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Consumer behavior


Consumer behavior is defined as a study of "the processes involved when individuals or groups select, purchase, use, or dispose of products, services, ideas, or experiences to satisfy needs and desires". (Solomon, 2009, p. 33) In the light of this, consumer behavior could be seen as an ongoing process and at the same time, it involves a lot of elements, which could influence consumers' decision making processes, generally speaking, before, during, and after a purchase (Mooij, 2003). There are five main steps in consumers' decision making process, namely, Problem Recognition, Information Search, Alternative Evaluation, Purchase Decision and Post-consumption Evaluation (Engel, Blackwell and Miniard, 1995; Solomon, 2009). It is obvious that problem recognition, as the basis of the whole purchasing process, is of great importance. As a matter of fact, problem recognition is happening everywhere and every moment. The main difference is that the problem may be small or large, simple or complex because different people have different motivations, personalities, values,knowledge due to different cultures and situations.

Overseas Study

With the development of technology and the pervasion of globalization, nowadays, people are able to access to different kinds of worldwide information. There is no exception for me and I am exposed a lot to foreign languages and cultures, particularly English. Meanwhile, I am attracted by the beautiful scenery seen from TV programs, movies and the internet. Over time, the seed of my dream, going abroad, has been sown in my heart. I was dreaming of exploring the world as well as experiencing different cultures one day, and hopefully along with companions. At first, this dream was kind of "passionate desire" (Belk, Ger and Askegaard, 2003) in my mind for every time I think about it, I am full of excitement, and what I want to do is to escape from the boring study and enjoy myself. This so-called "ideal state" increased and it moved a bit away from the reality, my "actual state". At that moment, "perceived discrepancy" (Burner and Pomazal, 1988) was created, and since this discrepancy mainly came from the slight increase of my "ideal state", then the opportunity recognition (Solomon, 2009) was roughly delineated. However, even so, as it was unrealistic for me and the expense would definitely became a huge burden for my family, and moreover compared with other things, it was of low importance relative (Burner and Pomazal, 1988), and then I merely put it aside.

The dream has not been touched until last summer, when I was volunteering to work for the Beijing Olympic Games. It was really an unforgettable experience, where my self-actualization was fully satisfied and I also met many new friends from different backgrounds. In the past, my friend circle was confined to the campus, but the situation changed, and those new friends have become my new "reference group" (Park and Lessig, 1977). Unconsciously, people all belong to different groups and they are likely to mimic what others do within the groups. Thus, the reference group, either individual or group, will have great impacts on one's "evaluations, aspirations or behavior" (Solomon, 2009, p. 430). My new reference group was a combination of different minds. Some of them were working in the companies and government organizations, and some had the experience of studying abroad, and some were students, planning for overseas study. It seemed that they all had clear directions. All of these external cues triggered my thinking for a while. Very soon, the other problem, graduation, was approaching. Naturally, the elaboration likelihood model (Petty and Cacioppo, 1986) made me think twice about my future again and again processing possible paths. The shift of the situation triggered an arousal of needs (Burner and Pomazal, 1988). Normally, for most of students, they would probably take actions to look for a job, but in my case, the positive evaluative reaction of my dream was activated. Thus, for me, there were two choices, among which one was to find a job in China, while the other was going abroad to further my study. The need for living forced me to find a job, which meant that my actual state decreased, while my wish to go abroad made my ideal state increase. As these two states moved towards totally different directions, I was in a state out of the Dynamic Homeostasis (Burner and Pomazal, 1988), or desire recognition.

So far, the problem has been perceived and the decision process was activated. The utilitarian needs (Solomon, 2009, p. 159) became dominant along with hedonic needs, for the decision would be concerned about my future to a great degree, so I had to think twice about the consequence of both options from a practical perspective. This high-involving decision began to take me lots of time and energy. Obviously, two options offered positive and negative outcomes for me. If I choose to work, while I could gain social and work experience, I could earn money on my own as well and be able to support my family in return for my parents' nurture and being filial towards parents in another way. Traditionally, filial piety put forward by Confucius is seen as an important element in Chinese culture, and everyone has the responsibility to be filial, because it is believed that of all the virtues, filial piety comes first (Legge, 1899). On the other hand, studying abroad would give me an extraordinary experience, both physically and mentally, which would be beneficial for the rest of my life. Apparently, I was faced with an "approach-approach conflict" (Solomon, 2009, p. 159) simply because I could gain two desirable outcomes by choosing either one. Although I am not the person who is independent in the eyes of my friends and I am also a conservative person according to the five-factor model of personality traits test.

I have to confess that they are all right, but partially, in fact, I perceive myself as one who could be independent and is in the pursuit of adventures. Due to the strong uncertainty about self-image and the influence of the collectivist culture, I really cared about my social self (Sirgy, 1982) and had my social self viewed positively by people around me. This desire for "self-image congruity" (Sirgy et al., cited by Jamal and Goode p. 483) was one of the reasons that pushed me to choose to go abroad, in the hope of matching the ideal self (Solomon, 2009). I believed that the effort of "impression management" (Solomon, 2009, p. 198) could help change what others think of me. I did believe that "I shop therefore I am." (Belk, 1999) In addition to the self-actualization (Maslow, 1987) goal, the other goal, in my view, was "family-actualization". In China, a child's success means the success of the whole family, both from the contributions of the child and the parents. Apart from that, looking at the long-term outcomes, I expected the huge investment in me to be worthwhile. It may not bring immediate changes or effects, but what I expected was that it would benefit me for the rest of my life. Finally, the situational factor, financial crisis, which made everyone hard to find a job, and the severer competition, plus my stressful emotion, set up the "aversive stimuli" (Foxall, 1994), which I tried to avoid. After thinking by myself for a while, I turned to my parents and discussed with them about my ideas. It is understandable that in China, where collectivism, high power distance, long-term orientation and high-context culture (Mooij, 2003, p.34) exist, family are valued highly and "there are strong dependency relationships between parents and children" (Mooij, 2003, p.34). When people have come across some troubles or decision making problems, the first person they are likely to turn to would be their family, who is reliable and willing to help all the time. People are expected to show respect to their parents and be obedient. Thus, the supports, advices and agreements from family are of great of importance, because parents' opinions could have great impacts on one's attitudes and decisions. For me, what I needed most was the support, both mentally and financially, from my parents, without which I could not do anything at all. Finally, I had it.

After making the decision, problems followed on after another, such as choices of countries, majors, universities, ongoing worries and doubts. It is a fact that the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) are the most popular countries among Chinese students. Commonly, my market belief (Duncan, 1990) is that the most popular countries are the best. But because I had little knowledge of overseas study, it was hard for me to start with extensive information search at the beginning, which was accounted by the inverted-U relationship between knowledge and external search effort (Solomon, 2009, p. 360) (Figure 2), so understandably, for a person from high-context culture and collectivist culture (Mooij, 2003, p. 33), where information flows easily within in-groups, my information search began with asking my reference groups, among which, overseas-study service agencies' Informational influence (Park and Lessig, 1977) and my friends' Utilitarian influence (Park and Lessig, 1977) provide me with much useful information based on their professional viewpoints and personal or friends' experience.

To be frank, the UK or the US either had its own advantages and disadvantages, which pushed me into the "approach-approach conflict" (Solomon, 2009, p. 159) again. Finally, the interests of soccer and travel made me choose the UK. I still remembered that I was asked about why I chose the UK and the reason I gave them was: "I love football!" It seemed that I did not take the decision on the destination seriously, but it was the nostalgia (Holbrook and Schindler, 2003) of football that drove me to do so, which I could not resist.

Following, with the influence of my father, who is running his own business, and my spontaneous admireness of successful entrepreneurs, I really dreamed some day I could become one of them, and this "social ideal self" (Jamal, Goode, 2001), what I would like to be seen in the future, led me to choose the major in business fields. The fact was that I did not have any business background, so I merely had few choices. After consulting with my reference groups again and searching information on the internet, it seemed the best choice was Marketing, which would be easier for me to walk into the business world. Later on when choosing a university, my heuristics (Solomon, 2009) worked once more: the higher ranking a university has, the better it is; the higher requirements a university has, the better it is. In that stage, multiattribute attitude model was applied: attributes, beliefs and importance weights (Solomon, 2009, p. 297). (Appendix 1) Particularly, for Chinese people, the ranking of the universities does not merely mean the quality, but also, more importantly, "Mianzi", which involves one's dignity and prestige and how others perceive his/her social standing and position (Lockett, 1988). In addition, because of the collectivist culture, masculine culture, people are likely to share more information with each other, even very private topics and achievement, success and status are emphasized a lot. In their eyes, whether a university with a high ranking, high reputation is considered to be a symbol of success both for individual and the family. Thus, higher ranking of a university will definitely help people gain more much "Mianzi".

According to the important attributes I cared about, such as ranking, modules and reputation, I could be able to make a decision simply based on the lexicographic rule (Solomon, 2009, p. 379) and the elimination-by-aspects rule (Solomon, 2009, p. 379). Personally, I had good preference towards the University of Leeds after browsing much information from the internet. I may deem the preference was cognitive and affective. In fact, it was hard for me to differentiate universities, so I tried to look for the unique attribute. Accidentally, one day, I was attracted by one sentence in the website of the University of Leeds: The University of Leeds has an ambitious vision to join the top 50 universities in the world by 2015 ( This sentence, like an assurance, exactly fit in my long-term perspective and involved my strong uncertainty. However, because it was difficult for me to justify those things without experiencing or testing them in advance, the emotion of high uncertainty avoidance (Mooij, 2003) made me anxious all the time. Or in other words, I could not get rid of the dissonance tension (Solomon, 2009, p. 160), so I was trying to find more additional reasons to persuade or assure myself that my decision was wise. I found some students who have graduated from University of Leeds or were studying in the University of Leeds, in order to gain more details about the university to reduce the "cognitive dissonance" (Solomon, 2009, p. 160). Their positive word-of-mouth (Trusov, Bucklin and Pauwels, 2009) effect really gave me more assurance and confidence towards my choice.

As a whole, it can be seen that the decisions, from the choice on whether going abroad or not to the choice of the university, involve "extended problem solving" (Solomon, 2009, p. 352), and in the other words, they are "high involvement" (Mooij, 2003, p. 209) decision making processes, where a lot of efforts have been made. It is because "perceived risk" (Solomon, 2009, p. 361), namely, monetary risk, functional risk, social risk and psychological risk, (Solomon, 2009, p. 362) concerning high expenditure, pains and gains, "face", self-image and so on. Moreover, obviously, the cultural values I have, situations I am faced and the reference groups I turn to are interdependent and closely connected, as a combination, having great impacts on my decision making. Worth mentioning is that it is my dream, as a strong drive, that keeps me move forward and helps conquer any difficulties.(Appendix 2)


Compared with the decision made above, relatively, the purchase of iPhone is a low-involvement decision, as it concerns low risks and less money. The iPhone carries a strong self-identity itself, it is associated with high-tech, uniqueness, artistry, novelty and professionalism. It also promotes an up-to-date lifestyle. Once people have it, people's need for extended-self (Belk, 1988) will be satisfied. (Figure 3)

It sounds very attractive, but I have never thought about buying the iPhone in my life before I came to the UK because it seemed no necessary for me to buy one. However, after I came to the UK, though I got a local phone number, it cost me ten pounds per week. It was quite expensive and this state of tension concerning about the high cost of phone call aroused my desire to reduce the cost or to change the situation as quickly as possible. So the "negative reinforcement" (Solomon, 2009, p. 124) of the high expenditure initiated need recognition (Burner and Pomazal, 1988), saving money. Knowing my situation, my friends suggested me that I could buy a new phone with a contract. By doing that I could get a free phone and also have a large amount of phone call minutes and SMS. Obviously, I decided to buy a new phone with a contract without hesitation. Although I have not signed the contract yet, my actual state has come to the normal level, instead, the ideal state increased as I knew that I could buy a new and better phone.

Scanning the brands I knew in my memory, basically, I had three choices: Sony Ericsson, Blackberry and the iPhone. Due to the uncertainty avoidance, I prefer to choose Sony Ericsson which I used before and in addition, my post-consumption evaluation (James, 1995) about Sony Ericsson is not bad. At the same time, Blackberry and the iPhone attracted my attention a lot simply because the high exposure of those two mobile phones. It was common to see everyone around me was using either Blackberry or IPhone. Therefore, I turned to my friends and ask my reference groups' opinions on the phones they were using, trying to gain positive and negative evaluations from the word-of-mouth information. It was not hard to do this because we all from the collectivist culture where people are willing to share their knowledge or information. The prior information was helpful in narrowing the scope of the choice, allowing me to focus on these three brands and the attributes I cared about. (Bettman, Park, 1980) At the moment, my problem to reduce the cost of my phone bill moved towards the opportunity recognition-looking for a better mobile phone among different brands. Obviously, no matter which Phone Company and which brand I chose would benefit me. So in that stage, what I wanted is not merely a favorable phone, large screen and easy access to the internet, but also to establish self-image. Thus, based on the lexicographic rule (Solomon, 2009, p. 379), the iPhone has the biggest screen among the brands and also enables users to get access to the internet easily. Moreover, I was attracted by the "informational chunk" (Richardson, Dick, Jain, 1994)-Apple, a well-known name. It seemed like a classical conditioning (Stuart, Shimp and Engle, 1987) to me that every time when I heard of this name I would naturally associate it with trust, reliability. In my heuristics (Solomon, 2009), it must be of high quality, innovative and superior. My friends' good evaluation and impression upon the iPhone also influenced my subjective norm (Lee and Green, 1991), which made me feel positive towards the iPhone and comfortable to buy it. All of these increased the expectation of the experience when holding the iPhone in my hand and all that I thought about was its excellent features and the enjoyment when I was using it. This is "expectancy theory" (Solomon, 2009, p. 157), expectations of achieving desirable outcomes, that keeps me thirst of the iPhone. One day, I walked into the O2 shop in the city centre, and the purpose was to see whether the iPhone was really good or not. In fact, I have seen the iPhone many times, but I did not have the chance to experience the features fully. I have to confess that I was really attracted by the intrinsic cues, particularly the touch screen, which gave me a totally different experience. This haptic (Peck and Childers, 2003) experience really made me surer about the product I perceived before, which met my needs exactly. All of a sudden, the positive emotion towards the mobile phone increased my hedonic desire. The combination of the emotional drive and the cognitive drive pushed me to purchase the iPhone immediately that day in the O2 shop.

After consuming, I realized that the real drive for this purchase was basically the need to reduce the cost, which became the need of enjoyment later on. And finally, it was closely connected with my need for extended-self. The iPhone could be a means to fulfill my value expression as well as promoting the acceptance by the in-groups. (Appendix 3)


Looking back to the decision making processes elaborated above, I may conclude that drive theory and expectancy theory influence me through the whole process in different stages. Essentially, there is no purchase behavior without problem recognition: need recognition, opportunity recognition and desire recognition. In other words, it is the motivation or goal that leads me to behave as I do. Sometimes, I do not merely consumer concrete attributes of the products, but also the abstract meaning of those products, that is, a need for multifaceted self, such as self-identity, self-esteem, self-image and extended-self. Last, worth mentioning is that it is my cultural values, the change of environment, individual perceptions and the worth-of-mouth effects that exert great influences on the way I perceive products and myself.


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