In the common sense, the consumer is a broad term. It generally means all acts done by a private person about a good or service from its purchase to its ultimate use. And in order to best meet its needs throughout the normal expected duration of use. It equally covers different roles: buyer, purchaser, user, beneficiary, payser, etc.
This meaning is not the only one.
For the economist
The consumer is the economic agent (physical or legal person) who chooses, uses and consumes a good or service and shall therefore determine their partial or total destruction.
This consumption is said:
- “Final”, when the use of the property is for personal private use (drinking a glass of wine, watch a show, drive out …)
- “Intermediate”, where the good or service consumed contributes to the creation of another good or service (a craftsman uses a car to move at a customer …).
In the standard microeconomic theory, the centrality of the “theory of consumer choice” illustrates quite the principle that, in a market economy, the consumer:
- features and has a major power: power to pick and choose in a competitive market.
- features available resources (or income or budget according to different schools) that he can spend on a set of goods and services available on the market. Under the assumption of rationality, optimal resource allocation is performed taking into account the preferences expressed by the consumer so that he can maximize his utility under the constraint of resources.
For the marheter
Marketers distinguish the notions of consumer, customer, client, user, etc. For them, these notions refer to roles that can be held by different people. And optionally must be analyzed and taken into account separately. Indeed motivations or needs felt by the buyer are not necessarily the same as those of the end user. We can cite the example:
- food for dogs and cats where the customer is the master and the consumer the animal.
- baby food where the parent is the client and the baby the final consumer.
We note precisely in this area of business differentiation strategies to either the client or the consumer.
Every individual is a potential consumer. Its consumer status may vary:
- In the evening, a baker who uses flour to make bread for his own children, became a private consumer.
- But, during the day, when he contract for the purposes of his work and its customers, it acts as a professional.
The consumer, as defined and protected by the law of the consumer, is a natural person who is offered or accepts an offer of a contract for goods or services to non-business purposes.
Generally, this means that legal persons are excluded from the scope of European consumer law.
But some national provisions extend consumer protection to those legal persons, when acting without direct relation to their work.
Studies on the behavior of consumers have benefited from the research called segmentation policies. Recommended by a conscious marketing to compensate a quantitative relative saturation observed in some markets, the object is always better to know the consumer to make a more customized and/or sophisticated quote. This is to “wake up” a less dynamic market – at least compared to the previous period (period of prosperity known as the Trente Glorieuses).
Behavior is studied:
- both qualitatively (places and purchase periods, favorite types of products and services, loyalty to brands or not, etc.).
- and quantitatively (influence of income level, its regularity, its progression, sensitivity to price, quality, service …).
The parameters analyzed are numerous: socio-demographic, purchasing power (consumption is linked to income, but also the propensity to consume, which operates in the same direction as the propensity to borrow but inversely with the propensity to save).
The influence of anticipating future income helps make consumer chilly or exuberant. Price developments also weigh when the economy goes through periods of significant inflation or galloping hyper-inflation.
“Consumption is a necessary evil that drives the economy. Otherwise, the rich are richer and the poor more poor in a society with a low index of consumer.” conceded Jean Baudrillard in his book Consumerism, its myths, its structures, published in 1970.
Qualitative studies can observe and understand in depth consumer behavior through ethnographic interviews and in situ observations.
The new consumer
Consumer expectations are changing permanently and sooner or later:
- Fads are constitutive of the clothing trade.
- The rise of interest in low-cost products or offered for sale during the sale. In the 2000s was born the trend of “smart consumer” constantly seeking “good deal”. (A term that seems to have been designed to attract the middle classes and not just poor customer).
- The development of the “low cost” economy (Ex: discount stores, products from low-cost countries, overhead lines using secondary airports).
- The use warranty (the “Trust Agreement” cf proposed by a famous French distributor of household electrical equipment)
- The “Do it yourself” (cf. sold furniture “to mount” for easy transport and also reduce the price)
- The consumer has realized he had the power in his hands, and could influence the location of production and quality. The increasing integration of goods in an extended service.
- The emergence of sustainable consumption. Indeed, their approach to sustainable development is deepening, consumers are more likely to put their purchases acts in line with their values paying greater attention to the social, environmental and ethical products they buy.
Consumer needs can be analyzed through qualitative studies.
Translated and adapted from Wikipedia.