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Consumer Behaviour Overview Notes

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An Introduction to Consumer Behaviour

Consumer behaviour is the study of the processes involved when individuals or groups select, purchase, use or dispose of products, services, ideas or experiences to satisfy needs and desires.

A consumer may purchase, use and/or dispose of a product, but these functions may be performed by different people. In addition, consumers may be thought of as role players who need different products to help them play their various parts.

Market segmentation is an important aspect of consumer behaviour. Consumers can be segmented along many dimensions, including product usage, demographics and psychographics. Emerging developments, such as the new emphasis on relationship marketing and the practice of database marketing, mean that marketers are much more attuned to the wants and needs of different consumer groups.

Marketing activities exert an enormous impact on individuals. Consumer behaviour is relevant to our understanding of both public policy issues and the dynamics of popular culture.

The web is transforming the way consumers interact with companies and with each other. Online commerce allows us to locate obscure products from around the world and consumption communities provide forums for people to share opinions and product recommendations. Potential problems accompany these benefits, including the loss of privacy and the deterioration of traditional social interactions as people log more time online.

It is often said that marketers create artificial needs. Although this criticism is over simplified, it is true that marketers must accept their share of the responsibility for how society develops and what is considered necessary to have and what is acceptable, nice and fun to do within society.

The field of consumer behaviour is interdisciplinary; it is composed of researchers from many different fields who share an interest in how people interact with the marketplace. These disciplines can be categorised by the degree to which their focus is micro or macro.

There are many perspectives on consumer behaviour, but research orientations can roughly be divided into two approaches. The positivist perspective, which currently dominates the field, emphasises the objectivity of science and the consumer as a rational decision maker. The interpretivist perspective, in contrast, stresses the subjective meaning of the consumer's individual experience and the idea that any behaviour is subject to multiple interpretations rather than one single explanation.

A Consumer Society

We live in a consumer society where more and more of our personal identities and the relationships between people are mediated through consumption. Consumer society is thus characterised by a consumer culture.

The core of consumer culture is that consumption goes far beyond solving practical and utilitarian problems. Consumer society has become a reality when consumption becomes more a matter of cultural meaning and less a matter of utility. Consumption is first and foremost a way of creating meaningful lives in the context of personal identity and social relationships. Consumption, branding and marketing have become some of the prime reflectors of current cultural values, norms and social rules. Economy and cultures of consumption are thus closely intertwined.

We increasingly live in an experience economy that provides not only goods and services but complete staged events or experiences for the consumers.

Experience economy can be linked to postmodernism which involves processes of social change in an era where the grand truths of modernism such as scientific knowledge or the progressiveness of economic growth are no longer taken for granted. Postmodernism includes social processes such as fragmentation, de differentiation, hyperreality, chronology, pastiche and anti-foundationalism.

The increasing political and moral significance of consumption has given birth to the political consumer who votes with their shopping basket in an attempt to influence companies to care for the natural as well as the human environment, adding issues such as human rights to the set of dimensions that influence purchases.

Followers of an etic perspective believe that the same universal messages will be appreciated by people in many cultures. Believers in a mix perspective argue that individual cultures are too unique to permit such standardisation; marketers instead must adapt their approaches to be consistent with local values and practices. Attempts at global marketing have met with mixed success; in many cases this approach is more likely to work if the messages appeal to basic values and/or if the target markets consist of consumers who are more internationally, rather than locally, orientated.

The Western world is a net exporter of popular culture. Consumers around the world have eagerly adopted western products, especially entertainment, vehicles and items that are linked symbolically to a uniquely western lifestyle. Despite, or because of the continuing Americanisation or Westernisation of cultures in the world, some consumers are alarmed by this influence and are instead emphasising a return to local products and customs.

It is appropriate to consider the process of globalisation as one of the most central in understanding the development of consumer society. But it is also important to bear in mind that globalisation should almost always be considered as glocalisation due to the complex interactions between the global and the local that follows from it.

Shopping, Buying and Evaluating

Factors operating at the time of purchase can dramatically influence the consumer decision making process. Many factors over and above the quality of the product or service influence the outcome of an actual transaction.

The act of purchase is affected by many factors. These include the consumer's antecedent state. Time is an important resource that often determines how much effort and search will go into a decision. Our moods are influenced by the degree of pleasure and arousal a store environment creates.

The usage context of a product can be a basis for segmentation; consumers look for different product attributes, depending on the use to which they intend to put their purchase. The presence or absence of other people and the types of people they are, can also affect a consumer's decisions.

The shopping experience is a pivotal part of the purchase decision. In many cases, retailing is like theatre - the consumer's evaluation of stores and products may depend on the type of performance they witness. The actors, the setting and props influence this evaluation. Like a brand personality a number of factors such as perceived convenience, sophistication and the expertise of salespeople determine store image. With increasing competition from non-store alternatives, creating a positive shopping experience has never been more important. Online shopping is growing in importance and this new way to acquire products have both good and bad aspects.

In addition to what a shopper already knows or believes about a product, the information that a store or a website provides can strongly influence their purchase decisions. Because we don't make many purchase decisions until we're actually in the store, point of purchase stimuli are very important sales tools. These include product samples, elaborate package displays, place based media and in store promotional materials such as shelf talkers. \point of purchase stimuli are particularly useful for promoting impulse buying, which happens when a consumer yields to a sudden urge for a product.

A salesperson can be the crucial link between interest in a product and its actual purchase. The consumers encounter with a salesperson is a complex and important process. The outcome can be affected by such factors as the salespersons similarity to the customer and their perceived credibility.

Marketers need to be concerned about consumer's evaluations of a product after they buy it as well as before. A persons overall feelings about the product after they buy it determine consumer satisfaction/dissatisfaction. Many factors influence our perceptions of product quality, including price, brand name, and product performance. Our degree of satisfaction often depends on the extent to which a products performance is consistent with our prior expectations of how well it will function.

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