Individual Differences in Consumer Buying Patterns: A Behavioral Economic Analysis

By Cavalcanti, Paulo R.; Oliveira-Castro, Jorge M. et al. | The Psychological Record, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Individual Differences in Consumer Buying Patterns: A Behavioral Economic Analysis


Cavalcanti, Paulo R., Oliveira-Castro, Jorge M., Foxall, Gordon R., The Psychological Record


In the context of consumer behavior research, the Behavioral Perspective Model (BPM) offers an alternative framework, largely based on behavior principles derived from behavior analysis, behavioral economics, and marketing (Foxall, 1990, 2002, 2010). In this perspective, consumer behavior occurs in the intersection of the consumer's learning history and the current consumer behavior setting, producing utilitarian and informational consequences (Foxall, 2010).

As in operant theory (Skinner, 1953), the BPM also employs the three-term contingency, where the antecedents and consequences of behavior can be identified as situational variables that influence consumer behavior (cf. Foxall, 2010). One central idea in the BPM, and of particular relevance to the present study, concerns the environmental consequences of consumer behavior. To address these variables, the model introduces original concepts, according to which the environmental consequences can be classified: utilitarian reinforcement and punishment and informational reinforcement and punishment. Both types of consequences are simultaneously produced by consumer behavior, and every behavior, even those highly reinforced, also generates aversive conseauences, such as monetary cost and time investment.

Utilitarian consequences are directly related to the use or consumption of a given product, whose physical characteristics and practical benefits strengthen (reinforcers) or weaken (punishers) the probability of acquiring the product or service. Informational consequences are close to what Skinner (1992) proposed as social and verbal consequences, which are mediated by others. Specifically, in the BPM, these consequences are related to symbolic elements of the consumer context, which can be defined as status or social feedback (either positive or negative) that are associated with a particular purchase (Foxall, 2010).

Several empirical studies, based on the theoretical and methodological framework of the BPM, have been conducted (e.g., Foxall, Oliveira-Castro, James, & Schrezenmaier, 2007; Oliveira-Castro, Foxall, & James, 2008; Oliveira-Castro, Foxall, Yani, & Wells, 2011). These studies have investigated consumer buying patterns, which are related to a particular line of marketing research (e.g., Ehrenberg, 1986), and consumer brand choice, using conceptual and methodological tools from behavioral choice and behavioral economics (e.g., Foxall, Oliveira-Castro, & Shrezenmaier, 2004; Oliveira-Castro, Foxall, & Shrezenmaier, 2006).

Regarding the investigation of buying patterns, Ehrenberg and colleagues have systematically identified several regularities, being replicated with several product categories and in different countries, such as Australia and Japan (e.g., Ehrenberg, 1986; Ehrenberg, Hammond, & Goodhartd, 1994; Uncles & Ehrenberg, 1990; Uncles, Ehrenberg, & Hammond, 1995). Among the most relevant findings of this line of research, the following are worth mentioning here: (a) only about 10% of consumers are 100% loyal to one brand over repeated purchases; (b) consumers tend to show a brand repertoire composed of three or four brands, among which they choose across different purchases; (c) every brand possesses a small share of 100%-loyal consumers; (d) each brand has a market share that is distinct from that of other brands; (e) the average amount of product bought by consumers across repeated purchases shows little variation, despite the brand they buy; (f) the number of purchases per period (e.g., 1 year) tends to be stable and similar for all brands; and (g) 100%-brand-loyal consumers are not necessarily heavy buyers.

Research based on behavioral economic concepts has focused, predominantly, on demand elasticity (cf. Hursh, 1980, 1984), which can be directly applied to the context of consumer behavior and has been used to appraise consumers' responsiveness to price changes and individual differences among consumers (e. …

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