What is Consumer Behaviour? Definition, Buying Roles, Classification

What is Consumer Behaviour?

Consumer behavior is the study of the actions and decisions that individuals and households make when purchasing goods and services. It involves examining the factors that influence consumer’s attitudes, perceptions, and preferences, and how these factors affect their buying decisions.

Consumer Behaviour Definition

The Dictionary of Marketing and Advertising defines consumer behavior as an observable activity chosen to maximize satisfaction, through the attainment of economic goods and services such as choice of retail outlet, preference for particular brands, and so on.

  • Consumer behavior refers to the actions of consumers in the marketplace and the underlying motives for those actions. Marketers expect that by understanding what causes consumers to buy particular goods and services they will be able to determine which products are needed in the marketplace, which is obsolete, and how best to present the goods to the consumers.
  • Consumer behavior is defined as the process and physical activity individuals engage in when evaluating, acquiring, using, or disposing of goods and services.

  • Consumer behaviors reflect the totality of consumers’ decisions with respect to the acquisition, consumption, and disposition of goods, services, time, and ideas by (human) decision-making units [overtime]. (Mussen and Rosenzweig 1976)

  • Consumer behavior refers to the behavior that consumers display in searching for, purchasing, using, evaluating, and disposing of products and services that they expect will satisfy their needs.

    The study of consumer behavior is the study of how individuals make decisions to spend their available resources like time, money, and effort on consumption-related items.

  • Consumer behavior refers to the actions and decision processes of people who purchase goods and services for personal consumption. (By Peter D. Bennett, ed. Dictionary of Marketing Terms, 2nd ed. 1995.)

  • Consumer behavior refers to “the mental and emotional processes and the observable behavior of consumers during searching for, purchasing and post consumption of a product or service.” [James F. Engel, Roger D. Blackwell, and Paul W. Miniard, “Consumer Behaviour” (1990)].

Consumers can be different in age, income, and occupation. The items to be consumed can be of any form; from a product to a service, a concept, or an idea. The needs and desires to be satisfied range from basic needs like hunger, and thirst to psychogenic needs like love, care, and even higher-order fulfilments.

The consumer can resell, dispose of the packaging, and also recommend others to use the product or service after using the product himself. The domain of study of consumer behavior covers all these processes involved through which the consumer makes decisions.

A study of consumer behavior assumes that consumers are actors in the marketplace. The perspective of role theory assumes that consumers play various roles in the marketplace. Starting from information provider to consumer, from user to payer and to disposer, consumers play these roles in the decision process.

The roles also vary in different consumption situations, for example, a mother plays the role of an influencer in a child’s purchase process whereas she plays the role of disposer for the products consumed by the family.

Consumer behavior involves many different actors. The common assumption is that a consumer is a person who identifies a need or desire, makes a purchase, and then disposes of the product during the three stages of the consumption process i.e., pre-purchase, purchase, and post-purchase processes.

Types of Buying Motives

In a consumer-oriented marketing model, the consumer is the king and a marketer should understand the needs, wants, buying motives, and feelings of his potential customers, to be successful in his marketing efforts.

Consumers have different kinds of needs and they do not pursue all their needs at all points in time. Whenever a need gets a direction or goal and all the energies of the consumer are targeted towards achieving the goal, it takes the shape of a buying motive. Buying motives take different forms.

Inherent and Learned Buying Motives

Inherent buying motives are those, which arise from the basic needs of the consumers such as sex, comfort, and safety. These are more instinctive in nature and influence the consumer the maximum. In order to satisfy these motives, a consumer has to make his best efforts.

If these motives remain unsatisfied, he is under tension. The satisfaction of these needs also happens very fast and they recede in a way as they started within the consumer. The consumer actively pursues to satisfy these hedonistic and biogenic motives.

On the other hand, learned motives are those motives that a customer acquires or learns from the environment in which he lives or from his learning as he grows up in society. These motives are social status, social acceptance, economic, and political achievement, fear, and security. These motives are learned and take time to have an impact on consumers and are influenced by the socio-political environment of the customer.

Emotional and Rational Buying Motives

Emotional buying motives are those, which are affected by consumer feelings and are often judged by using feelings or affective part of consumer’s attitude. In such motives, the heart dominates over the head and mind. Sometimes in satisfying these needs, man is not rational. The motives are hunger, thirst, ego, prestige, comfort, pleasure, love, and affection, etc.

Rational buying motives are those motives where a consumer is rational and his decision is based on logic and justifications while taking buying decision. In this case, the mind dominates over the heart.

Before making any purchase, he satisfies himself with the price, quality, durability, reliability, and service and then decides to purchase the goods, which are useful to him and are available at a reasonable price. The consumer is often seen taking more time in making rational purchases.

Both emotional and rational motives are important for a marketer. The marketer should decide which type of motive i.e. emotional or rational, should be aroused in selling his product, keeping the merit of the product in mind.

The advertising program for the brand should focus on the appropriate motive of the consumer. When buying Over Counter (OTC) medicine, a consumer is more rational whereas, in the case of buying chocolate, a consumer is more driven by emotional motives. An example of a cash discount is a price value proposition attempting to address the rational appeal.

Psychological and Social Buying Motives

Psychological buying motives are based on personal feelings and cover a wide range of motives including impulses, instincts, habits, drives, etc. The motives include pleasure, comfort, status, pride, and ambition, economic and social achievement.

Example: Selection of gifts, maintaining and preserving health satisfaction of appetite, proficiency, romantic instinct, socially accepted recreation, and relaxation, etc.

Psychological motives are found more among people of the high-income groups. Purchase of TV, Air Conditioner, Refrigerators, Washing Machine, Geysers, Car, etc. generally bought to satisfy such motives.

This psychological satisfaction may be received at the buyer’s conscious or subconscious level of thought. If a young lady receives psychological satisfaction from a bottle of expensive French aromatic perfume, it is because she associates it with an advertisement picturing a heavy romance; she is probably receiving psychological satisfaction at a subconscious level.

Another buying motive is the Social motive which arises out of Pride. It is the most common and strongest emotional buying motive. Many buyers are proud of possessing some product (i.e., they feel that the possession of the product increases their social prestige or status). In fact, many products are sold by the sellers by appealing to the pride and prestige of the buyers.

Example: Gold and diamond merchants sell their products by suggesting to the buyers that the possession of such jewelry items increases their prestige or social status.

Different Buying Roles

We have explained in the earlier sections that an individual or a group of consumers play different roles in different kinds of purchase situations. Though there is no hard and fast role that buyers need to play, it is possible to characterize the roles in the context of purchase decisions.

The following are the different roles played by people in the consumer decision process:

  • Initiator: An initiator is a person who first suggests or thinks of the idea of buying a particular product. The child plays the role of an initiator in the purchase process of chocolate.

  • Influencer: An influencer is a person who explicitly or implicitly has some influence on the final buying decision of others. The mother plays the role of an influencer in the purchase process of chocolate.

  • Gatekeeper: A gatekeeper is a person who allows certain information to flow and restricts the flow of some set of information. Parents play the role of a gatekeeper in the selection of television channels for children.

  • Decider: A decider is a person who ultimately determines any part or the whole of the buying decision, i.e., whether to buy and what to buy, how to buy, when to buy, or where to buy. In the event of buying a mutual fund product, the individual or head of the family plays the role of the decider.

  • Buyer: The buyer is the person who actually purchases and pays for the purchase. In a typical family decision-making process, the father plays the role of the buyer who is involved in the economic transaction process.

  • User: The user is the person who actually uses or consumes the services or products. In most grocery product purchases, the whole family uses the product. In a typical purchase of a washing machine, the housewife plays the role of the user.

  • Preparer: The preparer is the person who converts the product to a usable form for consumption. For example, in a typical family consumption of food items, the mother plays the role of the preparer.

  • Maintainer: Members who service or repair the product so that it will provide continued satisfaction is a maintainers.

  • Disposer: The disposer is the person who finally disposes of the package of the product. For example, the mother plays the role of a disposer after the product is consumed by the family.

The marketer’s task is to study the buying process and the role of the participants in the buying process. He should initiate all of them to make purchases of his product at different stages and through different strategies.

Developing 7 O’s Framework for Understanding Consumer Behaviour

A framework is developed to understand consumer behavior by addressing various issues involved in consumer behavior. This framework is popularly known as the 7 O’s Framework and is used for a basic understanding of consumer behavior.

Who is the Consumer (Occupants)

The answer to this question enables the understanding of the consumer’s geographic, demographic, psychographic, and media graphic profiles. Obviously, this question helps in explaining the state of being of the consumer. The demographic profile is the study of the age, income, sex, occupation, educational qualifications, etc. of the consumer.

The psychographic profile is the study of the lifestyle of the consumer as expressed by the activities, interests, and opinions of the consumer. The geographic profile is the region to which the consumer belongs. Media graphics are the media habits of the consumer e.g. rubber slipper brands sell more in the coastal areas than those in the hinterland.

Frooti for example is now being repositioned as a brand that brings out the latent child in a man. The advertisement featuring Shah Rukh Khan spells out the message that childishness is deep-seated in the psyche of every man and as one opens a bottle of Frooti he comes to terms with his childish behavior.

This has enabled the brand to successfully cross the barrier posed by the demographic profile that had been promoted earlier.

What Does the Consumer Buy (Object of Purchase)

The answer to this question explains what product proposition the consumer is buying. The answer is in terms of product (e.g. soft drinks, soft drink concentrate, syrups, etc.), product forms (in soft drinks – Cola vs. Lime vs. Orange), and brands (Coke vs. Pepsi). What are the features, sizes, colors, flavors, etc. that the consumer seeks?

Why is the Consumer Buying (Objective)

This answers the reason ‘why’ of buying and explains what benefits the consumer expects the product or service to serve. This also explains what benefits the consumer is seeking. What motives is he trying to satisfy? For example, Fair and Lovely cater to a very strong motive of women, based on the desire to look fair, in a country obsessed with fair skin. Consumers today are also looking for sun protection in their cream.

When Do They Buy or How Often Do They Buy and Use (Occasion)

This explains the buying rate or buying frequency of consumers and the occasion on which they would buy the product or service for the desired benefits e.g. big-ticket items like refrigerators, air-conditioners, are bought during Diwali.

Pepsi has always adopted an event based marketing strategy to launch new brands and position existing ones. Pepsi has identified IPL (Indian Premier League) as a million dollar opportunity to connect with the youth of the country with the punch line of “Oh, Yes Abhi!”

Where Do They Buy (Outlets)

The answer to this question explains the type and nature of outlets from where the customer makes a choice? The type of outlet can be a retail shop, grocery store, wholesaler’s shop or a virtual platform. The nature of outlets also includes urban outlets, shopping malls or rural shops. For example, do consumers buy soaps from grocery and general stores or more from chemists?

How Do They Buy (Operations)

This explains what kind of background information do consumers collect before buying and from whom do they seek this information. For example, before buying a car the consumer collects a lot of background information from friends and does a lot of deliberation before buying. Also when he enters a dealer’s showroom he asks the dealer or salesman many questions.

Who is Involved (Organisation)

This explains the organisation of information sources around the key players in the decision process. It describes the various roles played by people in the purchase process.

Classification of Buying Behaviour

Different consumers follow different steps in making their choice of products and services. Though it is difficult to generalise all the purchase processes, but fair approximations and generalisations can be made for most of the consumer decision processes.

There is a substantial degree of variation in the choice processes depending upon two key factors, namely the level of involvement and degree of perceived difference between different alternatives in the market.

High InvolvementLow Involvement
Alternatives do not have a significant differenceDissonance Reducing Buying BehaviourRoutinised Response Behaviour or Habitual Behaviour
Alternatives have a significant differenceComplex Buying BehaviourVariety Seeking Buying Behaviour
Classification of Buying Behaviour

Dissonance Reducing Buying Behaviour

Customers show dissonance reducing buying behaviour when the involvement of customer in the purchase activity is high and customers cannot find a substantial differentiation among the alternatives. The consumer is highly involved and sees little difference among brand alternatives.

The purchase is high involvement in the case of first time buying without previous purchase experience, in an expensive, infrequent and risky buying situation. The buyer will shop around in the market to learn about the various alternative brands in the market.

If there is a substantial difference in quality level among similar brands, then he is likely to buy the higher priced brand. If there is only a little difference, then his purchase will be on the basis of price or convenience.

In this case, the consumer is likely to experience dissonance. Dissonance is a state of consumer’s mind when he experiences substantial difference between what is expected out of the choice and the real performance of the chosen alternative.

This may occur if he finds his purchase not getting an acceptance in social setting e.g. among peers or there is some negative publicity about the chosen brand. So he will strive to collect any positive information about the brand in the environment, which supports his decision.

In this case, the consumer first makes a decision, then acquires new beliefs and then ends up with a set of attitudes. The job of the marketer is to communicate to customers through a process of assuring them that they are making the right choice which will help the consumer feel good about his brand choice.

Complex Buying Behaviour

This is a case the consumer is highly involved in situations very similar to the first case of dissonance reducing buying behavior but he finds a substantial difference among the available brands. In this case, the buyer develops beliefs about the product or service, then he develops a set of attitudes towards the product and finally, he makes a deliberate choice.

This is a case when products are expensive, bought infrequently, risky, and highly self-expressive.

The marketer needs to understand this structured process of information gathering, processing, and evaluation. The marketing program should help in assisting consumers to learn about the attributes of products, their relative weight in the company’s brand, and the significance of these attributes in the purchase process.

If you wish to buy toothpaste, you will like to find out the desired level of oral health present in a company’s brand. LG Electronics promotes a particular attribute of ‘Golden Eye’ technology and makes consumers take a decision in favor of the brand by using the ‘Golden Eye’ benefit in its brand communication.

Variety Seeking Buying Behaviour

This kind of behavior is shown in some situations where the consumer shows low involvement behavior but there is a significant brand difference. Consumers show a high level of brand-switching behavior.

Consumers buy chocolates without considering any such variable as explained in the previous cases and for no reason switch brands to test the variety in the market.

The dominant players as well as the challenges in this situation follow different strategies. The market leader or the dominant player will promote habitual buying behavior whereas the challenger will promote variety-seeking behavior to break loyalty and formation of habitual buying behavior.

The challenger will break the habitual behavior by offering discounts and encouraging participation in contests and sweepstakes.

  • Dr. A Sarangapani, (2009), A Textbook on Rural Consumer Behaviour in India – A Study of FMCGs, Laxmi Publications Ltd.

  • Satish K Batra and S.H.H. Kazmi, (2009), Consumer Behaviour2nd, Excel Books

  • S. Ramesh Kumar, (2009), Consumer Behaviour and Branding: Concepts, Readings, and Cases – The Indian Context, Pearson Education
  • Ramanuj Majumdar, (2010), Consumer Behaviour: Insights From Indian Market, PHI Learning Pvt. Ltd.

  • Evans, Jamal and Foxall, (2007), Consumer Behaviour, John Wiley & Sons

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