Consumer Psychology and the Purchase Process

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  • 0:05 Associations &…
  • 1:22 Learning & Consumer Behavior
  • 2:54 Memory
  • 5:10 Building Brand Associations
  • 6:39 Conditioning
  • 7:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kelly Roach

Kelly earned her Master of Mass Communication from Arizona State and has taught consumer behavior and communication courses at the undergraduate level.

Basic psychology concepts like learning, memory and conditioning can play a big role in dictating what we decide to buy. Watch this video to see how they work together.

Associations and Consumer Psychology

How does a store like Target go from a standard, big-box discount retailer to a high-demand place to get everyday goods? When you think of the 'discount store,' 'national chain' or 'big-box retailer' category, what comes to mind? Likely a bland image of massive stores with products more focused on price and function. You might even think of specific stores like Wal-Mart, K-Mart or Costco.

But what about Target? To you, it may be associated with this category, but what makes it different? How has Target made itself appear more chic and on-trend than the others?

Target's marketing team has done a lot of work to carve out their niche in the big-box retailer category. By creating wider aisles, inviting designers or celebrities to develop collections exclusively for their stores and insisting on a higher level of cleanliness and quality at each store, they've positioned themselves as 'premium' compared to other retailers in that category.

What Target has done is a perfect example of how learning, memory and conditioning work to impact our purchase decisions.

How a brand is seen in the consumer's eye is completely dependent upon the mental associations the consumer creates. Learning, memory and conditioning can help to build and reinforce these associations.

Learning and Consumer Behavior

Consumer behavior is learned behavior. Just as we learn to walk, feed ourselves, tie our shoes or drive, we also learn how to shop. Although the learning associated with consumer behavior comes from more sources than Mom and Dad, we still acquire preferences, habits and other internal information that we apply to purchase decisions from the moment we're born through all of adulthood.

Think back to your younger school days. Remember when that one specific brand of backpack was the coolest, and you had to have it? When you think about it, that need to have the coolest backpack was learned. Your friends who also wanted one, the cool kids who already had it, and the commercials or TV shows showing other kids with the backpack all taught you that the backpack was cool and that you should have one too.

Trying to define learning can be challenging. Simply put, learning happens when we encounter new information through stimuli and somehow it impacts our thinking, memory or behavior. With this broad definition, you can begin to see how almost all consumer behavior involves some kind of learning.

You may recall consumer behavior is the process consumers go through to satisfy needs, from problem recognition and product search to purchase and post-purchase behavior. When you look at how learning fits into consumer behavior, you can begin to see that the two are extensively intertwined. Our attitudes, values, tastes, behavior, preferences, feelings and more are all learned, and all of these factors come into play in consumer behavior.


Memory works very closely with learning. It's the collection of all the information we've perceived and stored. There are two parts to memory: long-term and short-term.

Short-term memory is the part of our memory we're currently using. It's the active part of our storage bank. In fact, it might not even be considered 'storage' at all. Short-term memory is basically what we're thinking, perceiving or analyzing at that moment in time.

In our active, short-term memory, we retrieve stored information from our long-term memory and use it to interpret and evaluate any new stimuli, then turn the stimuli into information. These interpretations are called elaborative activities. This information goes into long-term memory, where it can later be recalled to interpret new stimuli.

A diagram of elaborative activities
Long Term Short Term Memory

Looking back at our learning definition (the encounter of new information through stimuli that impacts our thinking, memory or behavior), elaborative activities qualify as part of learning, too. See how memory and learning work so closely together? All of the things you've accumulated over time - that you've learned - are now part of your memory.

More specifically, they've been recalled from long-term memory into short-term memory, where they are currently helping you interpret new stimuli and turn that into information, which will also be stored in your long-term memory.

Like I mentioned, long-term memory is where things are permanently stored. We keep all of our information there, waiting to be moved into short-term memory when the time is right. Our long-term memory is vast and unlimited, storing everything from our moods to our basic understanding of concepts to complicated decision rules and processes.

Long-term memory is stimulated and then associated with certain products or companies.
Brand Associations

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