The Elusive Consumer: Searching for Consumer Attitudes and Behavior

By Ojala, Marydee | Online Searcher, November-December 2014 | Go to article overview

The Elusive Consumer: Searching for Consumer Attitudes and Behavior


Ojala, Marydee, Online Searcher


Businesses only survive if they both keep existing customers and attract new ones. This is particularly true in the B2C market, where individual consumers wield more power today than ever before. Widely publicized encounters with customer service representatives gone badly wrong testify to the power of the consumer. Comcast would probably like to forget about the audio clip of its pushy customer service guy continuously asking the customer who'd like to disconnect why he didn't want the service (soundcloud.com/ryan-block-10/comcastic-ser vice). And United Airlines was unprepared for the continuing interest in United Breaks Guitars, released in 2009 and now with more than 14 million views on YouTube (youtube.com/watch?v=5YGc4zOqozo). Dissatisfied customers have, via the internet, a platform to vent their complaints that reaches a much wider audience than in pre-internet times.

Companies would rather concentrate on the positives rather than the negatives. They would rather figure out what appeals to customers rather than dwell on criticisms. Trying to get inside the mind of consumers to predict what they will buy is hardly a new business activity, but with greater choices available, it is ever more critical to business success. While the internet and social media provide means for unhappy customers to complain, they can also be fertile areas of research into consumer attitudes and behavior. Research questions are rarely as general as, "Tell me what I need to do to make customers buy my product." They are likely to be more specific: "What are the brand preferences of specific demographics of customers?" "How does having a family affect consumer choice?" "Do environmental attitudes share consumer behavior?" "How do consumer attitudes differ from one country to another?"

Traditionally, business researchers would turn to the standard business databases for consumer insights. These databases remain good choices, particularly because of the extensive indexing and thesaurus terms that have been crafted during the past few decades. This does not mean that the indexing is standardized across the databases. In fact, it's sometimes not particularly standardized even within a database.

BUSINESS DATABASES

ProQuest's ABI/INFORM database probably has the most consistent set of index terms in its thesaurus. Most index phrases relevant to researching the elusive consumer start with the singular form of the word "consumer," including Consumer advertising, Consumer attitudes, Consumer behavior, Consumer products, and Consumer research. For the more general searches, ABI/INFORM goes to the plural form, "Consumers," as a stand-alone term. Combine this with a product, service, or other concept to answer specific questions, such as what consumers are looking for when making a car-buying decision or why people are motivated to save for retirement

Recent news from ProQuest brags about adding 461 titles in the last 18 months to ABI/INFORM, half of which are peer-reviewed, lull-text journals. Additionally, the database has added 25 conference proceedings/working papers, 122 trade publications, 13 newsfeeds, and 60 market research reports. Of particular interest to consumer research is the inclusion of some 160,000 working papers from SSRN, which are now amplified by 10 new working papers series for the OECD.

EBSCO's Business Source Premier has a plethora of index terms. You can search for Consumer activism, Consumer behavior, Consumer panels, Consumer protection, and Consumer profiling. Given those terms, you'd think you could also search for Consumer preferences. You'd be wrong. The subject term for that is Consumers' preferences. Is there a difference between Consumer behavior and Consumers' preferences? Yes, a search for Consumers' preferences NOT Consumer behavior yields 16,666 hits.

Moving on to attitudes, given that EBSCO offers up Consumer behavior, you'd think, for the sake of consistency, that you could also search for the term Consumer attitudes. …

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