In the quest to learn more about what drives consumers and therefore how to influence their choices, researchers have developed several approaches to their work. According to Professor Lars Perner of the University of Southern California, a consumer psychologist, consumer behavior perspectives help develop marketing strategies, public policy, social marketing and understanding how to become a better consumer. However, not everyone agrees with this common use of behavior perspectives. There are potential academic and cultural ramifications that concern critics.
The primary approach to consumer behavior studies involves looking at choices of individuals or specific groups of individuals. According to a 1985 paper by Julia Bristol of the University of Michigan, though this advances knowledge extensively from one perspective, it's essentially the only perspective consumer behaviorists research. External social and circumstantial factors are completely neglected in favor of psychological and sociological theories of personal and group choices.
Current consumer behavior research perspectives are formed within context of a Judeo-Christian cultural framework. American and Western countries have developed and driven the majority of consumer behavior research and the associated perspectives, and therefore carry these in their approaches. While the biases are perhaps unintended, they are also impossible to separate out of the work itself. This most common shows in the premise of consumer behavior as a function of individual choice.
One consumer behavior perspective involves the idea that people operate in certain, predictable ways of learning and deciding. Using these principles, theorists feel that they can predict consumer choices as they change their external and situation variables, such as environment, options or even time of day. These perspectives rely on behavioral theories of learning, the family life cycle, role theories, and reference group theory. However, this approach then reduces consumer behavior to hunting for the right variables because it assumes human decisions are made on a very fixed set of principles. Studies do not always confirm the validity of this perspective.
Some consumer behavior researchers approach their work from the perspective that consumer behavior is random and stems from non-sequential thought processes that aren't so easily predicted. In fact, some theorists believe that behaviors can stem from consumer decisions rather than the more mainstream assumption that decisions stem from consumer behavior. However, this theory presents difficulties because it is very difficult to construct scientific research that adequately backs it. As a result, it often isn't pursued by academics and those seeking to derive marketing strategies.
Eric Feigenbaum started his career in print journalism, becoming editor-in-chief of "The Daily" of the University of Washington during college and afterward working at two major newspapers. He later did many print and Web projects including re-brandings for major companies and catalog production.