Shopping at the Farmers Market in Seattle
Farmers markets are a popular destination in Seattle. But who exactly are the people who make them so popular? What and how do they purchase, how do they make their way around and what are their primary goals of visiting a farmers market? What makes them come back week after week? This post explores a few classic user research techniques in the context of something many people do: buying fun things at a fun place.
I frequently go to the University District Farmers Market in Seattle, WA. It is one of the larger markets in the city of Seattle. What types of shoppers come to this market? I observed the following groups:
Serious Market Shoppers: Pre-pared with large shopping bags and carts; they are dressed in Pacific Northwest style, which is very typ-ical for Seattle, REI fleece jackets, khaki pants, sneakers. The younger, hipper group that falls into the serious organic shoppers wears creative, artistic outfits. Hats are popular. This group is diverse in gender, age, and nationality. You hear many people talk in foreign languages. The largest number in this category seems to be in the 30-60 years of age range. These people shop in a targeted fashion; they come to the market with a purpose, which is shopping for high quality produce. They are regulars that know their favorite vendors. This group makes up 40% of the visitors.
Family Fun Shoppers: The visitors who fall into this category bring the entire family to the market. They spend more time in the food court section of the market than in the produce section. They have their kids with them and dogs and they make the market a weekend destination for entertainment and some street food. They socialize here. Some of them also carry shopping bags and are a bit of a crossover between this category and the Serious Shoppers. This group makes up 40% of the visitors.
Occasional Visitors: Many young college students peruse the market as it’s a fun thing to do on Saturday morning and they live super close. They carry no bags and you don’t see them buying any produce. They may grab a bite to eat in the food court, and the female students often purchase a bouquet of fresh cut seasonal flowers. They dress just the way they do as if they’d be walking around on college campus. They make up roughly 20% of the demographic.
How do people traverse the market?
The market is laid out in two rows of stands, left and right of a street that is closed during market day. The Serious Shoppers walk up one side, walk down the other, then do another round in a focused way, this time just visiting the vendors they want to purchase from. The Family Fun Shoppers plug up the flow by standing around and chatting with people they know, their kids and dogs around them. They occupy large spaces and form groups. It is unclear how they get their shopping done, it appears to be a “let’s see what we find this time” process. The Occasional Visitors just strut up and down the strip to see whether they spot any other college students they know. They all walk in small groups. Purchasing is not the goal for them, it’s being here and being seen by their friends.
What are the most common purchases and behaviors?
The Serious Shoppers are foodies and go after local, organic produce of high quality. They know their stuff and purchase many specialty items. They get here early and make a beeline for their favorite vendors before the organic, free-range eggs run out. They chat with the vendors about produce details. The Family Fun Shoppers spend a lot of money in the food court section, and they chat more with other people they know than with vendors. The Occasional Visitors don’t appear to purchase many items.
How do people pay?
Cash seems still a popular payment instrument, but many vendors (probably 80%) take credit cards now via their ipad or phones. You see more cash transactions than credit card transactions, though.
What is the shopping venue/environment like?
The environment is friendly, diverse, hip, organic. Anything goes. Some visitors take this as an opportunity to dress up in costumes to walk around in the market. It’s socially fully accepted here, even though it’s not Halloween yet.
What makes the market so popular?
This market is primarily a success as it has a high number of regular vendors every week with a very diverse offering ranging from locally produced organic produce to meat, eggs, cheeses, fresh handmade pasta, foraged edibles, flowers, teas, shrubs, kombucha and many other food specialties. The market has a small entertainment section with performing artists. The poets are there every week to write poems on the fly with a few prompts from the client. You can also get your portrait drawn. The food court is focused on offering freshly prepared street food that is based on local ingredients. There are tables for people to sit down and eat and chat. The market is a community event.