What Is the Difference Between a Customer and a Consumer?

by Neil Kokemuller; Updated September 26, 2017

A consumer is a type of customer or buyer. Household consumers purchase goods and services for individual or family consumption. Business buyers are another major customer category. Knowing who benefits from your offering and how to market to them is key to a profitable operation.

Consumer Basics

Consumers typically purchase goods that they will use to address a need, problem or desire. Consumer goods are often broken down into hard and soft goods. Hard goods include items such as appliances, cookware and bedding, which offer extended use. Soft goods include food, toiletry items and other expendable goods. After utilization, the consumer must purchase additional goods. Consumers also pay for services, which involve the delivery of intangible solutions -- for example, lawn care, housekeeping and telecommunications. Lack of expertise, time savings and personal preference are reasons to pay for such services.

Foxtail Marketing points out that consumers sometimes make purchases based on logical reasoning, but emotional appeals are often an effective promotional strategy. When you sell luxury goods, for instance, the goal is to convince targeted customers that their lives will be better with your solution. In contrast, you might promote a safety item to parents by highlighting statistics about lives saved with the product.

Business Customers

Business buyers include companies that purchase goods and services for use in operations and trade buyers that purchase goods for resale. Companies that market goods and services to other businesses are often known as business-to-business, or B2B, marketers. Office machines, paper, ink and writing utensils are common supplies businesses purchase for operational activities. Trade buyers include wholesalers and retailers that buy goods, add value, mark up the prices and resell them for a profit. Wholesalers traditionally sell to retailers, and retailers sell to consumers, who are the end users of products.

While company buyers are influenced by emotional appeals, they tend to rely more on logic and task-orientation than consumers, according to Boundless. Therefore, quantifying how your goods and services help the business make or save money is vital. Trade sellers sometimes offer discounts to entice purchases from companies looking for greater profit margins or an opportunity to pass savings on to customers.


  • B2B marketing typically requires a longer, more engaging marketing commitment than B2C marketing, Foxtail Marketing reports.

About the Author

Neil Kokemuller has been an active business, finance and education writer and content media website developer since 2007. He has been a college marketing professor since 2004. Kokemuller has additional professional experience in marketing, retail and small business. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Iowa State University.

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