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Factors Affecting Consumer Buying Behavior

Former university professor of marketing and communications, Sallie is an independent publisher and marketing communications consultant.

It is important for marketers to be aware of factors affecting or influencing consumer buying behavior. Knowledge of these factors is crucial if marketers are to develop an appropriate marketing mix (putting together the right product, price, distribution/place, and promotion), with potentially effective marketing communications designed to reach a targeted market.

When making purchasing decisions, consumers will be affected by factors on three primary levels: Personal, psychological, and social. This article will examine the four basic types of consumer buying behavior, and it will also look at factors affecting consumer behavior; a brief look at personal factors, and a more in-depth look at psychological factors.

Types of Buying Behavior

There are four basic types of consumer buying behavior, and these are:

1. Routine Response/Automatic Behavior—This behavior is exhibited when buying low involvement products that are purchased frequently, and have low cost. Since there is little "risk" involved in making the purchase, there is little need for a search and decision-making effort. Routine items are those we purchase almost automatically. The product, or at least the product category, is one we're familiar with, and have enough experience with purchasing that we sort of take it for granted. Examples of such routine purchases include products such as cleaning supplies, soft drinks, snack foods, milk, eggs, water, and so on.


2. Limited Decision Making—Consumers exhibit limited decision making when purchasing products that are bought only occasionally—and not frequently. A consumer might engage in a limited search for information when there is a need to learn something about an unfamiliar brand in a familiar product category, for example. The search process will be simple, requiring a moderate amount of time for information gathering. A good example might be an item of clothing. A customer might know the product category he/she is interested in, but, perhaps, has not settled on a brand or a style.

3. Extensive Decision Making—Products/services that are bought infrequently, that involve complex considerations and high involvement on the part of consumers require more time for decision making.

The more unfamiliar, expensive and/or infrequently bought products/services are, the more time that will be needed to make a purchasing decision. The time needed to make a decision is based on the amount of risk involved in making the purchase. There may be a high degree of economic, performance, and/or psychological risk involved in the purchase decision with regard to items such s cars, homes, computers, and education. Consumers will spend as much time as needed to seek information, and then to make a purchase decision.

An extensive search might involve going online to gather information from the companies selling the product, talking to friends and relatives, visiting stores or outlets that carry the product or offer the service you're seeking.

Purchasing a home usually involves an extensive search process.

Purchasing a home usually involves an extensive search process.

4. Impulse Buying—Sometimes consumers make purchases with no conscious planning or prior thought. When this happens, no time is spent making the purchase decision. Impulse buying can be emotional buying.

Why buy on impulse? A consumer might make an emotional connection with a product based on something he/she is passionate about, and this connection can trigger a purchase. Or, the mere sight of a product, such as candy, gum, mints, or chips--and other items prominently displayed, either in the retail outlet or at the checkout aisles, can trigger impulse buyers to buy items they may not have planned to purchase.

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Routine purchase of the same product does not always elicit the same buying behavior. Products can shift from one category to the next, depending on the circumstances or situation. A suit or a dress, for examples, can become a high-involvement purchase if you’re purchasing it to wear to the “fancy” wedding of someone you’re very close to. Or, going out for dinner can involve an extensive decision-making for someone who doesn’t go out often, but it could involve limited decision-making process for someone who goes out a lot.

Also, the reason for the dinner will also determine the extent of the decision making. Choices might be different, for example, if the dinner is an anniversary celebration, or a meal with a group of friends you see and dine out with on a regular basis.

Personal Factors Influence Buyer Behavior

Personal factors are things that are unique to a particular person. They include such things as demographic factors, including gender, race, age, family structure/roles, and so on.

Young people purchase things for different reasons than older people. Consumers living in different regions of the country or the world might have geographic or climate-related concerns that exert influence on their lifestyle and/or interests. Or, consumer decisions might hinge on who in the family is responsible for the decision-making for certain purchases.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, by Abraham Maslow (1943). Believed human motivation is based on the seeking of fulfillment and change through personal growth.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, by Abraham Maslow (1943). Believed human motivation is based on the seeking of fulfillment and change through personal growth.

Psychological Factors Influence Buyer Behavior


Psychological factors include the concept of motives. A motive is an internal energizing force; it is something that orients a person's activities toward satisfying a need or achieving a goal. The actions of individuals are usually affected by a set of motives, and not by just one. Major marketers understand that if they can identify consumer motives, then they can develop a better marketing mix that will be more effective in reaching targeted consumers.

Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” model (shown above) is one of the tools marketers have used to help them better understand motives. Maslow's theory says one must satisfy lower level basic needs before going on to pursue the meeting of higher level growth needs. People desire to move up the hierarchy but can encounter setbacks along the way that can disrupt progress. For example, losing a home to foreclosure can cause an individual to fluctuate between self-actualization and the meeting of basic needs for food and shelter.

Marketers desiring to utilize Maslow's model must determine what level of the hierarchy targeted consumers are at, to get a better idea about what things might motivate their purchases. Because motives often operate at a subconscious level, they are difficult to measure.

Artistic impression of the perception process. “Seeing the world through colored glass."

Artistic impression of the perception process. “Seeing the world through colored glass."


Perception is another psychological element that marketers must be concerned with. Why? Because, your perception is your reality. What you think you see is as important to you as is what is actually there. And what you see from observing something might be different from what I see. What you hear might be different from what I hear, even when listening to the same thing. Why? Because we're individuals, and we process information as individuals. Our own unique impressions and ability to comprehend come to bear, while the information inputs we receive and process are the result of sensations we get through sight, taste, hearing, smell and touch.

Perception is the process of selecting, organizing and interpreting information as inputs, to produce meaning. As individuals, we can "selectively" choose what information we pay attention to. After that, we organize and interpret what we see.

Selective Exposure

Through "selective exposure," we select inputs to be exposed to our awareness. For example, you might be more likely to notice marketing efforts that are linked to an event. While watching hundreds of television commercials in a day, the one you remember might be advertising an event you've wanted to attend in the past, and plan to go to in the near future. Or, you might pay closer attention to marketing messages about food as it gets closer to lunchtime. If you've placed yourself on a tight budget, messages announcing sharp price drops in items you need might be more likely to get your attention.

Selective Distortion

Perception also involves something called "selective distortion." Marketers need to be aware of this because people tend to change/twist information that is inconsistent with their beliefs. Because this is true, advertisers using comparative advertisements (pitching one product against another), have to be very careful that consumers don't selectively distort the facts, perceiving the advertisement was for the competitor.

The old "Energizer Bunny" television commercials provide a good example of this. Using a cute pink bunny pounding a drum, the product (a battery) was pitted against rival Duracell. But, many consumers, when asked, said they thought the bunny commercial was for Duracell batteries. Perhaps some of the confusion was caused by the fact that the energizer ads were based on a commercial by Duracell in which a group of small rabbit toys were shown and said to be powered by Duracell batteries.

Selective Retention

People are also selective in what they remember. Called "selective retention," we tend to remember inputs that support our beliefs, and we forget those that don't. We are exposed, on the average, to close to two thousand advertisements per day. We will remember only some of them. Interpreting information is based on what is already familiar, on knowledge that is stored in the memory.

Along with knowledge come attitudes that can also drive perception. Consumers screen information that conflicts with their attitudes. We also distort information to make it consistent with our beliefs, and selectively retain information that reinforces our attitudes. This can be good for marketers we like, because it's the foundation of brand loyalty.

Attitude involves positive and negative feelings about people and things: An object, an activity, a person, a place, a time of year, etc. Attitude involves learned behavior. Note, however, that there is a difference between attitude and intention to buy (ability to buy). As consumers, our attitudes toward a company/marketer and its products can greatly influence the success or failure of the company's marketing strategy. Attitudes and attitude change are influenced by consumers’ personality and lifestyle.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2013 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD


Sallie B Middlebrook PhD (author) from Texas, USA on March 27, 2014:

Thanks for the visit frank jackson. It is my hope that consumers and business owners and executives can either learn, gain a new perspective, and/or receive a "refresher course" from reading my Hubs. Even successful execs sometimes need reminders. Not that they don't know, but it's difficult to keep everything you know at the top of your mind everyday. I know that's true for me, and probably for many other people as well.

Sallie B Middlebrook PhD (author) from Texas, USA on January 11, 2013:

Hello Catherine Deslipp, and thanks for visiting and for reading. Glad you liked the article and the illustrations. It is always a pleasure to hear from someone on the "inside," and to find out that you found something useful in what I published.

Sallie B Middlebrook PhD (author) from Texas, USA on January 11, 2013:

Thanks so much, vibesites, for reading and for your comments. I'm so glad you found the topic to be explained clearly, because that was my goal. I sincerely appreciate the vote up, and thank you for sharing this.

Catherine Deslipp from Brantford, Ontario on January 10, 2013:

I found your hub very useful. I have worked retail, marketing etc. for quite some time and I truly admire the way that you broke it down into categories. Great job and well illustrated.

vibesites from United States on January 09, 2013:

I think I might have learnt some of these during my marketing subjects in college, but you've explained consumer buying behavior more clearly here. Very good hub. Up, shared.

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