What Views Make Consumers Take Decisions

Models of Consumers: Four Views of Consumer Decision Making

Before presenting an overview model of how consumers make decisions, plengdut.com will consider several schools of thought that depict consumer decision making in distinctly different ways. The term models of consumers refers to a general view or perspective as to how (and why) individuals behave as they do. Specifically, we will examine models of consumers in terms of the following four views:
  1. an economic view,
  2. a passive view,
  3. an emotional view, and
  4. a cognitive view of consumer.

An economic view of consumer

In the field of theoretical economics, which portrays a world of perfect competition, the consumers has often been characterised as making what rational decisions. This model views, called the economic man theory , has been criticised by consumers researchers for a number of reasons. 

To behave rationally in the economic sense, a consumer would have to:

  • be aware of all available product alternatives,
  • be capable of correctly ranking each alternative in terms of its benefits and disadvantages, and
  • be able to identify the one best alternative.

Realistically, however, consumers rarely have all of the information or what sufficiently accurate information or even an adequate degree of involvement or motivation to make the so called ‘perfect’ decision.

It has been argued that the classical economic model of an all rational consumer is unrealistic for the following reasons:
  1. people are limited by their existing skills, habits and reflexes;
  2. people are limited by their existing values and goals; and
  3. people are limited by the extent of their knowledge.

Consumers operate in an imperfect world in which they do not maximise their decisions in terms of economic considerations, such as price quantity relationships, marginal utility or indifference curves. Indeed, the consumer generally is unwilling to engage in extensive decision making activities and will settle instead for a ‘satisfactory’ decisions, one that is ‘good enough’. For this reason, the economic model is often rejected as too idealistic and simplistic. As an example, recent research has found that consumers’ primary motivation for price haggling, which was long thought to be the desire to obtain a better price (i.e. better money value for the purchase), may instead be related to the need for achievement, affiliation and dominance. 

A passive view of consumer

Quite the opposite of the rational economic view of consumers is the passive view that depicts the consumer as basically submissive to the self serving interests and promotional efforts of marketers. In the passive view, consumers are perceived as impulsive and irrational make purchasers, ready to yield to the aims and into the arms of marketers. At least to some degree, the harddriving supersalespeople of old, who were trained to regard the consumers as an object to be manipulated, subscribed to the passive model of the consumers.

The principal limitation of the passive model is that it fails to recognise that the consumer plays an equal, if not dominant, role in many buying situations sometimes by seeking information about product alternatives and selecting the product that appears to offer the greatest satisfaction and at other times by impulsively selecting a product that satisfies the mood or emotion of the moment. All that we shall later study about motivation, selective perception, take learning, attitudes, communication and opinion leadership serves to support the proposition that consumers are rarely objects of manipulation. Therefore, this simple and single minded view is arguably also unrealistic.

An emotional view of consumer

Although long aware of the emotional or impulsive model of consumer decision making, marketers frequently prefer to think of consumers in terms of either economic or passive models. In reality, however, each of us is likely to associate deep feelings or emotions, such as joy, fear, love, hope, sexuality, fantasy and even a little ‘magic’, with certain purchases or possessions. These feelings or emotions are likely to be highly involving. For instance, a person who misplaces a favourite fountain pen might go to great lengths to look for it, despite the fact that he or she has six others at hand.

If we were to reflect on the nature of our recent purchases, we might be surprised to realise just how impulsive some of them were. Rather than carefully searching, deliberating and evaluating alternatives before buying, we are just as likely to have made many of these purchases on impulse, on a whim, or because we were emotionally driven.

When a consumers makes what is basically an emotional purchase decision, less emphasis is placed on the search for pre purchase information. Instead, more emphasis is placed on current mood and feelings (‘Go for it!’). This is not to say that emotional decisions are not rational. Some emotional decisions are expressions like ‘you deserve it’ or ‘treat yourself ’. For instance, many consumers buy designer label clothing, not because they look any better in it, but because status labels make them feel better.
When a consumers makes what is basically an emotional purchase decision, less emphasis is placed on the search for pre purchase information. Instead, more emphasis is placed on current mood and feelings (‘Go for it!’). This is not to say that emotional decisions are not rational. Some emotional decisions are expressions like ‘you deserve it’ or ‘treat yourself ’. For instance, many consumers buy designer label clothing, not because they look any better in it, but because status labels make them feel better. 

This is a rational decision, although not in strict economic terms. Of course, if a man with a wife and three children purchases a two seat sports car for himself, the neighbours might wonder about his level of rationality (although some might think it was deviously high). No such question would arise if the same man selected a can of Carlsberg lager, instead of a Heineken, although in both instances each might be an impulsive, emotional purchase decision.

Consumers’ moods are also important to decision making. Mood can be defined as a ‘feeling state’ or state of mind. Unlike an emotion, which is a response to a particular environment, a mood is more typically an unfocused, pre existing state already present at the time a consumer ‘experiences’ an advertisement, a retail environment, a brand or a product. Compared to emotions, moods are generally lower in intensity and longer lasting and are not as directly coupled with action tendencies and explicit actions as emotions.

Mood appears to be important to consumer decision making because it impacts when consumers shop, where they shop, and whether they shop alone or with others. It is also likely to influence how the consumers responds to actual shopping environments (i.e. at point of purchase). Some retailers attempt to create a mood for shoppers, even though shoppers enter the store with a pre existing mood. Research suggests that a store’s image or atmosphere can affect shoppers’ moods; in turn, shoppers’ moods can influence how long they stay in the store, as well as other behaviour that retailers wish to encourage. In general, individuals in a positive mood recall more information about a product than those in a negative mood. As the results of one study suggest, however, inducing a positive mood at the point of purchase decision (as through background music, point of purchase displays, etc.) is unlikely to have a meaningful impact on specific brand choice unless a previously stored brand evaluation already exists. Additionally, consumers in a positive mood typically employ a mood maintenance strategy designed to avoid investing cognitive effort in any task unless it promises to maintain or enhance the positive mood.

A cognitive view of consumer

The fourth model portrays the consumer as a thinking problem solver . Within this framework, consumers are frequently pictured as either receptive to or actively searching for products and services that fulfil their needs and enrich their lives. The cognitive model focuses on the processes by which consumers seek and evaluate information about selected brands and retail outlets.

Within the context of the cognitive model, consumers are viewed as information processors. Information processing leads to the formation of preferences and, ultimately, to purchase intentions. The cognitive view also recognises that the consumer is unlikely even to attempt to obtain all available information about every choice. Instead, consumers are likely to cease their information seeking efforts when they perceive that they have sufficient information about some of the alternatives to make a ‘satisfactory’ decision. As this information processing viewpoint suggests, consumers often develop shortcut decision rules (called heuristics ) to facilitate the decision making process. They also use decision rules to cope with exposure to too much information (i.e. information overload).

The cognitive, or problem solving, view describes a consumer who falls somewhere between the extremes of the economic and passive views, who does not (or cannot) have total knowledge about available product alternatives and, therefore, cannot make perfect decisions, but who nonetheless actively seeks information and attempts to make satisfactory decisions.

Consistent with the problem solving view is the notion that a great deal of consumer behaviour is goal directed. For example, a consumer might purchase a computer in order to manage finances or look for a laundry detergent that will be gentle on fabrics. Goal setting is especially important when it comes to the adoption of new products because the greater the degree of ‘newness’, the more difficult it would be for the consumer to evaluate the product and relate it to his or her need (because of a lack of experience with the product). Figure shows goal setting and goal pursuit in consumer behaviour.

FIGURE Goal setting and goal pursuit in consumer behaviour Source : Adapted from Richard P. Bagozzi and Utpal Dholakia, ‘Goal Setting and Goal Striving in Consumer Behavior’, Journal of Marketing , 63, 1999, 21.
FIGURE Goal setting and goal pursuit in consumer behaviour Source : Adapted from Richard P. Bagozzi and Utpal Dholakia, ‘Goal Setting and Goal Striving in Consumer Behavior’, Journal of Marketing , 63, 1999, 21.