Influences on Consumer Buying Decisions: Cultures, Values & More

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  • 0:07 External Influences
  • 1:57 Culture & Values
  • 4:50 Social Class
  • 6:21 Reference Groups &…
  • 8:21 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.

External influences are all around us and play a large role in our buying decisions. Watch this video to see how cultures, values and other influences shape our purchases.

External Influences and Buying Decisions

How does who we are impact what we buy and how we buy it? How do we decide on the clothes we choose to wear? What about the food we eat? Often, our surroundings dictate many of these decisions. In fact, all of our consumer decisions are impacted to some degree by what's around us: our culture, values and social class, along with the people we associate with and those we admire. All the things I've just listed are considered external influences on our buying decisions.

Let's say, for example, you're a fitness enthusiast living in Manhattan Beach, California. How do the external influences we just mentioned impact your purchase decisions? For one, you live in an area where eating well and exercising are more popular. The local culture promotes a healthy lifestyle similar to yours, so when you shop for groceries, the specialty health food your diet requires is probably more readily available.

Because you value hard work and being active, you enjoy all of the time you spend working out, and you'll gladly fork over $150 for a series of yoga classes. Your social class allows you to have the means to buy the classes, too.

When you show up to yoga, you see some of your good friends there. Most of them are hardcore yogis, and you know they all wear Lululemon outfits to class. Boy, are you relieved you're wearing Lululemon, too! Your reference group has influenced what type of clothing you wear when you work out.

Lastly, when you are trying to choose a yoga mat, you ask your friend Dave, because he always seems to know about the best new workout gear. Dave is an opinion-leader for you, and you end up buying the mat he recommends.

Culture, values, social class, reference groups and opinion-leaders have all influenced your purchase decisions for your groceries and workout clothes. Let's take a closer look at each influence and how it makes an impact.

Wearing the same clothing brand as those in your yoga class reveals reference group influence.
Reference Group Clothing Example

Culture and Values

Culture is by far the most pervasive of these external influences. In fact, it's challenging to even define what culture exactly is because of its prevalence in our lives. One definition I can offer is to consider culture more as a set of individual boundaries or norms. We acquire these boundaries all through our lives, starting at birth. When we react to any situation in a manner that 'feels right,' we're within these boundaries and acting in accordance with our culture.

So, how does culture impact consumer decisions? Let's compare Manhattan Beach with a place in North Dakota.

Pierre's is the name of a natural foods store in Manhattan Beach. The store prides itself on not only being the most beautiful place to shop for groceries but also the go-to destination for health foods, vitamins and supplements. The store carries vegetables harvested that day and lots of specialty foods, like gluten-free items. While it's a beautiful place to shop, it's also quite expensive, but those who live in the area love to shop at Pierre's and think it's the best place for all of their grocery needs.

Meanwhile, in the middle of North Dakota, there's a market that's also wildly popular called Bill's. You can get your tires changed at Bill's while you pick up some hot dogs, hamburger patties, buns and all the other necessities for an upcoming backyard cookout. Those who live in the area love to shop at Bill's and think it's the best place for all of their grocery needs.

How could these two places be so monumentally different yet still meet the grocery needs of their local consumers? Culture. The culture in Manhattan Beach places more importance on the freshness and quality of their groceries. They don't mind shopping more often and in smaller quantities if they think it means their products are fresher. Neither do they mind shelling out the extra funds to pay for the gluten-free fare. In North Dakota (as well as many other places in America), shoppers place more importance on convenience and price in general. Not to say they don't want fresh or high-quality food, but as a whole, they're more concerned with convenience and price.

Moving on to our next external influence, value, you could even say that our hypothetical Pierre's shoppers value freshness and quality, while the Bill's shoppers value convenience and price, and each group requires a different store format and product offering to meet the buying patterns associated with these values.

So, what exactly are values? Again, like culture, it's not something easily defined. But in general, values are generally held beliefs closely connected to culture about what's acceptable and desirable. Given the definition, as you can imagine, values touch almost every part of our lives. In our workout enthusiast example, hard work was one of the core values. Work/life balance, individualism, and how you view the environment are all considered values, too. Values also encompass our moral and religious views.

Social Class

Social class also influences our purchase decisions. Most times when you hear social class, you probably immediately associate it with income levels. While this is a large part of what makes up social class, it also includes your level of education and occupation. Altogether, social class is where you stand in society compared to others based on education, income and occupation.

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