What Is the Difference Between a Customer and a Consumer?

by Chelsea Levinson - Updated July 13, 2018

The words “customer” and “consumer” are often used interchangeably. However, there are subtle distinctions between the two. As a business owner, it’s important to understand the difference between a consumer and customer. Ultimately, it can help you properly focus your marketing efforts on your customer.

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  • The difference between a customer and a consumer is subtle yet important. A customer purchases goods while a consumer uses or consumes goods.

What Is the Difference Between Consumer and Customer?

The difference between a consumer and customer is subtle yet important to understand. Essentially, a consumer is a user of goods. Every person is a consumer of goods at some level. If you eat food and wear clothing, you’re consuming goods. A customer, on the other hand, is a buyer of goods. For example, say you purchase a bottle of juice from a convenience store. You arrive at work and give the juice to your office manager to drink. In this instance, you are the customer, and your office manager is the consumer.

Another key point in the consumer vs customer discussion is that customers can be businesses that buy and then resell products. In this regard, they are customers but not consumers of the products they purchase. They are reselling for another consumer to finally use the product.

Consumer Definition

A consumer is a person who uses or consumes a product. Everyone who participates in the economy is a consumer of goods. For example, say you go to a grocery store and buy a week’s worth of groceries for your family. You are the customer, purchasing goods from the grocery store. You go home and feed your family the groceries. Everyone in your family is a consumer of the products you purchased. However, you are the only customer, since you did the buying.

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Customer Definition

A business customer is defined by the fact that she makes a purchase. Marketing activities are almost always geared towards customers, not just consumers. A business’s main objective is attracting customers to spend money on goods and services. Most businesses outside of behemoths like Coca-Cola can’t possibly market to every consumer on the planet. This means choosing who to spend marketing money on.

Marketing efforts are typically directed at customers and potential customers. If you own a beer company, it doesn't make sense to market to consumers who don't drink alcohol as they're unlikely to be customers. Even the cleverest advertising probably won't turn a teetotaller consumer into a beer-drinking customer. Resources should instead be utilized on attracting and retaining likely customers. Note also that a business customer can ultimately be a reseller or wholesaler, turning around and selling products for resale to other consumers. A consumer, on the other hand, only consumes products.

About the Author

Chelsea Levinson earned her B.S. in Business from Fordham University and her J.D. from Cardozo. She is a small business owner who has created content for Bank of America, H&R Block, CNBC, AOL and many more.

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