Consumer behaviour

The Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert shopping arcade in Belgium. Consumer behaviour, in its broadest sense, is concerned with how consumers select and use goods and services.

Consumer behaviour is the study of individuals, groups, or organizations and all the activities associated with the purchase, use and disposal of goods and services, including the consumer's emotional, mental and behavioural responses that precede or follow these activities. Consumer behaviour emerged in the 1940s and 50s as a distinct sub-discipline in the marketing area.

Consumer behaviour is an inter-disciplinary social science that blends elements from psychology, sociology, social anthropology, anthropology, ethnography, marketing and economics, especially behavioural economics. It examines how emotions, attitudes and preferences affect buying behaviour. Characteristics of individual consumers such as demographics, personality lifestyles and behavioural variables such as usage rates, usage occasion, loyalty, brand advocacy, willingness to provide referrals, in an attempt to understand people's wants and consumption are all investigated in formal studies of consumer behaviour. The study of consumer behaviour also investigates the influences, on the consumer, from groups such as family, friends, sports, reference groups, and society in general.

The study of consumer behaviour is concerned with all aspects of purchasing behaviour – from pre-purchase activities through to post-purchase consumption, evaluation and disposal activities. It is also concerned with all persons involved, either directly or indirectly, in purchasing decisions and consumption activities including brand-influencers and opinion leaders. Research has shown that consumer behaviour is difficult to predict, even for experts in the field. However, new research methods such as ethnography and consumer neuroscience are shedding new light on how consumers make decisions.

Customer relationship management (CRM) databases have become an asset for the analysis of customer behaviour. The voluminous data produced by these databases enables detailed examination of behavioural factors that contribute to customer re-purchase intentions, consumer retention, loyalty and other behavioural intentions such as the willingness to provide positive referrals, become brand advocates or engage in customer citizenship activities. Databases also assist in market segmentation, especially behavioural segmentation such as developing loyalty segments, which can be used to develop tightly targeted, customized marketing strategies on a one-to-one basis. (Also see relationship marketing)

Origins of consumer behaviour

See: History of marketing thought

In the 1940s and 50s, marketing was dominated by the so-called classical schools of thought which were highly descriptive and relied heavily on case study approaches with only occasional use of interview methods. At the end of the 1950s, two important reports criticised marketing for its lack of methodological rigor, especially the failure to adopt mathematically-oriented behavioural science research methods.[1] The stage was set for marketing to become more inter-disciplinary by adopting a consumer-behaviourist perspective.

From the 1950s, marketing began to shift is reliance away from economics and towards other disciplines, notably the behavioural sciences, including sociology, anthropology and clinical psychology. This resulted in a new emphasis on the customer as a unit of analysis. As a result, new substantive knowledge was added to the marketing discipline – including such ideas as opinion leadership, reference groups and brand loyalty. Market segmentation, especially demographic segmentation based on socioeconomic status (SES) index and household life-cycle, also became fashionable. With the addition of consumer behaviour, the marketing discipline exhibited increasing scientific sophistication with respect to theory development and testing procedures.[2]

In its early years, consumer behaviour was heavily influenced by motivation research, which had increased the understanding of customers, and had been used extensively by consultants in the advertising industry and also within the discipline of psychology in the 1920s, '30s and '40s. By the 1950s, marketing began to adopt techniques used by motivation researchers including depth interviews, projective techniques, thematic apperception tests and a range of qualitative and quantitative research methods.[3] More recently, scholars have added a new set of tools including: ethnography, photo-elicitation techniques and phenomenological interviewing.[4] Today, consumer behaviour (or CB as it is affectionately known) is regarded as an important sub-discipline within marketing and is included as a unit of study in almost all undergraduate marketing programs.

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