies also inspect and regulate the activities of the local businesses and organizations. In various countries, the government has set up agencies that develop and implement quality standards that must be adhered to by all individuals and entities conducting business within its borders. Additionally, governments also create legislation that guides the conduct of business people to protect consumers. An excellent example is the Food and Drugs Act, which governs the production and importation of products, and sets the limit for acceptable chemical levels. Moreover, consumer surveillance usually refers to these standards to determine whether products or services are safe for consumption.
Another level of surveillance culture is in the industry. The types of products and services vary across sectors. As such, various industries have a different set of standards and protocols for determining the quality of products and services. For instance, the food industry advocates for minimal levels of chemicals on consumer goods to prevent the prevalence of various diseases in society. On the other hand, products from the chemical industry may contain higher levels of synthetic materials. Therefore, an industry may have its surveillance culture that uses evaluation criteria or standards that match the safety requirements of consumers.
Organizations also have their level of surveillance culture. Additionally, like with the industries, organizations may also vary with regard to their products, objectives, and culture. For instance, part of an organization’s culture may be conducting consumer surveys quarterly to determine whether they have met customers’ expectations concerning the quality of products and consumer safety. On the other hand, another organization in the same industry may have its surveys monthly, depending on their customer relationship management policies. Furthermore, the organizational level of surveillance culture becomes part of the employees’ activities, and they are usually trained on how to address consumer-related issues.
The final form of surveillance culture is the individual level. As mentioned earlier, the ease of access to technology such as mobile phones and the internet has led to the growth of consumer awareness (Lyon, 2017). Today, many people can easily access policies governing the production of a specific product on their phones. Additionally, social media platforms have a significant impact on how individuals view a particular product, especially when users post reviews and comments. With the readily available knowledge, individuals have developed a culture of surveillance whereby they check online reviews and product details before making a purchase (Lyon, 2017).
Consumer Surveillance Techniques
Marketers employ various strategies and techniques to monitor the activities or reactions of customers concerning the products or services of their companies. Additionally, a single marketer can use multiple approaches, depending on the type of information or report required at the end of the exercise. The consumer monitoring techniques can be either manual or involve the use of technology or digital devices. Irrespective of the type of technique applied in customer monitoring, it is indisputable that many marketers value the contribution of consumer surveillance to organizational performance (Ellis et al., 2010). However, before selecting a consumer surveillance technique, it is crucial to understand their strengths and weaknesses to determine their reliability to the situation at hand. Below is an analysis of some of the consumer monitoring approaches commonly used by marketers.
One of the approaches that markers employ in monitoring consumers observing their behavior every time they visit a company or shop (Benedictine University, 2020). Observation is perfect for gathering first-hand information concerning a particular product or consumer. The technique may also require noting down some of the observed characteristics, such as the type of product selected and repeat purchases (Benedictine University, 2020). Additionally, a marketer may decide to observe a specific consumer or group of customers over a particular period and compare the observation of each visit. Deviations from the customers’ behavior may indicate that they are not satisfied with an organization’s product or services. For instance, if a customer changes the quantity purchased or does not make a return purchase, the marketer can conclude that the product did not meet customers’ expectations. This knowledge can be used to improve products and services so that they can be aligned with consumers’ needs.
Observation has several advantages. One, the information obtained is accurate since the marketer watches the buyers instead of relying on secondary data. Secondly, the approach is quite simple and saves time since it is carried out at the point of sale (Benedictine University, 2020). Moreover, observation does not require many resources, since the marketers only need to dedicate their time to the exercise. Despite these merits, an observation also has some drawbacks. For example, an observable trait may be misleading, especially when a change in consumers’ habits is triggered by factors other than products/services. Secondly, there is a risk of misinterpreting consumers’ attitudes or perceptions due to differences in opinions and buying habits. Therefore, observation can be more effective if employed together with other techniques, such as a face-to-face conversation with consumers.
Surveys are among the standard tools that are used in marketing, whether to conduct research or carry out consumer surveillance. Marketers usually use this tool to collect information from many customers at a go (Benedictine University, 2020). The marketers typically develop survey questions, which can be open-ended or closed-ended, and issues the same to consumers. However, before forming the questions, the marketers should first determine the objectives of the exercise to help them structure the questionnaires. The survey questions can be issues to customers when they visit an organization, mailed to their addresses, or sent through email (Benedictine University, 2020). Furthermore, sometimes marketers use online surveys to reach a wider audience.
Similar to observation, surveys also have their merits and drawbacks. On the positive side, surveys enable the marketers to collect large volumes of data, hence providing a variety of information concerning a product (Benedictine University, 2020). Additionally, the survey is more reliable in determining consumer trends as compared to observations since they include a larger population. Moreover, customers may find surveys more convenient since they can complete the questions at their own time. On the downside, sometimes consumers may fail to return the questionnaires. Such situations may lead to insufficient data, thereby impairing decision-making. Furthermore, the survey questions may not cover all the aspects of a product or consumer, hence leading to incomplete data. Based on these factors, surveys should also be accompanied by other methods, such as interviews and discussions to enhance surveillance outcomes.
Sometimes a company may decide to target a specific group of customers or a segment instead of random buyers. The use of focus groups involves bringing together the target customers and enabling them to engage in conversations concerning a particular product or service (Benedictine University, 2020). The technique is more appropriate for new products or rebranding. The marketer collects information or opinion of customers during the conversation, and use the outcome to change the product features where necessary.
The use of a focus group is a reliable method of collecting data from consumers. Additionally, since the buyers get to discuss the product or service, a marketer can receive a variety of information or ideas that can help improve the items in question (Benedictine University, 2020). Moreover, using focus groups also enables an organization to concentrate on one market segment at a time. However, the technique is may not be suitable for multiple products or services as the customers may mix-up information or focus on a single product and ignore the other (s). Additionally, the opinion of a few individuals may not represent the actual situation in the market since people have different tastes and preferences.
One of the benefits of online research is that the data is readily available on various websites, thereby simplifying the collection process. The availability of data also saves time and resources that could have been used to approach individual consumers. The limitation of the technique is that some of the websites are not reliable (Skurpel, 2016). People may establish pseudo websites to lure others to subscribe for malicious reasons. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that the site is operated by a legal and existing company or organization. Secondly, users may also give false information concerning a product to discourage or encourage potential buyers (Skurpel, 2016). Moreover, some organizations do not update their websites regularly. Therefore, data retrieved from such sites may be inaccurate.
Societal Impacts of Consumer Surveillance
From the discussion above, it is evident that consumer surveillance has significant effects on society and customers’ social perspective. For example, most of the consumer surveillance techniques mentioned above aim at collecting data that can help improve the quality of products and services. As a result, companies can adjust their products and services to match the needs of customers. Some of these needs are under the social aspect of life, such as possessing the latest designs or products. Secondly, consumer surveillance has increased the awareness of customers concerning various products and services. The increased awareness leads to a surveillance culture among consumers whereby they look at product features, reviews, and feedback from other users before they make their purchasing decision.
Consumer surveillance is an essential tool in any organization that wants to enhance its performance and sustainability. The concept helps business entities to keep up with the market changes and meet customers’ expectations with regards to the quality and features of a product or service, especially with the era that is characterized by digital activities and increased consumer awareness. Moreover, marketers can use different consumer surveillance techniques to collect information that can aid in boosting their sales. However, sometimes it is essential to use more than one surveillance techniques to derive maximum benefits from the activity. Furthermore, the concept has several advantages for not only the organization but also consumers and society.
Benedictine University. (2020). Evaluating Consumer Behavior to Boost Your Business. Benedictine University. https://online.ben.edu/programs/ba-management/resources/evaluating-consumer-behavior-to-boost-your-business
Ellis, N., Fitchett, J., Higgins, M., Jack, G., Lim, M., Saren, M., & Tadajewski, M. (2010). Marketing: A Critical Textbook. SAGE.
Galič, M., Timan, T., & Koops, B. J. (2017). Bentham, Deleuze, and beyond: An overview of surveillance theories from the panopticon to participation. Philosophy & Technology, 30(1), 9-37. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13347-016-0219-1
Lyon, D. (2017). Digital citizenship and surveillance| surveillance culture: Engagement, exposure, and ethics in digital modernity. International Journal of Communication, 11, 19. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/313744342_Surveillance_Culture_Engagement_Exposure_and_Ethics_in_Digital_Modernity
Skurpel, D. (2016). Advantages and disadvantages of internet marketing research. World Scientific News, (57), 712-721. http://www.worldscientificnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/WSN-57-2016-712-721.pdf