The individual buyer

The most commonly thought of consumer situation is that of an individual making a purchase with little or no influence from others. However, in some cases a number of people can be jointly involved in a purchase decision. For example, planning a vacation or deciding on a new car can involve an entire family. In other cases the purchaser may just be acquiring a product for someone else who has asked for a certain item. These situations suggest that people can take on different roles in what we define as consumer behavior.

Points below present one way to classify these roles:

Some purchase situations involve at least one person in each of these roles, while in other circumstances a single individual can take on several roles at the same time. For example, a wife (initiator and influencer) may ask her husband (buyer) to pick up a box of Total cereal on his shopping trip because their child (user) said she wanted it. At another time the husband could act as the initiator, buyer and user by purchasing a health spa membership for himself.

Any study of consumer behavior would be incomplete if it treated only one consumer role. However, emphasizing one role, while still devoting adequate treatment to the others, can simplify our study in many cases. When it becomes useful to consider only one role we will tend to choose the buyer – the individual who actually makes the purchase. This approach is useful because even when told what to purchase, the buyer often makes decisions regarding purchase timing, store choice, package size, and other factors. Therefore, focusing on the buyer, while allowing for the influence of others on the purchase decision, still gives considerable flexibility while concentrating on one consumer role.

The Decision Process:

The way in which definition characterizes “behavior” also deserves special attention. That is, consumer behavior is seen to involve a mental decision process as well as physical, activity. The actual act of purchase is just one stage in a series of mental and physical activities that occur during a period of time. Some of these activities precede the actual buying, while others follow it. However, since all are capable of influencing the adoption of products or services, they will be considered as part of the behavior in which we are interested.

An example will illustrate the benefits of this viewpoint. Suppose a photographer who regularly purchase one brand of film suddenly switches to a competing brand even though there has been no change in either the films or their prices. What has caused this shift in loyalty? Just noting that the individual’s purchase behavior has changed does little to help our understanding of the situation. Perhaps the competing film received a strong recommendation by a friend, or possibly the photographer switched because he believed the competing brand beat captures the colors of some subject matter of interest. On the other hand, his decision may have been caused either by general dissatisfaction with results from his regular film or from recent exposure to an advertisement for the competing brand.

This example suggests the complexity of decision process and demonstrates the limitations of viewing consumer behavior as just the act of purchasing. Therefore, to understand consumers adequately we should stress that, in addition to just physical activities, their purchasing behavior involves a mental decision process that takes places over time. In some cases this time period is very short, while in other cases it can be quite long – a year or more.

Some consumer behavior roles:

Initiator: The individual who determines that some need or want is not being met and authorizes a purchase to rectify the situation.

Influencer: A person who by some intentional or unintentional word or action influences the purchase decision, the actual purchase, and / or the use of the product or service.

Buyer: The individual who actually makes the purchase transaction.

User: The person most directly involved in the consumption or use of the purchase.