Assessing Human Recall

Assessing Human Recall:
Understanding Limits & Measuring Reality

What can be discovered when we compare human recall to actual human behavior?

Every day, marketers and researchers ask people about their past shopping behaviors, relying on human recall to inform key business decisions. However, can today’s busy and over-stimulated consumer be relied upon to remember such details over a long period of time?

To answer this question and assess the limits of self-reported behaviors, DISQO put shopper recall to the test. Leveraging DISQO’s behavioral tracking technology in conjunction with a survey on shopping behaviors, we were able to assess the nuances between what people said and what they actually did, known as the consumer recall gap. In particular, we assessed the recall gap with respect to:

  • Online retailer site visitation
  • Categories shopped
  • Subcategories shopped
  • Price paid for items purchased


The study found that while consumers are able to recall general behaviors with relative accuracy, their recollection of specific shopping activities faltered.

  • People overestimated online shopping for electronics up to 26%
  • People overestimated online shopping for personal care items up to 35%

The Bottom Line

The divergence between what consumers report in surveys and their actual behavior is not a new concern. However, it is rarely measured. As a result of this study, the importance of leveraging multiple market research methodologies, particularly to better understand what people say and do, has been quantified.

Ultimately, it is imperative to understand when & how to use reported survey data, when research is better served by sources of observed behavioral data, and when it is best to leverage a combination of both.

Assessing Human Recall: Understanding Limits & Measuring Reality

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