Consumer behaviour

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Consumer behaviour is the study of individuals, groups, or organizations and the processes they use to select, secure, use, and dispose of products, services, experiences, or ideas to satisfy needs and the impacts that these processes have on the consumer and society.[1] It blends elements from psychology, sociology, social anthropology, marketing and economics. It attempts to understand the decision-making processes of buyers, both individually and in groups such as how emotions affect buying behaviour.[2] It studies characteristics of individual consumers such as demographics or personality[2] and behavioural variables in an attempt to understand people's wants. It also tries to assess influences on the consumer from groups such as family, friends, sports, reference groups, and society in general.[3][4]

Customer behaviour study is based on consumer buying behaviour, with the customer playing the three distinct roles of user, payer and buyer. Research has shown that consumer behaviour is difficult to predict, even for experts in the field.[5] Relationship marketing is an influential asset for customer behaviour analysis as it has a keen interest in the re-discovery of the true meaning of marketing through the re-affirmation of the importance of the customer or buyer. A greater importance is also placed on consumer retention, customer relationship management, personalization, customization and one-to-one marketing. Social functions can be categorized into social choice and welfare functions.

Each method for vote counting is assumed as social function but if Arrow’s possibility theorem is used for a social function, social welfare function is achieved. Some specifications of the social functions are decisiveness, neutrality, anonymity, monotonicity, unanimity, homogeneity and weak and strong Pareto optimality. No social choice function meets these requirements in an ordinal scale simultaneously. The most important characteristic of a social function is identification of the interactive effect of alternatives and creating a logical relation with the ranks. Marketing provides services in order to satisfy customers. With that in mind the productive system is considered from its beginning at the production level, to the end of the cycle, the consumer (Kioumarsi et al., 2009).

Black box model[edit]

The black box model shows the interaction of stimuli, consumer characteristics, decision process and consumer responses.[6] It can be distinguished between interpersonal stimuli (between people) or intrapersonal stimuli (within people).[7] The black box model is related to the black box theory of behaviourism, where the focus is not set on the processes inside a consumer, but the relation between the stimuli and the response of the consumer. The marketing stimuli are planned and processed by the companies, whereas the environmental stimulus are given by social factors, based on the economical, political and cultural circumstances of a society. The buyer's black box contains the buyer characteristics and the decision process, which determines the buyer's responses.

Environmental factors Buyer's black box Buyer's response
Marketing Stimuli Environmental Stimuli Buyer Characteristics Decision Process
Problem recognition
Information search
Alternative evaluation
Purchase decision
Post-purchase behaviour
Product choice
Brand choice
Dealer choice
Purchase timing
Purchase amount

The black box model considers the buyer's response as a result of a conscious, rational decision process, in which it is assumed that the buyer has recognized the problem. However, in reality many decisions are not made in awareness of a determined problem by the consumer.

Evaluation of consumer behaviour[edit]

At this time the consumer compares the brands and products that are in their evoked set. The evoked set refers to the number of alternatives that are considered by consumers during the problem-solving process. Sometimes also known as consideration, this set tends to be small relative to the total number of options available. How can the marketing organization increase the likelihood that their brand is part of the consumer's evoked set? Consumers evaluate alternatives in terms of the functional and psychological benefits that they offer. The marketing organization needs to understand what benefits consumers are seeking and therefore which attributes are most important in terms of making a decision. It also needs to check other brands of the customer’s consideration set to prepare the right plan for its own brand.

The evaluation of the alternatives process is how the consumer determines the different products available. According to Kotler et al., (2014) there appears to be no simple evaluation process useful by consumers in all-buying situations. There are a few concepts that can explain the consumer process. A consumer evaluates a product with different attributes, for example Koestler et al., (2014) explains that restaurant attributes would be food quality, price, location, atmosphere, quality of service and menu selection. Consumers depending on there geographic, demographic, psycho-graphic and behavioral characteristics will decide which attributes are important to them. After evaluating the different attribute the product offers the consumer will then priorities each attribute in the order from highly important to least important. As stated in Kotler et al., (2014) these priorities are directly related to the consumer’s needs and wants. The next process in brand image, Kotler et al., (2014) says the consumer applies certain beliefs to a particular known brand. The consumer’s beliefs may differ depending on the consumers experience and the effects of selective perception, distortion and retention. Kotler et al., (2014) portrays that one or more of the processes suggest above is used depending on the customers buying decision process.

Purchase decision[edit]

Once the alternatives have been evaluated, the consumer is ready to make a purchase decision. Sometimes purchase intention does not result in an actual purchase. The marketing organization must facilitate the consumer to act on their purchase intention. The organization can use a variety of techniques to achieve this. The provision of credit or payment terms may encourage purchase, or a sales promotion such as the opportunity to receive a premium or enter a competition may provide an incentive to buy now. The relevant internal psychological process that is associated with purchase decision is integration. Once the integration is achieved, the organization can influence the purchase decisions much more easily.[8]

There are 5 stages of a consumer buying process:[9] The problem recognition stage, meaning the identification of something a consumer needs. The search for information, which means you search your knowledge bases or external knowledge sources for information on the product. The possibility of alternative options, meaning whether there is another better or cheaper product available. The choice to purchase the product and then finally the actual purchase of the product.[9] This shows the complete process that a consumer will most likely, whether recognisably or not, go through when they go to buy a product.

Post-purchase evaluation[edit]

The EKB (Engel, Kollat, Blackwell) model[10] was further developed by Rice (1993) which suggested there should be a feedback loop. Foxall (2005)[11] further suggests the importance of the post-purchase evaluation and that it is key because of its influences on future purchase patterns.

Post-purchase evaluation is the last stage that a consumer experiences, after purchasing the good or service. This stage involves examining and comparing product features, such as price, brand, and quality.[12] It can be viewed as the steps taken by consumers to correlate their expectations to perceived value, and thus influences the consumer’s next purchase decision for that good or service.[13] For example, if a consumer buys a new phone and his or her post-purchase evaluation is positive, he/she will be encouraged to purchase the same brand or from the same company in the future. This is also known as "post-purchase intention".[14] On the contrary, if a consumer is dissatisfied with the new phone, he or she may take actions to resolve the problem. This could involve requesting a refund, making a complaint, or deciding not to purchase the same brand or from the same company in the future.

After acquisition, consumption or disposition, consumers can feel some uncertainty in regards to the decision made, generating in some cases regression. Post-decision dissonance is a feeling of anxiety, feeling whether or not the correct decision was made after a purchase.[15]

The anxiety can affect consumers' behaviour and there are some strategies to try to reduce it. Consumers might look for opinion from other people in order to get some sense about their purchase decision. Advertising can also be one good source of information as consumers pay certain attention to advertising from the brands that they know and are familiar with.[16]

When the situation occurs that a consumer can identify an unfavourable comparison between the chosen option and the options not chosen it creates a post-decision regret. Consumers can also feel short-term regret in a situation where there is a purchase opportunity and the action is not made during this time however this regret can go away over time. Through their experiences consumers can learn and also engage in a process that’s called hypothesis testing. It enables consumers to form hypothesis about the products or a service through their past experiences, word of mouth or advertising. There are four stages that consumers go through in the hypothesis testing: Hypothesis generation, exposure of evidence, encoding of evidence and integration of evidence. The model of learning from experience suggests that through experiences consumers can gain a lot of information about the products. The process can be affected by four factors:[15]

Motivation - The stage of motivation enables consumers to generate hypotheses and look for information to confirm or negate it, for that reason keeping consumers active in the process of learning from experience. On the other hand, if the motivation is low consumers will not generate much hypotheses therefore learning less during the learning process.

Prior knowledge or ability – High knowledge provides to consumers the chance to a well-defined belief and expectation resulting in a low chance to create new hypotheses. Besides consumers with low knowledge skills are likely to establish hypotheses to help in the learning process, as consumers might find difficult to collect evidence without any guiding hypotheses.

Ambiguity of the information environment or lack of opportunity – when consumers do not have enough information available to confirm or disapprove hypotheses, ambiguity of information occurs. The first choice under the context of ambiguity can influence consumer’s decisions, resulting in preferences for the chosen option. On the other side when consumers have some doubts about the product quality, they would search for some facts to support their hypotheses through word of mouth or advertising.

Processing biases – When the evidence is ambiguous and bias is confirmed it can interfere in the learning process. It can cause consumers to turn aside negative and highly diagnostic information. Negative information is also important to the learning process, contributing to a better overview of the situation and allowing consumers to be more accurate towards test hypotheses.

Channel-switching behaviour[edit]

Channel-switching behaviour is the action of consumers switching to a different environment to purchase their goods, such as brick-and-mortar stores, catalogues, or the internet.[17] This behaviour offers a more diverse shopping experience for both consumers and retailers. A consumer may be influenced to switch channels if the product or service can be found cheaper, if a wider range is offered, or simply because it is more convenient for them to shop online at home or through a catalogue, rather than visiting a physical store. In this case, pure brick-and-mortar stores who are not involved in other channels will suffer. However, when a retailer is involved in both a brick-and-mortar store and an online store, there is less of a problem as consumers are offered different channels of shopping, thus more convenience and customer satisfaction.

Multi-channel retailing[edit]

Multi-channel retailing can be defined as “a distribution strategy to serve consumers using more than one selling channel”.[17] This strategy gives the retailer an advantage of having an existing brand and multiple sources of customer contact.[18] It allows retailers to interact with their customers using a combination of indirect and direct communication channels, therefore offering convenience and choice.[19] This not only gives consumers more control over their purchasing decision, but enables an efficient way of reaching out to their customers in a matter that is most comfortable for them. According to research, multiple channel retail strategies actually enhance service outputs provided to the customer thus increasing customer satisfaction and customer retailer loyalty.[20] Multi-channel retailing creates positive consumer behaviour as well as benefits for retailers.

A ‘Channel’ is defined as a “customer contact point or a medium through which the customer and the company interact”.[21] Multi-Channel Retailing has become a sensation over the past years as the technological era grows rapidly, leading to online retailing becoming a much anticipated and needed aspect in order for a business to grow and further develop in its chosen market. The use of multi-channel retailing has come about due to what has been known as the ‘technological era’. While at first using more than one channel was seen as untraditional to the traditional brick-and-mortar businesses, new entrants in the form of online retailers soon changed that idea.[22] In many markets, the online presence of companies have become demanding and almost needed in order to succeed in these markets. A prime example would be the travel market. Over the past decade, the use of travel agents have decreased due to websites such as Expedia and taking majority share of the market as they are easier and convenient. Moreover, they also offer more deals and promotions, which are significantly easier to compare online than in store. The increased growth in sales through online channels has “indicated a need for marketing managers and scholars to develop a deeper understanding of this important topic” [23]

Amidst the critical decisions made by the company are the changes to channels, however previous research has not shown “the impact of channel expansions on firm value”.[24] By having multiple channels, it allows businesses to reach a wider target audience, most commonly on an international level rather than local or national. Using multiple channels can be seen as complex at first, however the use of categorization is able to help narrow down options that companies would use in order to attract the right target audience.[21] For example, retail stores may have both a physical store and an online store, whereas a company in interior design may have an online website as their portfolio and online services, as well as an office for consumers to come in. A good strategy would be well-integrated across all channels used and would need consistency, including characteristics of understanding - e.g. consumer behaviour and the environment.[21]

When expanding into more than one channel, pricing strategy can make a difference towards sales – depending on the company.[25] If the company is new, starting up in an already established market such as woman's fashion, the business may consider having lower prices unless the product is differentiated and has a unique selling point. While if a company is already established –for example, Glassons or TopShop – they already have a loyal customer base so therefore do not need to market their price as lower than what they usually have as they are not “entering” the market so to speak. As well as this, companies should take into account Price Dispersion between multi-channels. Some researchers have found that the gap between online retailers has become narrower than being offline, while others have found it has become larger.[25] Despite these inconsistencies, businesses should put a focus on this as – unless said company has a loyal customer base – if the prices are consistently more expensive than other retailers, consumers may look for the cheaper option.

Managing customers through channels has become a key element of many businesses marketing strategy.[23] Us Retailer Nordstorm found that a consumer who “shops through more than one channel is likely to spend four times as much as someone who shops on one channel”.[23] The research shows how much of an impact having multiple channels in which to sell a businesses products and get them out there can have on consumers in this day and age.

Impulse buying[edit]

Impulse buying can be defined as “a sudden and powerful urge to buy immediately” and occurs when a consumer purchases an item which they had no intention of purchasing prior to entering the store.[26] Impulse buying can be influenced by external stimuli such as store characteristics and sale promotions, internal stimuli such as enjoyment and self-identity, situational and product related factors such as time and money available, and demographic and socio-cultural factors such as gender, age, and education.[27] Stern[28] introduced the four broad classifications of impulse buying including pure impulse buying, reminded impulse buying, suggestion impulse buying, and planned impulse buying.

Pure impulse buying - Occurs outside of the normal purchase behaviour where a consumer experiences a strong emotion of desire towards a product that he/she did not initially plan to buy.[29] This is type of impulse buying is commonly influenced by low prices and even the approval to touch the product as this will create the imagine of actually owning the product.

Reminded impulse buying - Occurs when a consumer remembers the need for a product by seeing it in a store.[30] This is triggered through various techniques such as in-store advertising or sensory marketing.[29] For example, a consumer may be reminded to buy ingredients for a barbecue when he/she drives past a butcher store.

Suggestion impulse buying - Occurs when a consumer sees a product that they have no prior knowledge about, envisions a use for it, and decides that they need it.[31] An example of suggestion impulse buying could be if a consumer sees an electric hand mixer in a home ware store in the baking department and comes with a step-by-step instruction pamphlet. The consumer is encouraged to purchase the item as it appears to be easier and faster than using a wooden spoon. Other techniques can also trigger suggestion impulse buying such as a long-term warranty or a free trial period.[29]

Planned impulse buying - Involves a partially planned intention of buying, however specific product or categories are not yet determined by the consumer.[27] In this case, the consumer’s purchasing decision can be encouraged by retailing staff, or even their peers who can reassure their choice to buy the product.

A consumer who is seeking to buy a product is conducive to the salesperson as they can use different techniques to close the sale. These techniques include ‘social evidence’, where the salesperson refers to previous success and satisfaction from other customers buying the product. ‘Scarcity attraction’ is another technique, where the salesperson mentions that the offer or amount of products are limited, as it forces the consumer to make a quicker decision to take advantage of the situation.[29] This means that consumers feel that they have limited time to carefully reflect on their decision before purchasing the product.

Psychologists have analysed the ingrained drive in the brain called ‘loss aversion’ which allows consumers to respond to these techniques.[32] Loss aversion refers to “the tendency to be more concerned about the prospect of losing something than the prospect of gaining something”, and encourages consumers to take action on their desire to purchase.

Internal influences[edit]

Consumer’s motivations

In order to understand consumer’s purchases it is relevant to investigate factors that motivates consumers to take a particular action. The approach created by psychologist Abraham Maslow is one of the most important approaches to understand consumer motivations. The Hierarchy of Needs is based on five levels of needs and are organized accordingly to the level of importance. The five needs are:[16]

  • Physiological - basic levels of needs such as food, water and sleep
  • Safety- the need for physical safety and security
  • Belongingness- the need for love, friendship and also a desire for group acceptance
  • Esteem- The need for status, recognition and self- respect
  • Self-actualization – The desire for self-fulfilment

It is relevant to consider that consumers can satisfy more than one need at different times. Part of a product marketing strategy is to determine the motives of their target market and also how products and brands can satisfy these motives, considering that consumers make purchases for a different motive.[33]

Information search

This is the second stage in the process of consumer decision. Once the problem or need is identified by consumers, they can achieve their satisfaction through the purchase of a product or service. This enables consumers to seek for information before they make a purchase decision. The information stored in memory to recall knowledge or past experiences is referred to internal search. The internal search doesn’t have the ability to store sufficient information, as a result consumers will search for additional information in the external search.[16]

A customer may or may not seek for more information on a product if they have heard of how successful a product is or if they already own a product. If the customer is simply browsing at a store, they may seek for more information on the product to see if it fits their needs and wants. According to Kotler et al., (2014) the amount of searching a consumer does all depends on the strength of drive, amount of information already obtained, ease of obtaining new information, the value and the satisfaction one gets from searching. As stated in Kotler et al., (2014) a consumer can obtain information from multiple sources: • Personal sources- Family, friends, neighbours, acquaintances • Commercial sources-Advertising, salespeople, dealers, packaging, displays, leaflets • Public sources-Restaurant reviews, editorials, consumer ratings, word of mouth • The internet sources-The company’s website and comments from previous guests, Facebook or other forms of social media


Part of marketing strategy is to find out how consumers gain the knowledge and use the information from the external sources. The perception process is where individuals receive, organize and interpret information in order to attribute some meaning. The process of perception is individual and it also depends on internal factors such as experiences, expectations and needs. Sensation is also part of the perception process, and it is linked direct with responses from the senses creating some reaction towards the brand name, advertising and packaging. It is important for marketers to understand the reactions of consumers when exposed to marketing stimuli. Some of those marketing stimuli’s are needs, motives, personality, experiences and expectation. People can identify the same kind of stimuli in different ways due to the reason that people often focus on elements that is significant to their needs.[16]

Emotions and marketing strategy

Emotion plays an important role in advertising. Consumers often had some previous experience with the brands through advertising or communication. These experiences can have some impact in the way consumers interpret advertising. The feelings caused by the advertising can shape attitudes towards the brand and to the advertisement.[34]

One of the strategies that brands use is emotional arousal, which is the motivation to stimulate certain emotional levels. Consumers are often looking for some products where the primary or secondary benefit is emotional arousal. Most people do not like to feel sad, powerless or disgusted, so many products are developed in order to prevent or reduce those unpleasant emotions. Shopping malls are a good example, where some people go to try to reduce the negative emotions and to have a good experience.[33]

To better understand how emotional communication and relationship interact it is relevant to analyse the study of interpersonal communication developed by Paul Watzlawick (2006).[35] His studies found five axioms of communication and the most beneficial to advertising are the first three axioms. The first axiom suggests that interpersonal communication is always happening even if people are not talking but is still engaged in communication by their body language. The second axiom is based on the idea that every communication has a content. The third axiom mentioned about the two types of communications and the concept of “digital” versus “analogue”. Communication is related to rational digital message and is recognisable and clear but lacks emotional values. At the other hand metacommunication is analogue and highly emotional in character.[35]

Paul Watzlawick (2006)[35] studies revealed one important fact suggesting that the content of communication declines and disappears over time, and in some other areas where patterns are induced by the emotional metacommunications remain. He considered those patterns are processed and learned by people automatically and the level of attention paid is not relevant.[35]

Other influences[edit]

Consumer behaviour is influenced by internal and external conditions such as demographics, psychographics (lifestyle), personality, environment, motivation, knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and feelings. Psychological factors include an individual's motivation, perception, attitude and belief, while personal factors include income level, personality, age, occupation and lifestyle.

Psychological determinants of consumer behaviour can be influenced by the characteristics of an individual. These characteristics allow information to be manipulated based on past experiences and encounters with other people. This however effects the process of consumer decision making through the following aspects: Exposure to available information, perception of the information provided, comprehending what has been perceived, agreeing with what has been comprehended, retaining what is accepted, retrieval of information, decision making and the action that is taken on the basis of the decision. These steps ultimately explain the way in which information is processed from the first exposure that a person has with information to how they carry out a decision.

Exposure to available information: Ensuring that information is reached by the consumer is of significant importance to marketers as they want their product or brand to be chosen over that of the competitors. Organizations such as the government of health and safety that want information to be communicated to the consumer about health and safety issues regarding a product or service must make sure that the information that they are providing is in fact exposed to the consumer. It’s all good and well for an organization to distribute information but if it is to have any effect on the consumer it first must be exposed to them. Klapper (1949) proposes the selective exposure theory which explains people’s tendencies to expose themselves to information that they have pre-established views on while avoiding those that are contradicting. The choosing of information that they want to be exposed to are based on a person’s values, beliefs, attitudes, perspectives and past experiences. This indicates that not all information is exposed to consumers most of which goes unnoticed.

Perception of the information provided: Information that is provided to a consumer can be effectively received depending on sensory and selectivity perception. To elaborate on sensory perception, it is the process of perceiving information using senses such as vision, taste, smell or hearing. Stefflre (1968) suggests the importance of aligning the taste and visual of a product in order for information to be effectively received i.e. the taste of coffee to the visual representation of its packaging. Visual features of a product such as the shape, colour and design communicate how a product is likely to taste and how a consumer perceives it to taste. Additionally, selective perception is the process in which an individual perceives what they wish to perceive while ignoring all other aspects. Communications are designed in a way that allow for important information to be selectively perceived. A factor of selective perception can be the use of stimulus intensity, in which an individual is much more likely to be aware of flashing lights rather than non-flashing lights or loud voices rather than quiet voices. A factor of selective perception that is centred more around the person them self than the stimulus in the environment is a person’s needs. People are more likely to selectively perceive information that has somewhat relevance to their own personal needs and interests rather than information that has no relevance at all. These aspects of sensory and selective perception indicate how information is perceived by a consumer (McGuire, 1976)

Comprehending what has been perceived: In order for information to be comprehended it must be accurately perceived by the consumer. Consumers must look past the insignificant entities and correctly decode the information in which the sender intends to get across. Information is first encoded by the sender and then decoded by the receiver, to allow effective communication to occur between the sender and the receiver the intended message from the sender must match the perceived message of the receiver. This information is often encoded using imagery. Research shows that imagery is more memorable to recall than words thus making it a lot more effective. (Pollio, 1974).

Agreeing with the information that has been comprehended: Although consumers may comprehend the information in which they have perceived it may not have the anticipated effect that marketers were hoping to achieve. It is important that consumers agree with what they have comprehended in order for the information to have any influence. Credibility is an important aspect in terms of whether a consumer agrees with the information that they have interpreted. Consumers are much more likely to agree with information that has been provided by a creditable source as there is an establishment of trust between the source and the consumer (McGuire, 1976). This creditable source is known as an opinion leader. Opinion leaders have the ability to shape peoples opinion in the area in which they are known for. They are often targeted by marketers to filter information to consumers through the media with the expectation that the consumer will make a purchase from this exposure. A good example of an opinion leader is a celebrity, they are often seen on TV promoting a particular product or brand. In addition to a creditable source, the layout of the information, the style, the structure and the form of appeal all have a significant impact on the credibility. It is important to note that the communication channel in which the information is communicated through also plays a significant role (Ferber, 1976)

Retaining what is accepted: Consumers retain the information that they comprehend and agree is valid, however this information is often forgotten or delayed. Deutsch (1975) describes the difference between short term active memory and long term memory storage. Short term active memory is the ability to recall information in an active available state for a short amount of time while long term memory storage is being able to store information for a longer period of time. It is said that learning new material can sometimes interfere with a person’s ability to retain information and over time the interference contributes to a loss of retention. Delayed processing can be described in terms of when someone is first exposed to information, not only does the consumer have the tendency to forget and learn new information but they are constantly disposing of already stored information which delays the existing process of retaining information (McGuire, 1976)

Retrieval of information: Information that is exposed to a consumer is decoded and stored in the cognitive system. Search strategies are used to recover information from the cognitive system so that when it comes to making a decision the past information that has been stored has somewhat of an effect on how the decision is made. Humans are known to have a systematic memory system in which they categorize information across various domains to be retrieved at a later date. In order to understand how information is retrieved in the search strategy process it is important to know how the cognitive system is systematized and the information within it is identified which leads to how a consumer searches their memory storage in the act of making a decision. Search strategies undertaken by consumers are not always intentional, they are often unconscious and unintentional actions. According to Guilford’s (1967) model of the structure of intellect, search strategies that recall information from the memory system in sight of the possible options while making a decision is known as divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is a thought process which considers all possible options. This relates to the way a consumer processes information because they have several options to consider i.e. other products or services before they make a decision (McGuire, 1976)

Decision-Making: Information repossessed from the cognitive system and the environment in which the consumer identifies to are aspects that need to be taken into consideration when assessing how a consumer arrives to a decision. Consumers generally function in situations where doubt is concerned regarding the lack of knowledge or shortage of information they are provided. Tversky and Kahneman (1974) identify the process of thinking in situations with little certainty. Their research suggests that in situations where consumers are required to make a decision based on little certainty they are likely to use problem solving methods that are efficient and effective, however these methods often incorporate systematic errors. Furthermore, the elimination by aspects model of decision making is a strategy in which a consumer chooses a product by comparing it to opposing brands. This strategy evaluates each characteristic of a product one at a time starting with the quality that is of the most value. Whenever a product does not meet the standards that was initially set out it can then be eliminated from the list. Eventually the list reduces in numbers till you reach one option. Strategies such as the one mentioned above are a key aspect in helping a consumer to reach a decision (McGuire, 1976)

The action that is taken on the basis of the decision: As previously mentioned, a consumer is often unaware of their own actions and do not recall how they reached a decision. However, in scenarios where consumers are in fact conscious and can recall making a decision the process in which they describe does not always take place the way they recall it to (Kaplan & Schwartz, 1975). For example, people in highly rational occupations who are often required to make rational decisions are sometimes unconscious of the decisions that they make. The unaware part of a person’s mind is what tries to make sense of the information that is received. People are unable to accurately explain why or how they make a decision. In fact research suggests that when people try to explain their reasoning for making a purchase decision they are likely to fabricate what they think is the most logical and reasonable answer that makes sense to them. They are likely come up with their own version of generalized justification rather than an accurate unconscious reason. This is because individuals don’t have access to the subconscious part of the brain. For this reason consumers actions are made often based on an unconscious decision (McGuire, 1976)

Congruence between personality and the way a persuasive message is framed (i.e., aligning the message framing with the recipient’s personality profile) may play an important role in ensuring the success of that message. In a recent experiment, five advertisements (each designed to target one of the five major trait domains of human personality) were constructed for a single product. The results demonstrated that advertisements were evaluated more positively the more they cohered with participants’ dispositional motives.[36] Tailoring persuasive messages to the personality traits of the targeted audience can be an effective way of enhancing the messages’ impact.

Behaviour can also be affected by external influences, such as culture, sub-culture, social class, past experience reference groups, family and situational determinants. Culture is the broadest and most abstract of the external factors, they are the complexity of learning meanings, values, norms, and customs shared by members of a society. It is important to study the impact of culture on consumer behavior as marketers expand their international marketing efforts. Subcultures may be based on age, geographic, religious, racial, and ethnic differences. These racial/ethnic subcultures are important to marketers because of their growth, size, and purchasing power. Social Class refers to relatively homogenous divisions in a society into which people sharing similar lifestyles and interests can be grouped. These social classes are important to marketers because these consumers have similar buying habits. Reference group is defined as "a group whose presumed perspectives or values are being used by an individual as the basis for his or her judgment, opinions, and actions." As consumers we use three different types of reference groups including, associative, aspirational and dissociative as a guide to specific behaviours. Marketers uses these groups to create advertisements. Finally, situational determinants or purchase and usage decisions. Three types of these may have an effect: specific usage situations, purchase situations, and the communication settings.

In order to understand consumer behaviour it is essential to analyse the aspects of group influences and how it can affect consumer’s decisions. The definition of a group is when two or more individuals share common beliefs, values and set of forms. A group that is used for individual’s guidance in order to assist with their knowledge and attitudes are called Reference Groups.[33]

Under the Reference Groups there are three types: Aspirational Reference Groups classified as non-membership groups, where individuals often admire these groups. Associative Reference Groups are groups where individuals in fact belong to, such as friends, family and work groups that can generate a positive reaction to consumers. Dissociative Reference Groups has a negative image and their values, attitudes and behaviours are disapproved by individuals.[15]

The types of reference groups might have some influence when brands are creating their advertisement. The use of informational influence enable brands to show members of a certain group using their product which could generate some positive influence on consumer’s behaviours.[33]

Information is an important tool that influence consumer behaviour. Under the source of social influence are the Opinion Leaders, who has involvement with the product category and their role is to pass information from marketing sources or the mass media to others. Opinion leaders can be a source of influence due to their knowledge and credibility, some examples of an opinion leader are doctors, lawyers and also friends who have some power or special influence under people’s decisions .[15]

One of the most important characteristics of opinion leaders are the involvement and the level of knowledge with the product. Observation and interpersonal communications are also key characteristics of an opinion leader. In order to make use of an opinion leadership in the marketing strategies, it is important to know the role of an opinion leader in each situation. The use of an opinion leader is one of the advertising techniques. As they can influence people by the use of a product testimonial therefore generating a positive image and comments about the product. On the other side when consumers are dissatisfied, they can be highly motivated to pass the negatives messages to others consequently influencing their attitudes and behaviour.[33]

Identifying opinion leaders

The initial identification of an opinion leader can be a challenge, some techniques that can be used are through key informants, sociometric techniques and self-questionnaires. The mass media also enables the identification of opinion leaders as they are often involved with the media.

Marketing research

The use of marketing research can help to identify which group opinion leaders play an important role. Media-preference studies and product-use tests are some of the ways to recognize potential opinion leaders. Future opinion leaders should be exposed to and respond positively to the firm’s marketing mix.

Product sampling

The use of sampling is an effective way of creating interpersonal communications in order to connect with the product. Sending the products to a potential opinion leader is one way to gain knowledge about the product, as their opinion might be followed by consumers.

Retailing / personal selling

The use of an opinion leadership can also be a good opportunity for retailers and sales personnel by providing promotions and also focusing in their target market. It can help retailers and sales personnel current customers to pass information to future customers.


The use of Opinion leaders that have knowledge about the product endorse a brand. Advertising can simulate it by the use of a product testimonial. Consequently, opinion leadership can provide positive comments about the product that can be passed to others.[33]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

Deutsch, D., & Deutsch, J. A. (1975). Short-term memory. New York: Academic Press. Ferber, R. (1976). A synthesis of selected aspects of consumer behaviour. Chicago, IL. Guilford, J. P. (1967). The nature of human intelligence. New York: McGraw-Hill. Kaplan, M. F., & Schwartz, S. (1975). Human judgment and decision processes. New York: Academic Press. Klapper, J. T. (1949). The effects of mass media. New York: Columbia University, Bureau of Applied Social Research. McGuire, W. J. (1976). "Psychological Factors Influencing Consumer Choice," in R. Ferber, ed., A Synthesis of Selected Aspects of Consumer Behavior. Washington, D.C: National Science Foundation. Pollio, H. R. (1974). The psychology of symbolic activity. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Pub. Stefflre, V. (1968). Market structure studies: New products for old markets and new markets (foreign) for old products. New York: Wiley. Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1974). Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases.

External links[edit]