we explored the different types of markets and the process of dividing those markets into small portions called market segments. In this chapter we examine a few basic concepts related to buying behavior. We use the term “a few” because in marketing, more has been written about buying behavior than in any other area. Why do you suppose this it true?


Of course, you already know the answer: Marketers believe the “Customer Rules” thus we know our primary responsibility to the organization is to gain an intimate knowledge of our customers: what satisfies them and makes them happy and what benefits they are seeking in the marketplace.


Consumer Buying Behavior


Researchers in marketing have studied most areas of consumer behavior including the impact of everything from music to lighting on how people behave and how they consume products. This is not surprising considering the fact that we live in a consumption-driven culture. We will focus on the basic constructs accepted today in the study of buying behavior.


Consumer Decision-Making


Most studies of the decision-making process in marketing have used an adaptation of the scientific method. This decision-making process is as follows:


  1. Problem recognition – the consumer recognizes a problem. For example, her car has had major mechanical problems for the last two months.
  2. Information search – internal and external. The consumer thinks about options she may have to remedy her situation (internal search). And then she seeks external sources of information such as friends, newspapers, TV, and the internet.
  3. Alternative identification and evaluation – she has some ideas about what alternatives she has and how to approach them.       She now must compare and contrast the options she has.
  4. Choice and purchase – based on this process of consideration the consumer now purchases the most attractive option she has identified.
  5. Post purchase evaluation – the consumer experiences her choice and determines if she is happy with it.
  6. Feedback learning for future consumption behavior – the consumer remembers how she feels about her purchase and makes note of it for future reference (internal search).


As a student, learning this approach is worthwhile for you so that you will have a general framework to understand your purchasing behavior and the purchasing behavior of others for purposes of marketing research.


Of course, there are exceptions to the rather rigid, mechanistic process

above. First, we often don’t go through all of the steps. This fact sometimes has to do with ‘involvement’. Involvement can be defined as the personal importance and social significance of the purchase. The importance can be a function of how much the product or service costs and whether there are any social risks involved. Involvement is often classified as ‘high’ or ‘low’. We would add ‘medium’ to the categories, because many products we buy fit into that area. For example, we rarely buy new cars, laser surgery for vision correction, and new houses (all three of these would be high involvement) and while we frequently buy low involvement products (coffee, soft drinks, chewing gum) we also buy many more durable products that can be considered medium involvement. For example, if a college student buys a new CD player for his car or a new sports-coat, both of these would probably be considered medium involvement because they are in the medium price range as far as his budget is concerned and there is some level of risk surrounding the purchase.

There is also another important consideration called situational effects. Situational effects are all of the circumstances surrounding our purchases that may strongly impact our decision-making process. For example, a female college student is preparing to go out with her friends for the evening. She and her ‘buds’ have decided to go to a club where there will be music, dancing, and, most importantly, young men. The student decides to go to Dillard’s and buy a new blouse and a pair of new ‘dressy’ slacks in preparation for the night out. She also buys some makeup and fragrance. Just last night in the midst of studying for an exam when the same student went out with her friends for pizza at a local pizza parlor, she wore jeans and a ragged sweatshirt. Why was there such a difference in her dress and preparation? The social nature of the two evenings was very different, thus situational effects strongly impacted this person’s buying behavior. We have all had a battery ‘go out’ in our car and most of us don’t think of shopping for a battery until our present battery goes dead. Again, the situation strongly impacts what are willing and able to do as far as buying behavior. Usually, we just try to find a battery wherever we can and as soon as we can to solve our problem.


We, as consumers, feel no responsibility ‘to follow the rules’ thus we may engage in unorthodox buying behavior that defies classification. For example, go to Walmart and observe customers there. You will see all types of people buying all kinds of things: some of those purchases will be planned and some will be unplanned, although, of course, you won’t be able to tell which is which. Often, a ‘shopping trip’ is directed not to a specific, planned purchase but just to ‘see what available’ – so while the cognitive perspective on shopping is useful, there is also a lot of buying behavior that defies understanding. For example, think a situation in which you engaged in an ‘impulse purchase.’ An impulse purchase is an unplanned purchase in which we just decide to buy the product with very little prior consideration.

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