Modeling and Researching Consumer Behavior

The public has become increasingly concerned about the safety and quality of our physical environment. There is much concern about: toxic dump sites such as Love Canal, the amount of chemical pesticides on farmland, high air pollution levels, oil spills such as the Exxon Valdez global warming, rivers so polluted that they catch on fire. Chernobyl ozone depletion, rain forest destruction strange weather patterns, and mountains of non biodegradable trash that we produce each day are few of the problems.

A portion of the public has organized and some have become quite militant in their efforts to save the environment. For example, in Rhode Island a group named ‘Save the Bay’ keeps a watchful eye over the actions of various private and public organizations that might pollute Narragansett Bay – a large estuary dominating the eastern portion of the state. The Greenpeace and earth first groups are much more proactive in their methods. In fact, Earth First members are actually being prosecuted for their allegedly unlawful and dangerous actions to preserve forest land.

Marketers have apparently become sensitive to public concerns over environmental issues. This has led to what has come to be known as green marketing – producing and promoting products that are claimed to be environmentally kind. For example, in the late 1980s McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble, and Lever Bros., all created official directors and programs to focus on environmental concerns. In the case of McDonald’s pamphlets were prepared to inform customers of its policies and actions on various environmental issues and in 1990 it agreed to work with Environmental Refuse Fund to reduce solid waste generated by its restaurants. It also stopped using polystyrene food packaging (related to ozone depletion) in favor of plastic coated paper. Other companies have responded with comparable approaches.

Surveys suggest that consumers are responding favorably to such environmentally positive actions. One national telephone survey fund that 74 percent said they consider environmental protection a priority, even if it is at the expense of slower economic growth. In another survey 46 per cent said that they regularly recycled bottles and cans. This survey also found that the average respondent claimed he or she would pay nearly 7 percent more for an environmentally kind product.

However, some say that the environmental movement is stalling. Part of the reason may be that consumers do not adequately understand the complex issues involved in taking actions on environmental problems. In other cases, although knowledge and understanding may be present consumers may not have favorable attitude towards change. For example, a Roper survey found that 24 per cent of the population aren’t very involved in environmental activities mainly because they say that others aren’t either. Another 26 per cent hold both positive and negative attitudes on environmental issues. Other evidence suggests that consumers are not responding well to new initiatives because when it is a conflict between environmental concern and economics, in terms of higher prices for environmentally kind products economics quickly wins. As a consequence a substantial amount of confusion exists among marketers about how consumers are reacting to environmental issues and what actions they are wiling to take. This has led to one recommendation that companies take a more moderate stance and a lower profile, especially in promoting their environmental efforts.

As the above example demonstrates marketers are frequently uncertain about the variables that are affecting consumers. Sometimes this occurs because they do not clearly understand the extent of variables that might be having an influence. Many of these variables such as personality or attitudes are internal to the consumer (and not directly observable) and variety of others, such as the economic climate, are external. In other cases the variables may be known by marketers but the exact nature and relative strength of their influence is not clear. In any of these circumstances it is useful to refer to some type of model of how consumers operate in order to organize and structure what is understood about consumers.

Source: Consumer Behavior