Consumer Behavior

AuthorWendy. Mason, Deborah Hausler

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A consumer is the ultimate user of a product or service. The overall consumer market consists of all buyers of goods and services for personal or family use, more than 270 million people (including children) spending trillions of dollars in the United States as of the late 1990s.

Consumer behavior essentially refers to how and why people make the purchase decisions they do. Marketers strive to understand this behavior so they can better formulate appropriate marketing stimuli

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that will result in increased sales and brand loyalty. There are a vast number of goods available for purchase, but consumers tend to attribute this volume to the industrial world's massive production capacity. Rather, the giant known as the marketing profession is responsible for the variety of goods on the market. The science of evaluating and influencing consumer behavior is foremost in determining which marketing efforts will be used and when.

To understand consumer behavior, experts examine purchase decision processes, especially any particular triggers that compel consumers to buy a certain product. For example, one study revealed that the average shopper took less than 21 minutes to purchase groceries and covered only 23 percent of the store, giving marketers a very limited amount of time to influence consumers. And 59 percent of all supermarket purchases were unplanned. Marketers spend a great deal of time and money discovering what compels consumers to make such on-the-spot purchases. Market researchers obtain some of the best information through in-store research, and will often launch new products only in select small venues where they expect a reasonable test of the product's success can be executed. In this manner, they can determine whether a product's success is likely before investing excessive company resources to introduce that product nationally or even internationally.


Consumers adjust purchasing behavior based on their individual needs and interpersonal factors. In order to understand these influences, researchers try to ascertain what happens inside consumers' minds and to identify physical and social exterior influences on purchase decisions.

On some levels, consumer choice can appear to be quite random. However, each decision that is made has some meaning behind it, even if that choice does not always appear to be rational. Purchase decisions depend on personal emotions, social situations, goals, and values.

People buy to satisfy all types of needs, not just for utilitarian purposes. These needs, as identified by Abraham Maslow in the early 1940s, may be physical or biological, for safety and security, for love and affiliation, to obtain prestige and esteem, or for self-fulfillment. For example, connecting products with love or belonging has been a success for several wildly popular campaigns such as "Reach Out and Touch Someone," "Fly the Friendly Skies," and "Gentlemen Prefer Hanes." This type of focus might link products either to the attainment of love and belonging, or by linking those products with people similar to those with whom people would like to associate.

Prestige is another intangible need, and those concerned with status will pay for it. However, goods appealing to this type of need must be viewed as high-profile products that others will see in use. One benefit of targeting this type of market is that the demand curve for luxury products is typically the reverse of the standard; high-status products sell better with higher prices.

Some equate the type of need to be met with certain classes of goods. For instance, a need for achievement might drive people to perform difficult tasks, to exercise skills and talents, and to invest in products such as tools, do-it-yourself materials, and self-improvement programs, among others. The need to nurture or for nurturing leads consumers to buy products associated with things such as parenthood, cooking, pets, houseplants, and charitable service appeals.

Personality traits and characteristics are also important to establish how consumers meet their needs. Pragmatists will...

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