Consumer psychology refers to the processes used by clients and customers to select, purchase, use and discard products and services. In the business world, it helps firms improve their products, services and marketing strategies in order to bolster sales. Consumer psychology is a growing discipline, fuelled by corporate interest and corporate-backed studies.

Consumer psychology refers to the processes used by clients and customers to select, purchase, use and discard products and services. In the business world, consumer psychology research helps firms improve their products, services and marketing strategies in order to bolster sales. Consumer psychology is a growing discipline, fuelled primarily by corporate interest and funding.

What is consumer psychology?

Consumer psychology aims to pinpoint exactly why people make the decisions they do. As a field of a study, it is driven by the realisation that if businesses can understand why people make decisions, they can use this knowledge to hone their products and marketing strategies, in effect increasing their attractiveness.

Consumer psychology involves finding answers to a wide range of questions, including:
  • How do consumers select between competing brands, and what makes them choose a particular option?
  • How are consumers influenced by factors in their environment, including media and culture?
  • How do consumers behave when shopping on the high street?
  • What factors make a consumer switch brands?
The answers to these questions, and many more, help businesses make changes to their products and marketing strategies so that they become more attractive to consumers. For example, if a supermarket discovers through research that customers associate ‘freshness’ with positivity, they may pump the smell of freshly-baked bread through the store in order to entice customers in and encourage them to make purchases.

Example of marketing driven by consumer psychology

One of consumer psychology’s biggest benefits to companies is the ability to market in innovative and efficient ways. For example, without an insight into what drives consumer behaviour, companies are restricted to selling the benefits of their products directly. So, for example, a company selling kitchen disinfectant may say that the product is cheaper than its competitors.

A study may let them know that, for consumers, the safety of their families is the primary factor when pruchasing a disinfectant. Telling consumers that the product is effective against most pathogens, including salmonella, may therefore be a more effective way to market the product.

If they subsequently discover that consumers are also driven by environmental credentials, they could start using recycled plastic for packaging and advertise this fact widely. In this way they appeal directly to the needs of the consumers, based on research.

Consumer psychology and SMEs

Consumer psychology is a complex field, often involving expensive large-scale studies. Primary research, which would involve both quantitative and qualitative studies, is often used to produce cutting edge insights into consumer psychology.

Because the field is often interlinked with neuroscience and neuropsychology, many studies involve the use of brain-scanning equipment to see which areas of the brain ‘light up’ when exposed to certain stimuli. Because of this, commissioning studies is largely out of reach for small companies due to the expense.

The best ways that SMEs and start-ups can benefit from the field is to read published research and secondary studies, and apply the insights to their own products and marketing strategies.

Where can I find consumer psychology research and more information?

  • Journal of Consumer Psychology – this journal is “devoted to psychological perspectives on the study of the consumer. It publishes articles that contribute both theoretically and empirically to an understanding of psychological processes underlying consumers' thoughts, feelings, decisions, and behaviours”
  • Society for Consumer Psychology – a society dedicated to advancing the field of consumer psychology, made up of scholars and practitioners that work in the field.
The best way to capitalise on research is to see what successful corporate companies do and replicate their success  
In fact, this approach is not only limited to how they sell their products and services. You can also look to see how they:
  • Deal with customer complaints
  • Make use of online marketing
  • Develop new product ranges
Additionally, insights from consumer psychology are used by corporations looking to improve workforce morale and relationships with staff. Looking at the HR policies of successful companies can help you improve your own policies.