Self-Concept in Consumer Behaviour

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Keywords: consumer, self-concept, buying, behaviour


With the changing business environment, the buying behaviour of the consumer is also changing; it is therefore critical for the businesses and marketers to understand the behaviour of the consumer. Solomon describes consumer behaviour as ‘it is the study of the processes that are involved when people select, make a purchase and use products, services or experiences in order to satisfy needs and wants' (Solomon et al, 2002:5). Similarly, Kotler illustrates consumer behaviour that, it covers all the grounds that are related to the selection of a product or service, buying and then consumption of the goods or services (Kotler, 2002). Perner also agrees with the Kotler and Solomon thinking about the consumer behaviour that it is the study of the individuals or the groups of the individuals when they think about selection of the product or service. Then it is the purchase and finally consume, in order to satisfy needs and wishes (Perner, 2001). ‘Schiffman and Kanuk' extended the consumer behaviour definition, ‘it is the behaviour that consumers display in searching for, buying, consuming, evaluating and disposing of products and services that they expect will satisfy their needs' (Schiffman & Kanuk ,2004:8). Schiffman & Kanuk definition has included the factors of searching a products or services and expectations from these goods and services. However, the focus of all the definitions is on consumers' selection, purchase and experiences about the products or services. In the author's view, it is not an easy task to understand the consumer behaviour at different stages because it depends on different factors and varies in different situations. However some criteria can be arranged to understand consumer behaviour by consumers past buying experiences, utilities derived from a product, opportunity costs of using such products and influence of different people on consumer decision making for the purchase.

However, there is an American approach to consumer behaviour as well that defines it as, to assume someone gathers all the alternatives, applies logical rules of self interest, uses careful cognitive processing, and gives equal attention to each option, before making a purchase (Bareham, 2004). Furthermore, it is defined as “(…) the behaviour that consumers display in searching for, purchasing, using, evaluating and disposing of products and services that they expect will satisfy their needs” (Schiffman and Kanuk, 2004). Consumer Behaviour is also defined as “the dynamic interaction of affect and cognition, behaviour, and environmental events by which human beings conduct the exchange aspects of their lives” (Anon, 2004). In the author's understanding of the literature, consumer behaviour is not easy to be determined because it keeps on changing. However, the criteria of judging or analyzing consumer behaviour is either through the consumer's past buying experiences or by studying the factors that effects consumer's buying behaviour. For example, the role of the family in front of youngsters is very important because they cannot buy products that are beyond their pocket money. For such products they need to have their parent's permission as well as the money to buy it. Marketers are interested in understanding the consumer behaviour of families as it is considered to be the most important consumption and decision making unit (Assael, 1998).

Self Concept in Consumer Behaviour

Onkvisit and Shaw (1987) cited in Heath & Scott (1998) describes that self concept is a critical and important part of consumer behaviour because many decisions by the consumers about purchase are directly influenced by the image individuals have of themselves (.Heath & Scott, 1998). The self concept is a complex process of gaining self awareness. We develop a concept of who we are through our interaction and it is the sum total of a being's knowledge and understanding of his or her self with others (Solomon et al, 2002:190). Rosenberg (1989) has described self concept as ‘the totality of the individual's thoughts and feelings with reference to self as an object' (Rosenberg, 1989:1). The author feels that most of the time if he thinks of himself and then decides which product or service would be better for him, gives him good results in terms of building self image, saving time and money. However, sometime it becomes difficult to analyse and understand himself, particularly, when purchasing leisure products because these are strongly influence by some age groups.

Furthermore, self concept is a broad topic and it is the collection of attitudes that consumers hold towards themselves. Self-esteem and self image are the main parts of self concept and these are the values with which a person views him or herself and gives insight into people that what they are like, respectively (Goldsmith, 1999). But marketers mainly focus on the self image because they think that mostly consumers select products or brands that match their images of themselves (Schiffman and Kanuk, 1997:136). Solomon et al (2002) and Schiffman & Kanuk (2004) have described different categories in order to understand the consumer behaviour and self concept; some are Economics, Sociology, Psychographic, Demographics, and Anthropology. However, in order to focus on the main topic of the essay, author will discuss Psychographic that includes self concept, lifestyle and personality and Anthropology that includes culture.

In addition, self concept is a multi-dimensional concept in consumer behaviour literature and it is comprised of components such as apparent self, ideal self, social self, perceived self and finally actual self (Burns et al 1979). The focus of the essay is on actual self that an individual should first know his or herself. This means he or she should understand the qualities they possess and then appraise themselves. In the author's view, actual self is more important to understand the self concept because people normally tend to find themselves in their ideal self or social self and trying to follow those personalities that are not present in them and finally create a gap between their actual self and their ideal and it is observed that mostly marketers try to focus on consumer ideal image. Self concept covers different characteristics of persons in order to understand and to appraise oneself and these characteristics are ‘role identities', 'relationships', possessions', 'personal attributes' and ‘fantasies' (Schouten, 1991). However, consumers attribute their personality characteristics with different brands or with different products and it is known as brand personality( Schiffman & Kanuk ,2004). In the author's experience many consumers purchase products that have affiliation with different celebrities, thus, their personalities do not match with their particular characteristic. Although the author is not a cricket player, however, he has previously purchased a shirt having the iconic name ‘Imran Khan' on it. Imran khan was a world renowned cricket star and is currently known as a well-liked philanthropist. However, it is also important to understand that the personalities of people change with the passage of time. For example the author now purchases shirts, key chain ring and trousers having the slogan of Imran Khan's voluntary organization. It is sometimes the advertising of a product with an affiliation of a celebrity, that force the consumer to feel the spirit of the celebrity is available through the brand (Solomon,2004:196)

Self concept is an extremely complex structure whereas self esteem is one of the components of this composite structure. People having a low level of self esteem feel that they can not perform well and on the other hand, people with a high level of self esteem expect to be successful and they are willing to take high risks (Solomon et al, 2002:190). In the author's experience, self esteem level changes with the situation, product, and environment of purchasing. One person for one product or service can have a high level of self esteem and the same person for another product or service can have a low level of self esteem. For example, author feels that when he buys an expensive mobile phone his self esteem has become high because he knows that after using this mobile phone in the university, he will become the centre of attention within his circle of friends. Also it will enhance his confidence. Furthermore, if the author does not have a new and expensive model of a mobile as compared to his friends, his level of self esteem will go down. However, literature and experiences show that wealth is not the only element that can increase or decrease the level of self esteem but personal attitude and nature have a great impact on the level of self esteem. In addition, Solomon (2004) describes that marketing communication can also influence the level of self esteem of consumers. Different advertisements, T.V programs and self esteem advertising can change product attitude by stimulating positive feelings about the self (Solomon, 2004:151).In author's view, consumers must understand and know themselves in accordance to their self esteem because mostly marketers challenge the consumer's self esteem and then try to show an effective linkage to a product that will satisfy needs and provide a remedy. For example, the author was caught by the same strategy of the marketers as a consumer of cigarettes and he did not understand and know himself before taking the impact of the advertisement on himself

There is another component of the self concept which is self image and which describes that consumers have a number of images of what they perceive themselves as (Schiffman and Kanuk, 2004). The image consumer have of themselves forced them to purchase a product which is better for their self image (Heath and Scott, 1997). However, Solomon et al suggest that products should be chosen whenever their attributes match with some aspects of the self (Solomon, 2002:156). In the author's view, he thinks himself a person of mature age, although he is 24 years old, therefore he purchases clothes that present him as a mature person. His perception about himself influences his buying behaviour however, there are some times when he feels himself happy and energetic he prefers to purchase products that give him a feeling of a younger age. Schiffman and Kanuk have described different four kinds of self images which are ‘actual self image', how consumers see themselves,

‘ideal self image', how consumers will like to see themselves,

‘social self image', how consumers feel others see them,

‘ideal self image', consumers they wish to be.

However, in the author's view mostly people tend to search themselves and trace out the characteristics in their ideal self or social self and try to follow those characteristics that are not present in them and it creates a gap between the actual self and ideal self which is known as ‘fantasy'. For example, although author does not have much amount of money and wants to become a famous car racer, however he purchased a sports car which is quite expensive and tough to drive. Thus Epictetus statement focuses on the actual self image that I am what I consume and then should decide to purchase any thing and fantasy gap should be minimized. Solomon et al describe that fantasy people are the main target for the marketing communications (Solomon et al, 2002:152)

Similarly there is another component of the self concept which is ‘Looking glass self'. It is the process of imagining the reactions of the others towards us is known as taking the role of the other or looking glass self. Consumers try to evaluate the perception of other people towards themselves (Solomon, 2004:153). For example, author went to a get-together in his university last year and observed that mostly the people were looking at his suit and some of them admired the dark colour suit matching with his personality. however, some of them suggested me to use a light colour tie on the suit, therefore, onwards from that party author kept an image in his mind that peoples reaction about yourself can give you a better understanding of yourself and can improve your personality. As Shaffer (2005) has cited in Colley (1902) that we live in the minds of others without knowing it. In the author's view, a person can know himself or herself in a better way if he or she observes others reactions about themselves because normally people around ourselves can judge us better than we can.

Life style is also important to understand the self concept because it covers the consumption patterns of the consumers. Lifestyle represents the way one has elected to spend time and money to purchase products or services and it is more than the allocation of optional income (Solomon, 2004:198). Lifestyle also includes the way a person spends his life according to society patterns, religion or cultural norms and demographic characteristics (Davies & Fitchett) “Solomon et al” describe that sexual identity is also significant a component of the self concept and mostly consumers are influenced by the cultural expectations that how their gender should act, dress ,speak and behave (Solomon et al ,2002:197). In the author's view and experience lifestyle of a person is more influenced by the society, culture and religion. The Author wears and purchases his traditional clothes due to the strong influence of his culture and religion, however, he personally has a feeling to look modern and stylish in front of his friends and colleagues as well. Similarly, Solomon et al (2002) describe that in current era of competitiveness it is required to understand the impact of religion on consumer behaviour and self concept (Solomon et al,2002,456). Religious affiliation has the potential to be a valuable predictor of the consumer behaviour (Solomon,2004:490). Although author is not so religious minded, however, he prefers to eat food and wear cloths that are considered good in his religion and he avoids the purchase of products of services that are not allowed in his religion. It means, it does not indicate that the people who are not religious will buy products that are totally against their religion. Like religion, social norms, culture; sexual identity is also an important component of a consumer self concept. Consumers according to their society gender expectations act, wear dress and behave (Solomon et al 2002:198).In author's view, there are many products or services that are fixed for particular genders, for example, shaving kit is mainly designed for the male sex, therefore, marketers focus their strategies on male gender, however, it can not be neglected for the role of female gender as reference group. Author buys a after shave lotion which smell is very similar to the perfume his girlfriend prefers to smell. Market researchers observed that women eat more fruit and men are more likely to eat meat (Solomon et al 2002:197). But author does not agree with this view because in author's experience, his girlfriend likes spicy food as compared to fruit, juice or any simple fruit, however, whenever she feels that she is getting fat, she tries to use fruit in order to look smart. Therefore author feels that lifestyle of a person is more influenced by the society, culture, religion and personal attitude. And due to the difference in cultures and different society patterns mostly marketers face problem to market their products.

Anthropology is the study of culture and culture is a crucial concept to understand the consumer behaviour and it is the collective memory of the society that influences the every person of the society (Solomon et al 2002:442).Culture affects the purchasing behaviour of individual and group of individuals, consumer way of deciding to buy a product and culture is normally known as an external force that influences or makes an impact on consumer (Maria and Diaz, 2004). In author's view every culture has its own customs, norms and ways of living which depend on the traditions, historical background and religion. When a human is born he develops his character according to the environment his parents provide him and mostly marketers believe that it is important to understand the family behaviour in order to understand the purchasing behaviour of an individual, that how his family influences him (Lee & Collins, 200). Author likes Chinese food which is very light and easy to digest, but he used to eat spicy and chilly food which is cooked daily in author's home, however, when author reached UK he could not force himself to cook and to eat chilly food because he is influenced by the culture and his family as well. Similarly, in some Asian cultures convenience foods and ready to eat meals are not considered well in terms of taste, domestic norms and social family structure (Solomon et al, 2002:443).After arriving in UK, author feels himself a busy and full of activity man and does not have spare time to enjoy leisure life, however, he cooks his food daily according to his traditional style as to cook his domestic food takes time. People in some cultures spend a lot of time in kitchen to prepare fresh and tasty food (Solomon, 2004:194). It means cultural and family norms and habits can not be avoided.

In author's view Most of the time purchase of product is influenced by the people or group of people who are living near us and these groups of people is known as reference groups. A reference group is an actual or can imaginary individual or group of individuals that influence others objectives, evaluations and behaviour as well. Author feels that his girl friend and his parents put a lot of influence on his leisure product and basic need product purchase. Smell of strong perfume irritates the author and makes him unpleasant; however, whenever he purchases a perfume he keeps in mind the likeness and dislike ness of his girlfriend. Finally author's believes that culture has a lot of importance in consumer behaviour in order to understand the consumer behaviour and self concept and depicts a number of factors that affect your personality and your beliefs.


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