For a successful business owner, sometimes it can feel like whatever you’re doing is ‘working’, even if you don’t really know why. That’s great for a time, but as your business matures, you’ll need to understand your customers’ wishes and behaviour to keep growing. Enter consumer behaviour and the tricky-but-not-impossible art of staying one step ahead of your customer to increase your sales.
What is consumer behaviour?
Consumer behaviour is the study of consumers and the patterns they display when choosing, using and disposing of products and services. It incorporates consumers’ mental and emotional states, their habits and responses, and attitudes and values.
Consumer behaviour looks to the sciences of psychology, chemistry, biology and economics to inform its ideas and strategies for influencing how consumers interact with brands and products.
A consumer behaviour analysis will typically tell you:
- What consumers think and feel through the purchasing process, including the researching, shopping, buying, and post-buying stages
- What timing and touchpoints contributed to their decision making process, like using a chat function online to ask questions, or visiting a store, for instance
- How consumers feel about alternative brands and products and what differentiating factors led them to choose what they chose eg. packaging
- How consumers’ environment (eg. family, peers, the media) influences their behaviour.
Why is researching consumer buying behaviour important?
It’s important for brands and marketers to study consumer behaviour because it helps them understand what influences consumers’ buying decisions. The more you know about your customers’ habits, preferences, and social situation, the more accurately you’ll be able to approach your customer at the right time, with the right product in the right place.
In studying consumer behaviour, brands may also learn about pain points or gaps in the market that their product may help to fill, allowing them to expand their reach, or encourage them to grow their range; creating new products to service new markets.
Types of consumer behaviour
There are four main types of consumer behaviour:
- Complex buying behaviour. This is when the consumer is highly involved with the purchase and when there are significant differences between brands. For example, investing in real estate or buying a car requires in-depth research and consideration.
- Dissonance-reducing buying behaviour. This is activity to lessen feelings of tension, discomfort and unease when making an unfamiliar purchase, like reading product reviews after a purchase to confirm a good decision was made.
- Habitual buying behaviour. This is the almost automatic decision to purchase certain goods without comparison. It’s usually a low-involvement purchase and involves repeatedly buying the same brand or product, for example milk at the local grocery store
- Variety seeking behaviour is the tendency to seek change over time, where the consumer is not attached to a product or brand but tries multiple (for example, cologne). A brand can achieve customer satisfaction with this customer but it doesn’t necessarily convert to brand loyalty.
What influences consumer behaviour?
The behaviour types can be considered in context of a brand or product to begin to understand what factors can be leveraged to influence consumer behaviour.
- Personal preferences, like your attitudes and values and tastes. These are powerful in expressive categories like fashion, or making food choices based on ethics or diet.
- Peer influence - what your friends, family and those you admire are doing. Like it or not, you may find yourself buying ‘that brand’ (from cars to cleaning products) just because your bestie does.
- Purchasing power - this is based on your income. How much you have to spend on your house, food and so on, and how much do you have leftover to ‘play with’.
- Economic conditions - this influences how confident consumers are within a market. The COVID-19 pandemic is an example of conditions that lead consumers to question how much they need new things when work might be scarce, for instance.
- Marketing campaigns build a conscious or subconscious picture in the consumers’ mind about how a brand or product may be relevant to them, helping to fulfil a desire or solve a problem when needed
How to understand the behaviour of your own customers
No matter your budget, it’s important to can analyse the behaviour of your own customers and market to them effectively. You should also do research on other brands’ products and customers, too. There are a number of ways that you can gather data about your consumers:
- Q&A sites like Quora are a great way to look at how consumers consider products in your category that require a more in-depth decision making process
- Google tools like Google Analytics help you look more closely at how your customers are using your site, and Google Trends show how consumers are more broadly interacting with search functions to find what they need
- Surveys can be easily built on Survey Monkey and sent out through your email service provider, like Mailchimp. You can ask your audience questions relevant to marketing activities like, ‘What time do you like to engage with our service?’, or ‘Where did you hear about us?’ Or ‘What podcasts do you like to listen to?’
- Feedback software like Square’s Feedback tool allows customers to leave comments about products straight after they make purchases, so you can get insight to your customers’ preferences, expectations and experiences in real time and speak with them directly and privately.
How to influence consumer behaviour
Now that you know what influences consumers generally, and your customers specifically, you can refine your marketing efforts to approach them in a way that’s meaningful for them – that is, at a time and place where they’re most likely to buy.
This might look like creating product suggestions on your website, or in follow up emails, based on what customers tend to buy sequentially or together. It could be that discounts are offered at particularly high (or low!) points in a selling season incentivising people to buy swimwear in spring rather than summer, for instance, or at times of celebration, like Mother’s Day, where high volumes of sales tend to happen last minute.
Creating a unique customer experience is a way to stay close to your customers’ needs. By keeping track of customer purchases, offering personalised services and asking for feedback, you benefit by driving loyalty as well as conducting research.
Because repeat purchases are a lot easier to acquire than new customers, consider setting up a loyalty program (Square’s simple Loyalty software can help with that!). Programs rewarding frequency and volume of purchases help build habits (think coffee) and trust (think airlines) to bolster your sales.
Understanding consumer behaviour is an essential part of growing a consumer-facing business. Once you’ve collected consumer behaviour data, you can use it to gain more customers, and retain and optimise the ones you already have, and ultimately grow your sales revenue.