Consumer buyer behavior relates to the end customer, the individuals who purchase products and services for personal consumption. This section of the chapter will summarize the main sources of influence on consumer buyer behavior (see Figure below), in order to illustrate the influences that affect consumers’ purchasing decisions. These influences can be broken down into four major categories: social, personal, psychological and situational.
There is a range of social influences on consumer’s purchasing behavior, in particular culture and social class.
Influences on consumer behavior
In Western societies social classification has been criticized as a predictor of purchasing behavior. In the UK a household in the higher AB category, after paying for a mortgage and private school tuition for their children, may have less disposable income than a lower category C2 or D Household. There can also be wide discrepancies in purchasing patterns within social groups. Individuals are also influenced by smaller social groups, such as friends, co-workers and family. These can be categorized into reference groups and family:
Examples of social class profiles in different cultures
An individual’s personal attributes will have an influence on their purchasing behavior. Factors such as the individual’s age, occupation and financial situation, their personality, their family life cycle stage and their lifestyle in general will affect the pattern of their consumption decisions. These factors are commonly used as criteria to segment consumer markets and will be explored in greater detail later.
Four key psychological factors – motivation,perception, learning, and beliefs and attitudes – are further influences on consumer behavior.
Individuals have a range of needs, from basic biological needs such as the need to satisfy hunger, thirst and physical distress to psychological needs like the need for social recognition, esteem or belonging. These needs may lie dormant at any particular time but once aroused to a high enough level of intensity they become a motivational force. A motive is a need that has reached a level that drives an individual to search for ways to alleviate its demands. There is a whole body of theory in this area that cannot be explored in this text; however, it is worthwhile summarizing two of the most influential theories to illustrate their effect on marketing practice:
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
This theory is not universal and is biased towards Anglo-Saxon cultural values, in particular individualism and need for self development. These needs would not have the same prominence in Japan or Germany where, for example, the need for personal security and conformity take a higher priority. Motivation theories relate to consumer needs and satisfying consumers’ needs is a central tenet of marketing. These motivation theories therefore have influenced approaches to market segmentation. It should be noted that although Freud and Maslow’s theories have been very influential in management and marketing theory and practice, they have been challenged on the grounds that the research evidence to support their utility as a psychological theory of motivation is weak (Steers et al., 1996). However, they are useful for marketers as they help to categorize consumers into groups based on needs.
The way an individual perceives an external stimulus will influence their reaction. Individuals can have different perceptions of the same stimulus due to the process of selective attention,selective distortion and selective retention:
Perceptual behavior is relevant to the segmentation process because of its links with learning, attitudes and beliefs.
Learning, attitudes and beliefs
Learning relates to any change in the content of an individual’s long term memory and is associated with how information is processed (covered above under Perception). There are various ways in which learning can take place, including conditioning, social learning and cognitive learning:
Forming attitudes and beliefs about products effectively creates a position for the product or brand relative to other products and brands in the mind of the consumer. This lies at the heart of product positioning which is central to the successful implementation of segmentation strategy.
The buying situation
The buying process (see Figure below) an individual goes through when making purchasing decisions is affected by the particular situational factors surrounding the activity.High involvement purchases refer to situations where both the information search and the use of referent group consultation and post purchase evaluation is extensive. It occurs when the following factors are involved:
Consumer theory is a complex area and only a brief overview has been provided here. Consumer behavior is central to the segmentation, targeting and positioning process, in particular in establishing useful segmentation criteria.
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