What is Consumer Behavior?

What is Consumer Behaviour?

The subject deals with issues related to cognition, affect and behavior in consumption behaviors, against the backdrop of individual and environmental determinants. The individual determinants pertain to an individual’s internal self and include psychological components like personal motivation and involvement, perception, learning and memory, attitudes, self-concept and personality, and, decision making.

The environmental determinants pertain to external influences surrounding an individual and include sociological, anthropological and economic components like the family, social groups, reference groups, social class, culture, subculture, cross-culture, and national and regional influences.

The subject can be studied at micro or macro levels depending upon whether it is analyzed at the individual level or at the group level.

The subject is interdisciplinary. It has borrowed heavily from psychology (the study of the individual: individual determinants in buying behavior), sociology (the study of groups: group dynamics in buying behavior), social psychology (the study of how an individual operates in group/groups and its effects on buying behavior), anthropology (the influence of society on the individual: cultural and cross-cultural issues in buying behavior), and economics (income and purchasing power).

Consumer behavior is dynamic and interacting in nature. The three components of cognition, affect and behavior of individuals alone or in groups keeps on changing; so does the environment.

There is a continuous interplay or interaction between the three components themselves and with the environment. This impacts consumption pattern and behavior and it keeps on evolving and it is highly dynamic.

Consumer behavior involves the process of exchange between the buyer and the seller, mutually beneficial for both.

As a field of study it is descriptive and also analytical/ interpretive. It is descriptive as it explains consumer decision making and behavior in the context of individual determinants and environmental influences.

It is analytical/ interpretive, as against a backdrop of theories borrowed from psychology, sociology, social psychology, anthropology and economics; the study analyzes consumption behaviour of individuals alone and in groups.

It makes use of qualitative and quantitative tools and techniques for research and analysis, with the objective is to understand and predict consumption behavior.

It is a science as well as an art. It uses both, theories borrowed from social sciences to understand consumption behavior, and quantitative and qualitative tools and techniques to predict consumer behavior.

Scope of Consumer Behavior

The study of consumer behavior deals with understanding consumption patterns and behavior. It includes within its ambit the answers to the following:

  • ‘What’ the consumers buy: goods and services
  • ‘Why’ they buy it: need and want
  • ‘When’ do they buy it: time: day, week, month, year, occasions etc.
  • ‘Where’ they buy it: place
  • ‘How’ often they buy it: time interval
  • ‘How’ often they use it: frequency of use

The scope of consumer behavior includes not only the actual buyer but also the various roles played by him/different individuals.

Types of Consumers

There are different types, classes, or categories of consumers of goods and services and in this chapter, each of them will be discussed in detail.

Buyer and User

The person who buys a particular product may not necessarily be the user, or the only user of this product. Likewise, it is also true that the person who purchases the product may not be the decision-maker.

For example, the father buys a bicycle for his school-going son (the son is the user), or he buys a pack of toothpaste (used by the entire family), or the mother is the decision maker when she buys a dress for her three-year-old daughter.

The husband and wife together may buy a car (both share the decision). It is clear that in all cases buyers are not necessarily the users of the products they buy. They also may not be the persons who make the product selection decisions.

InitiatorThe initiator is the individual who ascertains that some need or want is not being satisfied and authorizes a purchase to correct the situation.
GatekeeperInfluences the family’s information processing. The gatekeeper has the most expertise in obtaining and evaluating the information.
InfluencerThe influencer is someone who intentionally or otherwise, by word or action, influences the purchase decision, actual purchase, and/or the use of a product or service
DeciderThe decider is the person or persons who actually decides which product or service will be chosen
BuyerA buyer is any individual who actually makes the final purchase transaction.
User(s)A user is a person most directly involved in the use or consumption of the purchased product.

The question faced by marketers is whom should they target for their promotional messages, the buyer or the user? Some marketers believe that the buyer of the product is the suitable prospect, while others believe that the user of the product is the right choice; still, others believe that it is safe to direct their promotional messages to both buyers as well as users.

These approaches are visible when ads for toys and games appear during TV programs meant for children, the same products are promoted in magazines meant for parents, or there are dual campaigns designed to reach parents and children both (such as Discovery Channel programs).

Whenever consumer behavior occurs in the context of a multiperson household, several different tasks or roles (Table) may be performed in acquiring and consuming a product or service.

Consumer and Customer

A consumer is anyone who typically engages in any one or all of the activities mentioned in the definition. Traditionally, consumers have been defined very strictly in terms of economic goods and services wherein a monetary exchange is involved.

This concept, over a period of time, has been broadened. Some scholars also include goods and services where a monetary transaction is not involved and thus the users of the services of voluntary organizations are also thought of as consumers. This means that organizations such as UNICEF, CRY, or political groups can view their public as “consumers.”

The term ‘consumer’ is used for both personal consumers and organizational consumers and represents two different kinds of consuming entities.

The personal consumer buys goods and services for her or his personal use (such as cigarettes or haircuts), for household consumption (such as sugar, furniture, telephone service, etc.), or for just one member of the family (such as a pair of shoes for the son), or a birthday present for a friend (such as a pen set). In all these instances, the goods are bought for final use, referred as “end users” or “ultimate consumers.”

The other category of consumer is the organizational consumer, which includes profit and not-for-profit organizations. Government agencies and institutions (such as local or state government, schools, hospitals etc.) buy products, equipment and services required for running these organizations.

Manufacturing firms buy raw materials to produce and sell their own goods. They buy advertising services to communicate with their customers. Similarly, advertising service companies buy equipment to provide the services they sell.

Government agencies buy office products needed for everyday operations. The focus of this book is on studying behaviors of individual consumers, groups, and organizations who buy products, services, ideas, and experiences, etc. for personal, household, or organizational use to satisfy their needs.

Anyone who regularly makes purchases from a store or a company is termed a “customer” of that store or the company. Thus, a customer is typically defined in terms of a specific store or company.

Individual Determinants of Consumer Behavior

Motivation and Involvement

Motivation is an inner drive that reflects goal-directed arousal. In a consumer behavior context, the result is a desire for a product, service, or experience. It is the drive to satisfy needs and wants, both physiological and psychological, through the purchase and use of products and services Involvement refers to a heightened state of awareness that motivates consumers to seek out, attend to, and think about product information prior to purchase.

With high involvement, attention is increased and more importance is attached to the stimulus object. Memory is enhanced. Highly involved consumers tend to place greater importance on information sources. They are heavy users of newspapers and advertising.


An attitude represents what we like and dislike. An attitude is a lasting general evaluation of something – it has knowledge of that something, liking or disliking, and the strength of the feelings. They are lasting, but changeable. An individual with a positive attitude towards a product/service offering is more likely to make a purchase; this makes the study of consumer attitudes highly important for a marketer.

Personality and Self-concept

Recent advances in personality psychology can help us predict consumer motivation. Traits are defined as enduring and stable patterns of behaviour, attitudes, emotions, that vary between individuals. Traditionally, researchers were interested in understanding how individuals differ, and so they put a great deal of effort into discovering how to measure, map, and define personality traits.

However, by the mid-1990s, a consensus was reached about a universal structure of personality. Now almost all personality psychologists agree that the Big Five should be the common framework for personality.

Consumers form their self-concepts through psychological development and social interaction. Because the individual’s self concept has value to him, he will act to define, protect, and further it.

Learning and Memory

Learning that occurs when a stimulus eliciting a response is paired with another stimulus that initially does not elicit a response, but will cause a similar response when paired over time with the first stimulus. Memory is the process of encoding information and stored and retrieved when needed; contemporary approach is an informationprocessing approach.

Information Processing

Information processing is the process through which consumers are:

  • exposed to information
  • attend to it
  • comprehend it
  • place it in memory and
  • retrieve it for later use.

Consumer information processing behavior is influenced by the structure and format of the available product information (alternatives X attributes) in the choice task.

External Environmental Factors Influencing Consumer Behavior

The external factors that affect consumer choices can drastically affect the company’s performance. Therefore, marketers should take into account all those factors by tailoring and monitoring the possible changes that may affect the profit and their sustainability in the respective industries.

Moreover, these external factors can be categorized from Socio-cultural, Economical, Technological, under socio-cultural, consumers can be influenced by their peers or groups. In a society, there are different groups that distinguish the social status of an individual.

Therefore, consumers can definitely be influenced by their workmates in choosing what really suit in their group in order to be up to the level as the people who are in its network.

Cultural Influence

Culture is crucial when it comes to understanding the needs and behaviors of an individual. Throughout his existence, an individual will be influenced by his family, his friends, his cultural environment or society that will “teach” him values, preferences as well as common behaviors to their own culture.

For a brand, it is important to understand and take into account the cultural factors inherent to each market or to each situation in order to adapt its product and its marketing strategy. As these will play a role in the perception, habits, behaviour, or expectations of consumers.

Subcultural Influence

A society is composed of several subcultures in which people can identify.

Subcultures are the nationalities, religions, ethnic groups, age groups, gender of the individual, etc.

The subcultures are often considered by the brands for the segmentation of a market in order to adapt a product or a communication strategy to the values or the specific needs of this segment. For example, in recent years, the segment of “ethnic” cosmetics has greatly expanded. These are products more suited to non-Caucasian populations and to types of skin pigmentation for African, Arab or Indian populations for example.

It’s a real brand positioning with a well-defined target in a sector that only offered makeup products to a Caucasian target until now (with the exception of niche brands) and was then receiving critics from consumers of different origin.

Social Class Influence

Individuals belonging to same social classes are characterised by similar values, lifestyles, interests and behaviors.

We often assume three general categories among social classes: lower class, middle class and upper class.

People from different social classes tend to have different desires and consumption patterns. Disparities resulting from the difference in their purchasing power, but not only. According to some researchers, behavior and buying habits would also be a way of identification and belonging to its social class.

Social Group Influence

The membership groups of an individual are social groups to which he belongs and which will influence him. The membership groups are usually related to its social origin, age, place of residence, work, hobbies, leisure, etc.

The influence level may vary depending on individuals and groups. But is generally observed common consumption trends among the members of a same group.

The understanding of the specific features (mindset, values, lifestyle, etc.) of each group allows brands to better target their advertising message. Some brands have understood this very well and communicate, implicitly or not, on the “social benefit” provided by their products.

Family’s Influence

The family is maybe the most influencing factor for an individual. It forms an environment of socialization in which an individual will evolve, shape his personality, acquire values. But also develop attitudes and opinions on various subjects such as politics, society, social relations or himself and his desires.

Perceptions and family habits generally have a strong influence on the consumer buying behavior. People will tend to keep the same as those acquired with their families.

For example, if you have never drunk Coke during your childhood and your parents have described it as a product “full of sugar and not good for health”. There is far less chance that you are going to buy it when you will grow up that someone who drinks Coke since childhood.

Opinion Leader’s Influence

Opinion Leaders (OLs) are respected sources of information who are connected to novel ideas and possess sufficient interpersonal skills to exert influence on others’ decision-making. We discuss methods to identify OLs and the limited evidence that supports their influence on clinical practice. An understanding of the role of OLs may assist emergency physicians with incorporating new ideas into their own groups.

Disciplines Involved in the Study of Consumer Behavior

Consumer behaviour was a relatively new field of study during the second half of the 1960s without a history or research of its own. It is in fact a subset of human behaviour and it is often difficult to draw a distinct line between consumer-related behaviour and other aspects of human behaviour.

The discipline of consumer behaviour has borrowed heavily from concepts developed in other disciplines of study such as psychology, sociology, social psychology, cultural anthropology and economics.

  • Psychology is the study of the individual, which includes motivation, perception, attitudes, and personality and learning theories.

    All these factors are critical to an understanding of consumer behaviour and help us to comprehend consumption related needs of individuals, their actions and responses to different promotional messages and products and the way their experiences and personality characteristics influence product choices.

  • Sociology is the study of groups. When individuals form groups, their actions are sometimes quite different from the actions of those very individuals when they are operating alone.

    The influences of group memberships, family and social class on consumer behaviour are important for the study of consumer behaviour.

  • Social psychology is a combination of sociology and psychology and studies how an individual operates in a group. It also studies how those whose opinions they respect such as peers, reference groups, their families and opinion leaders influence individuals in their consumption behaviour.

  • Cultural anthropology is the study of human beings in society. It explores the development of core beliefs, values and customs that individuals inherit from their parents and grandparents, which influence their purchase and consumption behaviour.

    It also studies subcultures and helps compare consumers of different nationalities and cultures.

  • Economics is an important aspect of this subject is the study of how consumers spend their funds, how they evaluate alternatives and how they make decisions to get maximum satisfaction from their purchases.

  • Despite the fact that consumer behaviour as a field of study is relatively of recent origin, it has grown enormously, has become a full-blown discipline of it’s own and is used in the study of most programmes of marketing study.

The marketing concept was accepted and adopted by a large number of companies in the developed countries, particularly the United States and this provided an impetus to study the consumer behaviour. Companies had to engage in extensive marketing research to identify unsatisfied consumer needs.

In this process, marketers learnt that consumers were highly complex as individuals and had very different psychological and social needs, quite apart from their survival needs. They also discovered that needs and priorities of different consumer segments differed significantly.

They realised that to design products and develop suitable marketing strategies that would satisfy consumer needs, they had to first study consumers and the consumption related behaviour in depth. In this manner, market segmentation and marketing concept paved the way for the application of consumer behaviour principles to marketing strategy.

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