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4.6. Factors Influencing Consumer Behavior

Part of the process of understanding consumer buyer behavior involves appreciating the context in which consumers make their purchase decisions. Pervasive social influences can be viewed on two levels: the macro level and the micro level. Macro influences embrace culture, subculture and social class, while micro influences comprise the consumer’s more immediate social environment of reference groups and the family. Let us consider each level in turn.

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  • Macro social influences - Macro social factors play a role in shaping the values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors of individual consumers, and provide useful bases upon which to segment markets. They have direct implications for designing effective relationship marketing strategies, especially where management of the marketing mix spans national boundaries.
  • Culture - Culture can be defined broadly as ‘a complex of learned meanings, values and behavioral patterns’ (Peter and Olson, 1987) that are shared by a society. The relationship between the consumer and the product, often described as the ‘product/self relationship’, is culturally specific and thus of great interest to marketers seeking to identify the factors that influence purchasing and consumption. Culture can be analyzed through specific functions and characteristics. Culture is collective and is the emanation of a society or a group. It is acquired, learned and transmitted subconsciously by a process of socialization and consciously by different agents, such as schools, families, religious groups, etc. It is exclusive and is based on an identification process from one person to a group. It produces norms, behaviors, etc. Culture helps to solve problems and is a reservoir of knowledge.
  • Subculture - A subculture is a cultural group within a larger culture that has beliefs or interests that are at variance with those of the larger culture. Many types of distinction are used to classify subcultures, including ethnicity, religious or political affiliation, age and so on.
  • Social class - The concept of social class is drawn from Sociology, where a social group is organized according to a recognized hierarchy based on the individual’s status within the group. In the UK, for example, consumers are classified into six social classes, mainly determined by the occupation of the head of the household, as given in following table. This method of classification has remained in use for a number of years, despite unease at its decreasing relevance to current society.
  • Micro social influences - Purchasing decisions are also influenced at the micro level by the people closest to the consumer, namely family, friends, relatives and peers. This concept of “social network”, a notion regularly used in the studies of the individual behavior, was borrowed from sociology. It underlines the fact that the individual is embedded in a fabric of social relations and that his behavior is appreciably prone to those. Social factors influence consumers through:
  • Normative compliance – the pressure exerted on the individual to conform and comply;
  • Value-expressive influence – the need for psychological association with a particular group; and
  • Informational influence – the need to seek information from a group about the product category being considered.

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Of the three, normative compliance is probably the most powerful, and works because the individual finds that acting in one way leads to the approval of friends or family, whereas acting in a different way leads to the disapproval of friends and family. This process favors a particular type of behavior as a result. Good moral behavior is probably the result of normative compliance.

These people can be grouped into two types of influencer: reference groups, and family. Their effect on consumers’ attitudes and purchasing behavior can be considerable.

Reference group Explanation - Reference groups are made up of people who share the consumer’s social circumstances and who are personally relevant to the consumer; they influence the way that the consumer thinks, feels and behaves in respect to choosing between different products and services. Following is the classification for different types of reference groups –

  • Primary groups The people we see most often. Family, friends, close colleagues. A primary group is small enough to allow face-to-face contact on a regular, perhaps daily, basis. These groups have the strongest influence.
  • Secondary groups People we see occasionally, and with whom we have a shared interest: for example, the members of a golf club or a trade association. These groups sometimes have formal rules that members must adhere to in their business dealings or hobbies, and may also have informal traditions (e.g. particular clothing or equipment) that influence buying decisions.
  • Aspirational groups The groups to which we wish we belonged. These groups can be very powerful in influencing behavior because the individual has a strong drive towards joining; this is the source of value-expressive influences. These groups can be particularly influential in fashion purchases.
  • Dissociative groups; The groups the individual does not want to be associated with. This makes the individual behave in ways opposite to those of the group: for example, somebody who does not wish to be thought of as a football hooligan might avoid going to football matches altogether.
  • Formal groups; These groups are with a known, recorded membership list. Often these groups have fixed rules: a professional body will lay down a code of conduct, for example.
  • Informal groups; Less structured, and based on friendship. There are no formalities to joining; one merely has to fit in with the group’s joint ideals.
  • Automatic groups; The groups we belong to by virtue of age, race, culture or education. These are groups that we do not join voluntarily, but they do influence our behavior: for example, a woman of 45 will not choose clothes that make her look like ’mutton dressed as lamb’. Likewise, expatriates often find that they miss food from home, or seek out culture-specific goods of other types.

Family - Market research traditionally uses the individual consumer as the unit of analysis, but there are types of purchasing decision where the family becomes the decision-making unit. Studies of this phenomenon attempt to describe the various roles played by family members and the complexity of interactions that take place in reaching a collective decision. Familyroles influence decision-making far beyond the normative compliance effects. In terms of its functions as a reference group, the family differs from other groups in the following respects:

  • Face-to-face contact on a daily basis.
  • Shared consumption of such items as food, housing, car, TV sets, other household durables.
  • Subordination of individual needs to the common welfare. There is never a solution that will suit everybody.
  • Purchasing agents will be designated to carry out the purchasing of some items. As the number of working parents grows, pre-teens and young teens are taking an ever-increasing role in family shopping.

Family life cycle - A popular tool for analyzing family purchasing behavior is the family life-cycle, which describes the typical changes that take place in families over a period of time. Traditionally, the family life-cycle has concentrated on life-stage events such as marriage and the arrival of children, and schooling and the departure of children (often referred to as the ‘full nest’ and ‘empty nest’ life stages). However, given the evident changes in demographics, the family life-cycle is no longer a straightforward linear model, but something resembling a complex network of life patterns that may be connected by (out), non-traditional or repeated life stages.

The traditional family life cycle is:

Young single

family life cycleYoung married without children

family life cycleYoung married with children

family life cycleMiddle-aged married with children

family life cycleMiddle-aged married without dependent children

family life cycleOlder married

family life cycleOlder unmarried

It is crucial that marketers are able to recognize changes at each of these life stages so that they can re-evaluate the positioning of existing products and services, and identify opportunities for new products and services.

Personal factors -

  • Demographic factors This includes individual characteristics such as age, gender, ethnic origin, income, family life cycle and occupation. These are often used as the bases for segmentation.
  • Situational factors This includes changes in the consumer’s circumstances. For example, a pay rise might lead the consumer to think about buying a new car; conversely, being made redundant might cause the consumer to cancel an order for a new kitchen.
  • Level of involvement concerns the degree of importance the consumer attaches to the product and purchasing decision. For example, one consumer may feel that buying the right brand of coffee is absolutely essential to the success of a dinner-party, where another consumer might not feel that this matters at all. Involvement is about the emotional attachment the consumer has for the product.

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