How to Study Consumer Behavior

Shopping image by Yvonne Bogdanski from

The term "consumer behavior" refers to actions and decisions that factor into a customer's purchase. Researchers, businesses and marketers study consumer behavior to understand what influences a consumer's shopping preferences and selection of products and services. Multiple factors affect consumer behavior, among them economic status, beliefs and values, culture, personality, age and education. Findings on consumer behavior are used to develop methods and products that will boost company sales.

Establish a method for studying consumer behavior. Common study methods include taking surveys, hosting focus groups, tracking point-of-sale data and observation. Measuring physiological responses to certain products and advertising is another common practice used by university research departments.

Attract customers to participate. Offer incentives, such as monetary payments, free products or raffle entries, to motivate customers to participate in consumer behavior studies.

Conduct a survey of customers. Surveys can be taken online, in person or by phone. Limit the number of questions to five. Ask customers multiple-choice questions, open-answer questions and questions that only need a "yes" or "no" answer. Customers taking paper or online surveys often skip open-answer questions, so limit those to one or two.

Establish a focus group. Host a meeting of several different types of costumers to discuss a product type and the reasons customers buy certain brands of that product. Ask open-ended questions to encourage discussions. Allow participants to try a brand they've never used before, then request them to write down the pros and cons of the brand.

Obtain permission from a store with high customer traffic to observe customer selections in a specific product section or department. Write down the types of products purchased. Note if anyone picked up a product but then returned it to get a different brand, or if a customer walked away without selecting an item. Indicate possible reasons why shoppers choose one product over another, such as price, fragrance or packaging.

Request point-of-sale statistics from stores or corporate headquarter sales departments. Focus on a specific product type. Note whether one brand was purchased more often than another over a set time period. Compare these statistics with other time periods. Research possible reasons why one brand was chosen over another. Increased commercial marketing, coupon and discount offerings, aisle-end displays, and seasonal sales are all possible reasons. Product quality and perceived product quality are other factors that influence consumer purchasing decisions.

Conduct testing of consumer physiological responses to images, smells, tastes and other selling factors of certain products. An example of this research method includes asking consumers to wear a pair of glasses with a tiny camera hooked into the center. This allows researchers to note what commercial holds customer attention the longest. MRI and CAT scans are frequently used to monitor increases in brain activity in response to product experiences.


  • Beware of taking in-person interview surveys as the interviewer may unintentionally influence a customer's responses.



About the Author

Kristin Jennifer began writing professionally in 2010, with her work appearing on eHow. She has five years of experience working as an immigration specialist in Houston and New York City. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science and a minor in economics from Barnard College.

Photo Credits