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Top>Opinion>Have Consumers Changed?


Koji Matsushita

Koji Matsushita [Profile]

Have Consumers Changed?

Koji Matsushita
Associate Professor of Consumer Behavior and Marketing Management, Chuo Business School (Chuo Graduate School of Strategic Management)

New knowledge on changing consumers demanded

Consumers' recent purchasing behavior is obviously different from the past. I believe that few businesspersons are against this view. At Chuo Business School, where I am teaching, some adult graduate students have told me that consumers have changed since the advent of the Internet or asked how we should grasp the change. Since businesses need to modify their marketing measures such as communication strategies and channel strategies according to consumers' behavioral traits, demand for new knowledge on transformed consumers is growing day by day.

In this essay, I will present my opinion about a viewpoint for comprehending the "changing consumers."

Pay attention to unchanged consumers

Paradoxically enough, understanding the changing consumers should start with paying attention to their unchanged aspects. The arrival of the Internet, of course, does not mean that consumers began travelling through time and space or flying in the air as characters in American TV dramas do. The Internet actually did not alter their fundamental characteristics.

Consumer behavior studies have suggested some basic viewpoints for observing consumers. One of them is to regard consumers as those who have only limited capability. Consumers' capability is limited in that they cannot process all necessary information nor put all required data into their head at a time when they select what to buy. This basic property of consumers is the fundamental human nature that is immutable even when the environment is reshaped with the emergence of the Internet or other factors.

So what changed? The Internet did not transform consumers themselves but the environment surrounding them, for instance. With consumers' capability remaining the same, this innovation brought to them easily accessible information sources, which have exponentially increased the amount of information available to them. Today, they have more opportunities to know strangers' opinion or popularity rankings regarding various goods, while they keep their own fundamentals untouched.

How do the new consumers look like?

How do the unchanged consumers act under such a new circumstance? I will illustrate some new aspects that they show in the midst of the Internet age.

Once consumers decide to eagerly gather information, the Internet environment provides them with much more information than ever. Particularly, websites that offer technical advice previously unavailable or allow easy comparison among several purchase candidates, which did not exist in the past, have a potential to drive change in consumers. The features of these websites give a tremendous boost to consumers' information collection and learning. Thanks to them, consumers arm themselves with knowledge by assembling and accumulating a lot of cross-company information in their memory before visiting shops or meeting sales people. This highlights strong consumers, who are not readily controlled by businesses.

On the other hand, the opposite is also the case. Even if consumers have easy access to a lot of information, their limited capability prevents obtaining all detailed information on all purchase candidates. They sometimes attempt to save labor in information processing to the extent that they can manage satisfactory decision of what to purchase. This may lead to quick and easy purchase through blindly trusting others' opinion or best-buy rankings. To be such weak consumers, who depend on rankings or review information concerning purchase goods circulating on the Internet, is another way that consumers take for adapting to the environmental change.

In short, since the advent of the Internet, consumers are somehow surviving heavy seas of information by behaving as if they are strong or weak according to the situation.

Changed consumers, unchanged consumers

As a scholar specializing in consumer behavior studies, if I am asked whether consumers have changed, I will answer yes and no.

In fact, I believe that businesspersons can derive great benefit from such an apparently contradictory answer, because the unchanged consumers point of view allows them to capture a unified picture of the seemingly diverse aspects of the changed consumers. Amid today's drastically transforming business environment, it must be important to catch up with ever changing consumers based on the view of their invariable side.

Koji Matsushita
Associate Professor of Consumer Behavior and Marketing Management, Chuo Business School (Chuo Graduate School of Strategic Management)
Prof. Matsushita was born in 1971 in Tokyo. He received Ph.D. (Keio University in 2003). He has been Associate Professor for Chuo Business School (Chuo Graduate School of Strategic Management) since 2008 after serving as Associate Professor for Graduate School of Business Administration, Nanzan University, etc. Prof. Matsushita's primary research subject is brand studies from the viewpoint of consumer behavior. Specifically, he is studying ways of sales promotion for brand building through analysis of purchasing behavior for drinks, snacks, and everyday goods. His recent publications include How salespromotin builds brand equity: building a model based on consistency and elaboration, Advances in Consumer Studies (Japan Association for Consumer Studies), 2009, etc.