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Consumer behavior: definition, types, & influences

Even with mountains of customer data at your fingertips, it’s sometimes hard to pinpoint exactly what motivates consumers to purchase your product, buy it again, or recommend it to friends. By diving into consumer behavior at each step in the customer journey, you can build better marketing campaigns that convince more leads and help retain more loyal customers.

Consumer behavior is the way people choose and use your products and services. It’s a holistic marketing concept that refers to how people behave throughout the entire lifecycle of your product—from discovery to purchase, use, and disposal. It encompasses patterns of:

  • Purchase behavior, such as when a person shops and how they pay for their purchase
  • Product usage, such as how often the customer uses your product and if they’re satisfied with their purchase
  • Product disposal, such as how long a customer holds onto your product and whether or not they resell it when they’re done

A consumer behavior study looks at the complex cocktail of thoughts, feelings, and habits that drive key decisions in the customer journey—like making an initial purchase, repurchasing a favorite product, or leaving an online review. It answers “why” and “how” people buy and use your product.

While rational considerations like price, convenience, and quality drive consumer behavior, so do emotions, desires, and habits. In fact, irrational drivers often have a more potent effect. Personal beliefs and preferences, along with social influences, environmental stimuli, and marketing messages, all influence how consumers respond to a product.

Eight factors that can influence buying behaviors: habitual, emotional, social, mental, economic conditions, personal preferences, group influence, and purchasing power. Let’s dig into how each of these factors works.

Habitual behavior is the practice of repeat purchases of a particular brand. A habitual (or “conative”) example would be always reaching for the same brand of cereal at the supermarket. This behavior is more related to familiarity than brand preference. For instance, if a parent feeds their children Cheerios, then they will likely purchase this brand for their children as they grow older. They may not even try other brands to see if they’re better. In this case, the consumer is demonstrating brand loyalty and isn’t spending much time researching different options available to them. It’s to a competitor’s advantage to better understand the concepts behind habitual factors to position their product to increase sales.  

Emotions can substantially influence buying decisions because emotional reactions are quicker than rational thoughts. Consequently, it can be said emotions are the main reason many people prefer certain brand names. So, it stands to reason if you can appeal to the emotions of consumers, you’ll have a better chance of capturing their attention to get a sale. There are essentially four basic emotions to appeal to: happiness, sadness, anger, and fear. The idea is to market your product or service in a way that taps into one of these emotions. An approach like this gives competitors an advantage to position their product or service alongside high-caliber businesses.  

Our society can inherently influence our buying decisions and habits. The Cheerios example above represents the role family plays in consumer buying behavior. A consumer's role and social status both influence buying behavior and habits, along with immediate relatives and family members. For instance, a person with an affluent status in their society might be expected to purchase jewelry from Tiffany & Co. instead of Walmart. This influence can also come from reference groups to which the consumer may compare themselves. Aside from relatives, friends and co-workers also make up the population of influential social factors. 

Mental factors can be viewed as a contrast to emotional factors. While mental factors can be influenced by emotion, the consumer puts more thought into their buying decisions. They assess factors like affordability and the pros and cons of the purchases. This approach typically overshadows emotional buying habits when the purchase is expensive, like a new car, home, and jewelry. Appealing to the mental factors of consumers’ buying habits requires highlighting your product or service in a way that affirms why they should buy. 

Even if you can successfully appeal to consumers' rationale, economic conditions can still factor in their buying behavior. You may have the product or service they prefer. It might appeal to their mental, social, emotional, and habitual factors, but if they can't afford to buy it, that will be a challenging hurdle to overcome. The Coronavirus pandemic is a perfect example of economic conditions affecting consumer buying behavior. Most of the restaurant industry suffered from quarantine, while some retail companies like Walmart and Amazon’s sales increased because they met the essential needs of consumers. Once quarantine restrictions were lifted, sales increased in certain industries since more people were able to get out and shop. 

Personal preferences for buying decisions can change because they are closely related to emotional, cultural, and social factors. This type of behavior can and will change over time according to circumstances and even age. An important way to think about personal preferences is considering what products consumers prefer, what kind of products they avoid, and why. For example, if consumers prefer McDonald’s french fries over competitors, then competitors should find out why. They can use this information to help improve their fries. Understanding consumers' appeal to a product or service can help position your business as a serious contender in your industry.  

Group influence ties into the demonstrative social factors of consumer buying behaviors. Knowing what relatives, co-workers, friends, and neighbors think about a product can greatly impact consumers’ buying decisions and habits. For instance, seeing a neighbor use a John Deere tractor to mow their lawn for several years might impact your buying behavior. Social factors and economic conditions like education and income can also affect buying behavior. People might not realize a certain product is available if it’s not marketed to them. An issue like this could be a missed opportunity for a business. That's why it's important to conduct market research to find out who makes up your target audience.     

Purchasing power is related to economic conditions. Targeting a specific product or service to an audience also needs to be priced well. Giving people the ability to afford what you’re selling gives them purchasing power. That means pricing products or services too high takes that buying power away from them, and by doing that, you could be driving away potential sales. Like personal preferences, purchasing power can fluctuate, but for different reasons. Purchasing power can change based on economic conditions. 

Every person has a “black box” of mental, emotional, and behavioral factors that affect their buying behavior. The makeup of each person’s black box depends on their personal values, lifestyle, relationships, consumption habits, brand loyalties, demographics, and personality.

SurveyMonkey has a dedicated solution for knowing more about consumer behavior. Our Usage & Attitudes solution helps you build marketing strategies based on purchasing behavior. 

When your business understands what drives key consumer decisions, like purchase decisions, it can better position your products to appeal to your target population. 

In the long run, consumer behavior can also affect product development. Information about which features consumers prefer and how they use your product can be applied to product design.

The insights from a consumer behavior study can help your business make decisions like:

  • How to position your product in the market, based on what consumers think and feel about your product compared to competitors’
  • Where to advertise and sell your product, based on the ways your target population researches and shops for products
  • How to make the decision to purchase your product easier for consumers by catering to their instincts, impulses, and habits
  • When to seek reviews and referrals, based on how people use your product after purchase

Because consumers' buying behavior varies, it's recommended to keep a close eye on all the trends, living standards, and changes in technology. All of these components reflect the volatility of what influences buying behavior. You'll be able to better communicate with the intended buying audience when you stay on top of industry trends like this.  

Did you know it's more cost-efficient to keep a customer vs. gaining a new one? The measures needed to turn a consumer into a customer typically require more time and resources. Still, all that can be reduced using the right experience management solution. 

Increasing customer loyalty means delivering customer satisfaction. Keep up-to-date with how your customers feel about your products and services using AI-powered feedback and insights by Momentive, creator of SurveyMonkey. Using our bank of blueprints, you can create an online questionnaire that will give you the information you need to determine how to serve your customers better.  

Once you've improved marketing and communication, you'll be speaking your target audience's language, so they won't feel like they're being sold to. Then, you and your marketing team can construct a strategic marketing plan that appeals to consumers' habitual, emotional, and social buying behaviors. This approach has the potential to increase sales. 

When it comes to retail, you always want to fulfill orders on time because the market is competitive enough to give consumers options. As a business owner, the overall objective should be to increase sales and establish buying power. To achieve brand loyalty, you need to be reliable and fulfill orders quickly. This requires well-stocked inventory. Anticipate how much inventory you'll need by determining consumer buying behavior, and then be ready to meet your customers’ needs.  

Analyzing consumer buying behavior can help you see how your business is positioned in the market. Using Momentive Solutions, you can find out how many people are already subscribing to your company and what makes them choose your brand over competitors. These insights can help you reposition your product or services to be more appealing to consumers, giving you a competitive advantage to potentially increase sales.  

You can determine the best time to send out feedback and insights by using purpose-built solutions that help you understand consumers' buying behaviors. To get 100% responsive rate, it's best to issue feedback and insights at the right time. For instance, if a customer just launched a product, you might want to give them a few weeks to use it. This approach gives them time to assess whether it's solving their problem. 

By studying consumer behavior, you can get a better understanding of what drives purchase decisions, customer retention, and brand loyalty in your target populations. Once you’ve identified patterns of consumer behavior, you can predict how your target market will respond to marketing campaigns and new product launches before they happen.

Of course, some parts of your target market might respond differently to different stimuli, based on their individual thoughts and feelings. The results of a consumer behavior study might reveal important behavioral segments in your target population, like online vs. in-person shoppers, impulse vs. need-based buyers, and loyal vs. non-loyal customers. These behavioral segments can help you develop and deliver targeted marketing messages.

Even if consumers fall into specific behavioral segments, they don’t make every purchase decision in the same way. Each purchase comes with its own set of financial, physical, social, and psychological risks—and the same person will act differently based on the weight of the decision at hand.

When consumers consider making an expensive, infrequent purchase, they typically express complex buying behavior. This type of consumer behavior is characterized by exhaustive product research and high involvement in the purchase process. If a person is looking to buy a house, for example, they’re probably going to research a bunch of locations and visit all their options in-person before making an offer on a property.

While you can uncover useful customer behavior metrics in, for example, the data collected by your customer management system, these metrics don’t tell the whole story. A customer behavior study can give you partial insight into buying behavior, such as customer preferences, frequency of use, and repurchase behavior, but it has limited applicability for marketers.

A consumer behavior study takes a more holistic approach to buying behavior by examining the way it manifests across the entire product lifecycle, including before people become customers. Because consumer behavior includes the entire target population, it’s more useful for marketers.

Consumer behavior includes the experiences of people who might buy your product, people who actually buy your product, and people who use your product even though they didn’t buy it themselves (for example, a household member or employee of a customer).

Market research and customer satisfaction surveys help you get a complete picture of the buying behavior of everyone in your target population.

Market research surveys uncover the value drivers that influence people’s purchase decisions. This type of survey is an opportunity to delve deeper into the pain points, needs, and wants of your target population, so you know how and why people might choose your product.

More specifically, a consumer behavior survey identifies the rational and irrational drivers behind the respondent’s product decisions. It asks questions like, “Do you typically make decisions about which brand you’ll buy beforehand or at the time of purchase?” and “How many other people in your household use this product category?” 

Looking to customize your approach? Get tips to uncover unique value drivers with surveys.

Aim your consumer behavior survey at people from your target population, regardless of whether or not they already know about your product. SurveyMonkey Audience can help you reach a representative sample of your target market, so you can be confident in the accuracy of your results.

Customer satisfaction surveys help you collect both qualitative and quantitative data on your customers’ behavior after they’ve purchased your product. The results of this type of survey expand your picture of consumer behavior by exploring how customers use and dispose of your product.

A product feedback survey is often the best way to discover how customers interact with your product. This survey explores issues of product use with questions like “What are the things you’d most like to improve about the product?” and delves into disposal with questions about whether or not the product would be a good gift.