What is the Definition of Consumer Behavior?

by Sara Kirchheimer; Updated September 26, 2017

Through the application of sociology, psychology and demographics, marketers can begin to understand why consumers form attitudes and make decisions to purchase. Consumer-behavior studies inform marketers, advertisers and public agencies how product and service selection is influenced by personality, perception, values and beliefs. For marketing, these influences are studied in the context of demographics, which includes ethnicity, age, marital status, size of family, income, education and employment.

Perception

Perception is how information is collected and categorized. Perception is affected by the amount of exposure to a stimulus and by individual interpretation. For example, a consumer who hears--once--that dairy herds contribute to greenhouse gas would not take the statement seriously. If the same consumer encountered that information often and from many sources, then the consumer’s attitude toward dairy products might change enough to influence how often the consumer chose yogurt as a breakfast food.

Personality

Personality is a weak component of consumer behavior. Personality means a pattern of behavior founded on an individual’s outlook and internal traits. In this use, outlook means point-of-view and traits mean the consumer’s usual manner of responding to the environment. An example of outlook is the effect of a recessionary economy on consumer confidence. Examples of traits are introversion or extroversion, ambition or complacency, aggressiveness or timidity and compulsiveness or pragmatism. A consumer whose decision to purchase is influenced by extroversion or compulsiveness, might choose to be less innovative during an economic downturn because confidence is lower.

Values

Values are the consumer’s set of standards about conduct that arise from learned culture. A “terminal value” is a long-term goal or role model, as when a consumer strives for a particular lifestyle, such as healthful diet and exercise. An “instrumental” value is a flexible and negotiable action that is exercised daily, such as when a consumer makes a decision to purchase either organic or nonorganic products.

Beliefs

In consumer behavior study, “beliefs” are specific beliefs about products in the marketplace. Consumer belief is a combination of knowledge, emotions and actual actions to purchase or not purchase. For example, if a consumer has a negative or prejudiced set of beliefs about Yugoslavia, then marketing an automobile manufactured in Yugoslavia would have to focus on changing those beliefs.

Attitude

Consumer attitude is a combination of perceptions, values and beliefs. The consumer must first perceive the product and then focus values and beliefs onto the product and make a decision to purchase or not to purchase. Beliefs are more vulnerable to marketing than values are, because beliefs are subject to knowledge and emotion. For example, positive facts can inform a consumer’s knowledge about automobile manufacturing in Yugoslavia. A marketer might decide what demographic group can best afford a Yugoslavian automobile and then generate positive emotion by associating the automobile with music toward which that demographic group feels positive.

About the Author

Sara Kirchheimer holds a Bachelor of Science in physical geography from Arizona State University and is currently retired from the transportation and travel industry in northern Europe and the western United States. In addition to commercial writing, she has contributed art exhibit reviews to Phoenix Arts and hurricane update articles to New Orleans Indymedia.