Behavior: Why Consumers Choose You (or Not)

Posted: Jun 14, 2016

Consumers are not stable or rational beings. We cannot be trusted to consistently make logical decisions.


We know and understand that the odds are against us at the Roulette table. We know eating pizza 6 times a week is not healthy. We know the mascara that claims to make our eyelashes appear 4x longer is a boldface lie (Maybelline, I’m looking at you- through my scanty lashes). Yet we continue to spin the wheel, eat another slice and stockpile mascaras.

Why is that?

  1. “Paradox of Choice” is a famous study by psychologists Mark Lepper and Sheena Iyengar in which consumers were asked to select a jam. In the first case, 6 jams were presented and the consumers were each able to successfully choose 1 jam. However, in the second case, 24 jams were presented and the consumers were not able to make a selection. This happens all the time when we are staring at an aisle full of curtains in every color and pattern. The overwhelming amount of options can be the reason a purchase isn’t made at all.
  2. “Social Animals” is a study conducted by economic demographer, Hans Peter Kohler. Kohler studied Korean peasant women and found that, despite great diversity in contraceptives and their side effects on different patients, the majority of the women used the same contraceptive. This pattern was not attributed to anything but word of mouth communication. We act the same way with diets. Not every diet works for every body, but we still ask friends for recommendations.
  3. “Hyperbolic Discounting” is the popular theory that explains why consumers seek immediate rewards, even with evident long-term pain. This may stem from the fact that long-term and short-term decisions are processed in different areas of the brain. When we decide to participate in online flash sales, we are experiencing instant gratification while usually anticipating the regret.

Purchasing decisions are overwhelming. If they were easy, there wouldn’t be thousands of studies attempting to analyze consumers’ behaviors. Generally, there are too many options in our super stores and instead of logically weighing all the pros and cons, we fall back on habits and status quo. We tend to decide based on what we know or we could bail on making a decision altogether, which can often be the instant gratification. 

So, how do we as marketers help our consumers through their purchase decisions?

We become a brand that consumers can trust. We deliver consistent products and services that our consumers grow to know and expect. We maintain or increase quality. We achieve our promises and we become our consumer’s habit.

To help us better understand our purchasing decisions, we can look to Behavioral Economics, which is the study of psychology, and how it relates to our decision-making process. Many social scientists have their own theories on the psychology behind consumers’ purchasing decisions, and similar to the typical consumer, I had a difficult time deciding which theory to focus on. So, I chose three.

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