The study of consumer behavior involves elements of economics, the social sciences, and the physical sciences. An endless and diverse field of research and applications, consumer behavior considers such areas as buying decision-making, internal influences, and external influences on the consumer. An understanding of consumer behavior can lead to improved marketing strategies on the part of firms and organizations, and can also lead to improved public policy.
Keywords Consumer Behavior; Consumer Buying Decision Process; Deviant Behavior; Planned Behavior; Purchase Decision
Marketing: Consumer Behavior
In marketing, consumer behavior is the study of the acquisition, consumption, use, and disposal of products, services, experiences, or ideas, by consumers. When considered in greater depth, consumer behavior can be defined as the study of how and when individuals, groups and organizations select, purchase, use and dispose of products, services, experiences or ideas to satisfy their needs. It also involves the study of why consumption decisions are made. In addition, consumer behavior looks at the impacts that the processes of selection, purchasing, use, and disposal have on consumers and on society.
Consumer behavior studies the characteristics of individual consumers, by looking at variables such as demographics, psychographics and behavior, in an attempt to understand the consumer and his or her world. Demographics include factors such as race, age, income, mobility (travel time to work or number of vehicles available), educational attainment, home ownership, employment status and location. Psychographics are attributes related to personality, values, attitudes, interests, or lifestyles. Behavioral variables include usage rate and loyalty. Consumer behavior also tries to assess influences on the consumer from groups such as family, friends, reference groups and society in general (Perner, 2003).
Consumer behavior is a subcategory of marketing that blends elements from economics, psychology, sociology, social psychology, anthropology and other sciences, such as physiological psychology, biochemistry, and genetics. The field of economics actually provided the foundation for marketing, but it wrongly assumed “that consumers are rational decision makers who actively seek information, objectively evaluate alternatives available to them, and make rational selections of products or services to maximize their benefits.” By neglecting the emotional side of the customer, among other psychological factors, economists “failed to provide marketing with all of the concepts needed to understand the complexities” of what motivates consumers(Demirdjian & Senguder, 2004, p. 349).
Realizing these limitations, marketing scholars began to seek an “understanding of consumer behavior from other sciences. Psychology — the study of individual behavior — was one of the earliest and most extensively used fields from which concepts have been borrowed. Motivation, perception, learning, beliefs, attitudes and so on, have all been used to explain why the consumer behaves the way he or she does” (Demirdjian & Senguder, 2004, p. 349). “Social psychology is yet another source from which many concepts have been borrowed, as this field is concerned with the behavior of individuals in the presence of other individuals or groups.” Research into other sciences such as physiological psychology, which is the “study of the interaction of the body with the mind,” and which studies the “extent to which behavior is caused by physical and chemical phenomena in the body,” is relatively recent (Demirdjian & Senguder, 2004, p. 349).
It has been said that the basic nature of consumer behavior is diversity: the field is characterized by diversity in theories and diversity in research methods (Demirdjian & Senguder, 2004). Although early related research can be traced back much further, the attempt to theorize consumer behavior began in 1962, first looking at the type of behavioral processes consumers typically used in adopting new products; then addressing consumer problem-solving, buyer behavior, and buyer decision processes. Subsequent research has looked into information processing of consumer choice, and the experiential consumer.
Since the early 1980s, research has been conducted in areas as wide and varied as deviant behavior, consumer perception, planned behavior, intention-behavior discrepancy, environmentally responsible behavior, consumer judgment, attitudes, dependence, international and cross-cultural consumer behavior, impulsive buying, personality-behavior relationships, the role of imagery, and social and political marketing issues.
Behavior occurs either for an individual on his or her own; for an individual in the context of a group (where others in the group influence how a person behaves); or for an organization (where people on the job make decisions as to which products the firm should use). The study of consumer behavior attempts to understand the buyer decision making process for individuals, groups and organizations.
Consumer decision making comes about as an attempt to solve consumer problems, both major and minor. A consumer buying decision process can have up to six stages. Actual purchasing is only one stage of the process, and not all decision processes may lead to a purchase. The number of stages involved in a particular decision will depend on the degree of complexity of that decision. The six stages are: problem recognition, information search, evaluation of alternatives, purchase decision, purchase, and post-purchase evaluation.
The first stage, Problem Recognition, is when a consumer becomes aware of a need. The need is manifest because there is a difference between the consumer's desired state and his or her actual condition. The second stage is the information search. There are two types of information searches: internal and external. With an internal information search, the consumer searches the information stored in his or her memory. If more information is needed after the internal search, the consumer may consult external information sources such as friends and relatives for word-of-mouth; marketing information; comparison shopping; and public sources.
A successful information search leaves a needy consumer with possible alternatives collectively called the Evoked Set. Armed with the evoked set, the consumer embarks on the third stage of the buying decision process: Evaluation of alternatives. Here, the consumer may need to establish the criteria for evaluation, such as features of the product or service that the buyer wants or does not want. The consumer may rank or weigh the alternatives to arrive at a choice, or resume searching if a satisfactory choice is not arrived at. Information from different sources may be treated differently.
The fourth stage in the consumer buying decision process is the purchase decision. Here, the consumer selects from the available alternatives, making decisions on details such as the specific product or service, its packaging, retail outlet and method of purchase. The fifth stage is the purchase, which at times occurs simultaneously with the purchase decision. Sometimes product availability issues may cause a time lapse between the purchase decision and the actual purchase.
The sixth and last stage in the consumer buying decision process is post-purchase evaluation (also known as post-acquisition evaluation), which may occur to the buyer consciously or subconsciously. At the end of his or her evaluation, the buyer may experience satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction may result from many factors, such as unmet brand expectations, and at times may lead to the consumer lodging a complaint. A satisfied consumer may end...
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