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Consumer Markets and Buying Behavior

The dynamic nature of the consumer market is reflected in its geographic distribution and its demographic characteristics. The U.S. population is shifting toward the West and the South. Further, the mix of people in rural communities is changing as the outmigration of young people continues but an immigration of older Americans increases.

Demographics are the vital statistics that describe a population. They are useful to marketers because they are related to behavior and they are relatively easy to gather. Demographics frequently used to describe consumers are age, gender, family life cycle, income, ethnicity, and other characteristics such as education, occupation, religion, and nationality.

The buying behavior of ultimate consumers is described as a five-stage buying-decision process, influenced by information, social and group forces, psychological forces, and situational factors.

The stages in the buying-decision process are need recognition, identification of alternatives, evaluation of alternatives, purchase and related decisions, and postpurchase behavior. Buying decisions are either high or low involvement. Low-involvement decisions include fewer stages; high-involvement decisions consist of all five stages. Low-involvement situations occur when the consumer views the decision as relatively minor, has brand and/or store loyalty, or makes an impulse purchase.

Information fuels the buying-decision process. Without it, there would be no decisions. There are two categories of information sources: commercial and social. Commercial sources include advertising, personal selling, selling by phone, and personal involvement with a product. Word of mouth, observation, and experience with a product owned by someone else are social sources.

Social and group forces are composed of culture, subculture, social class, reference groups, family, and households. Culture has the broadest and most general influence on buying behavior, whereas other household occupants have the most specific and immediate impact on an individual. Social and group forces have a direct impact on individual purchase decisions as well as on a person's psychological makeup.

Psychological forces that impact buying decisions are motivation, perception, learning, personality, and attitudes. All behavior is motivated by some aroused need. Perception is the way we interpret the world around us and is subject to three types of selectivity: attention, distortion, and retention.

Learning is a change in behavior as a result of experience. Stimulus-response learning involves drives, cues, responses, and reinforcement. Continued positive reinforcement leads to habitual buying and brand loyalty.

Personality is the sum of an individual's traits that influence behavioral responses. The Freudian psychoanalytic theory of personality has caused marketers to realize that the true motives for behavior are often hidden. The self-concept is related to personality. Because purchasing and consumption are very expressive actions, they allow us to communicate to the world our actual and ideal self-concepts.

Attitudes are learned predispositions to respond to an object or class of objects in a consistent fashion. Besides being learned, all attitudes are directed toward an object, have direction and intensity, and tend to be stable and generalizable. Strongly held attitudes are difficult to change.

Situational influences deal with when, where, how, and why consumers buy and the consumer's personal condition at the time of purchase. Situational influences are often so powerful that they can override all the other forces in the buying-decision process.

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