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Consumer Psychology: Definition & Behavior

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  • 0:00 Definition of Consumer…
  • 0:29 Theories of Consumer Behavior
  • 1:53 Why Do People Buy Things?
  • 2:58 Research on Consumers
  • 4:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Emily Cummins
Why do you buy one brand of soda over another? If you're a consumer psychologist, you're probably trying to answer these questions about consumers. In this lesson, you'll learn about some of the major factors that motivate consumer behavior.

Definition of Consumer Psychology

Consumer psychology is the study of why people buy things. Psychologists try to find the underlying cognitive processes that explain consumers' choices and how they respond to the influence of marketing, as well as the external stimuli that convince people to purchase certain items. Marketing executives are very keen to know the findings from studies in consumer psychology, since these findings can help them figure out how to sell a product.

Theories of Consumer Behavior

Let's go over some of the major perspectives in consumer psychology that help us understand consumer behavior. The first perspective used in consumer psychology is behaviorism. This branch of psychology argues that people's actions are driven by external stimuli. In other words, we become convinced to do things because of some outside influence.

The psychologist John Watson was a pioneer in the field of behaviorism. According to this perspective, everything is considered a behavior. So, all of your thoughts, actions, and feelings are behaviors, and they're caused by external stimuli. This means that if you have a particular affinity to a brand of shampoo and a commercial features an actor who reminds you of a person you love, you might be more likely to buy this kind of shampoo.

The cognitive approach, on the other hand, suggests that our behaviors are caused mostly by our own mental processing. Cognitivists do appreciate that external stimuli, such as packaging or brand loyalty, can have an influence, but they don't view it as the most important thing. So you might watch that same shampoo commercial, and you might be influenced by the actors, but from the cognitive perspective, it's the interaction between the external stimuli and your own rational thinking and mental processing that leads to buying something.

Why Do People Buy Things?

People are motivated to buy things by a number of factors. First, we are motivated by biological needs. For example, purchasing food and water ultimately satisfies biological drives we can't ignore.

Consumers are also influenced by broader factors, such as the wider economic context. For example, during a recession, people often shop less or only shop for necessities.

Other sources of influence can be social, like family or friends. People's buying decisions can be influenced by a desire to be social or remain connected to people. For example, seeing a commercial for greeting cards might remind you of friends and family and a desire to remain in touch with them.

Consumers are also influenced by cultural factors. For example, it's not common in the United States to bargain at a vegetable stall at a farmer's market - most people either buy the produce or, if it's too expensive, pass it up. In other countries, however, where bargaining is commonplace, a shopper might not buy something without going through that process.

Research on Consumers

So how do psychologists and other market researchers figure out how people behave? There are a few different research techniques used to better understand consumers' preferences. One of them is the focus group. This approach gathers a group and asks for thoughts and opinions on products or services.

For example, let's say a company is looking to launch a new brand of soda. During the focus group, representatives from the corporation might ask questions about the participants likes, dislikes, why they may or may not drink soda. The company then takes the reflections provided by potential consumers and uses it to develop a product people will want to purchase.

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