As this study aims to examine why and how Iranian students choose the UK as the destination to further their education, consumer behaviour and decision process are key theoretical frameworks that the literature review will focus on.
Consumer behaviour has been in the centre of attention in the world of marketing for many decades. This is because it is a subject that blends together the elements of psychology, social anthropology, economics and sociology (Engel et al., 2001). In general, consumer behaviour refers to "the study of what, when, where, why and how a customer does or does not buy a product or service" (Reardon & McCorkle, 2002, p. 179). Based on this definition, I can give the meaning of consumer behaviour from my own view as below.
"A study that attempts to understand how individuals or organisations make a product choice during the decision process"
2.1 Consumer Behaviour Model - The Black Box Model
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It is revealed that there is no single models that can be determine how individuals or business buyers make their specific purchasing decision (Dibb & Simkin, 2001). However, the Black Box Model is a theoretical framework that can give a general idea of what happens or takes place when individuals enter his/her buying decision process. The illustration in Figure 2.1A provides general idea about a buying decision process of a person before he/she reaches a specific final decision. When look into the Black Box Model, it can be seen that there is an interaction between consumer characteristics, marketing stimuli, environmental stimuli, decision process and consumer responses. This means that when a person releases his/her need to buy, he/she might be influenced by external stimuli like advertising, friends and social groups. However, these are not the only factors that a customer takes into consideration during the buying decision process. Factors like lifestyle, economic, perception, product choices and unexpected circumstance also play major parts during the buying decision process (Evans et al., 2006).
Figure 2.1A: The Black Box Model
BUYER'S BLACK BOX
Source: Kotler, P. & Keller, K. 2008, Marketing Management, Prentice Hall, New York.
2.2 Decision Process
According to Phillip Kotler (2003), the decision process comprises of five stages, including problem recognition, information search, alternative evaluation, purchase decision, post-purchase behaviour.
Problem recognition: The buying decision process will start only when an individual recognises his/her need or problem. Thus, an important task of marketers is to influence a person to have a need for a certain product and service (Follows & Jobber, 2000).
Information search: When a person recognises his/her problem or need, he/she will begin to look for information of different available offers that may satisfy his/her need. During this stage, a person may talk to friends, visit the outlet or search information online. Thus, marketers must ensure to provide and place product information in the places where the target market will use as the main source of information (Williams, 2002).
Alternative evaluation: After searching information, a person will have a set of possible product choices that could satisfy his/her need. At this stage, a person determines a product choice that he/she wants to buy. In other words, a person makes a brand preference or possible product choice at this stage.
Purchase decision: This is the stage when a person is about to buy a product. However, the product choice that a person plans to purchase may not be his/her final decision. This is because the final buying decision could be influenced and interfered by two factors: (1) attitude of others; and (2) unexpected situation (Kotler, 2003). First of all, if a person has people whom he/she respects and these people have negative or positive attitudes towards his/her product preference. A person could take their attitudes into account and make a new product choice based on these attitudes. This can be a complex process for a person if people whom he/she respects have different attitudes towards his/her preferred choice (Hou et al., 2008). Secondly, an unexpected situation may arise and this may affect the final buying decision. For instance, a person may lose his job and thus, he cannot afford his preferred choice.
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Post-purchase behaviour: This will take place after a person experiences a purchased product or service. Thus, it can be assumed that the job of marketers does not finish after selling a product to customers. This is because they have to monitor the experience of customers before, during and after they make a purchase (Foxall, 1993). In the world of marketing, this is important as this information could assist companies and marketers in terms of product improvement or a new product development.
2.3 Consumer Behaviour & Overseas University Selection
There are several studies that examine the university selection from international students' views. Among these, surveys conducted by Cubillo et al. (2006) and Binsardi and Ekwulugo (2003) are close to the scope of this research project. A survey conducted by Binsardi and Ekwulugo (2003) focused on examining international students' perception, attitude and behaviour towards British universities. The result showed that international students felt that other English-speaking countries and other emerging nations also provide good education standard. Pricing, product and promotional variables are key factors that make British universities less competitive as compared to other emerging countries. Thus, when cross referencing findings from this study to theoretical consumer behaviour framework, it can be assumed that marketing stimuli like education quality, price and promotion factors pay an important role during the decision process of international students.
However, findings from a research conducted by Cubillo et al. (2006) indicated that factors that play a major role during the decision process when international students select a place to study include the effect of country of image, influenced by city image, personal reasons, institution image and the evaluation of programme of study. Other environmental and situational factors of individuals also influenced a final decision. Based on these findings, it can be concluded that buyers' characteristics are more important than marketing and environmental variables.
2.4 Chapter Conclusion
Discussion in this chapter indicates that theoretical framework of consumer behaviour model does apply to international students when they make a decision to further education overseas. Both internal and external factors play an important part as influencing variables when international students make a university selection. However, it is still necessary to examine the university selection process of international students when they choose to further their education in a specific country.
There are some theories related to my subject and I explored role of these theories to the international student market particularly for Iranian student.