Consumer Behaviour: are we automated buyers?


By Carlos Fernandez and Lina Urrego

The Australian Securities and Investment Commission (2015) states that in 2012, Australian households spent an estimated average of AU$9.5 billion on gadgets, AU$8.3 billion on medical services, AU$8 billion on beauty and AU$2 billion on education. Additionally, during the same year they spent an average weekly household of AU$9 on childcare in contrast to AU$7 on shoes. Do these facts surprise you? Why do we spend more on luxury items rather than satisfying basic needs? Don´t worry, these are just average numbers anyway. However, have you ever thought about what drives our decision-making at the moment of buying goods or services? Answers to these questions could be found on what marketing scholars name: Consumer Behaviour. The aim of this article is to make you think about the decision process when you buy goods or services, in order to be aware from the stimulus and techniques that marketers use to persuade customers into buying specific products.

So what is Consumer Behaviour? 

When we talk about consumer behaviour we refer to the process of why and how consumers make a decision when they purchase goods or services. Louden and Bitta (1993) defined consumer behaviour as ‘the decision process and physical activity, which individuals engage in when evaluating, acquiring, using or disposing of goods and services’. Almost every academic definition for consumer behaviour you can find is about the process of people making decisions when choosing goods or services. Nevertheless, when you go deeper on the study of human behaviour, you can find that scientific knowledge at this point can help to predict what motivates people, their reactions and behaviour. Likewise, it seems that when purchasing, we don´t make conscious decisions; in contrast are products the ones who choose us. We believe they can do it, by persuading consumers due to the way they are strategically created and advertised, stimulating buyers with special characteristics like colour or smell, that influence us to act in an automated way as a customers.

How do marketers know what do we want?

According to Iacobucci (2014), marketers start by classifying the type of purchases on four different types:

  • Mindless purchases: standard purchase with not much time to planning it, such as bread or petrol.
  • Impulse purchases: Purchase you make for impulse, like candy or magazines
  • Shopping purchases: require some time to plan it, such as going to a restaurant to celebrate a special moment.
  • Specialty purchases: occasional purchases that require more time to plan it, like buying a car.

For all these, there are techniques used for marketing managers to influence and stimulate customers. For example, it is common to find candies and magazines when you are at the checkout in the grocery store because these are classified as impulse purchases. Also, marketers know that when you are looking for a car, you will invest as much time as necessary to investigate, learn and analyse all the information until the point you feel confident with your choice. That is why they offer technical information, specialized web sites and tests drives, in order to make you feel with enough information because they know it is a specialty purchase.

Marketers know what we want, but how can they persuade us?

Do you remember the smell last time you went to the movies? The sound of that Ferrari that not only looks great on red but it also sounds awesome? There is a marketing science of consumer behaviour that uses perception and sensation to stimulate particular behaviours in customers. Marketers use this to build associations of experiences and emotions with specific products. That is how they influence us to link, for example a motorcycle with freedom and a perfume with romance. Have you noticed that if you are interested in a specific product like a car or a bicycle, you tend to see it more often on the street; in contrast, if you are no looking for something special, you hardly notice the advertising about it (Iacobucci, 2013). Therefore, be aware that marketers can stimulate you by using sounds, colours, tastes, smells and shapes that can have different meanings depending on the context. In an Iacobucci´s (2013) example, the red colour in India conveys purity and it is used for brides but it is not common in western countries brides, as it conveys danger or passion.

Let´s make this blog interactive, a simple experiment for you

Finally, we have seen how people behave as consumers and a basic overview of how marketers can design strategies to persuade our choices. Moreover, to make this article a little more interactive, we invite you to do a simple experiment at home: first, make sure that you have salt at home (If you don´t have it, it will be a regular purchase to fulfil a need and it won´t have the expected result). Second, within that week buy a different brand to the one that you usually buy. Then, show it in your home as a casual purchase and notice the first reaction (which we expect it is negative, something like: what did you get salt for, we have enough). After a moment, say that you have found this salt had 50% discounted and be very careful to note the reaction after your comment (which we expect it will be a positive reaction like, umm ok!) neutralising the situation. If this happens, we can use the Consumer Behaviour theory to support that, because we believe that salt is a low-involvement purchase and according to Iacobucci (2013), low-involvement purchases usually don´t build brand loyalty, instead of this, they can attract consumers with price discounts techniques.

You are welcome to post your results on this blog to see if that specific behaviour (both reactions) is as predicted as we think, also with your toughs about this article. Are we automated buyers influenced by marketers? Do you agree or disagree, share your comments.

 Referencing for this article:

Australian Securities & Investment Commission (ASIC), 2015, Money Smart: Financial Guidance you can trust, ASIC, retrieved 20 March 2015, < spending/ australian-spending-habits>

Iacobucci, D 2013, Marketing Management 4, student edn, South Wester-Cengage Learning, Mason-Ohio.

Loudon, D & Della Bitta, A 1993, Consumer behavior: concepts and applications, 4th edn, McGraw-Hill, New York. Picture taken from:

Picture taken from


9 thoughts on “Consumer Behaviour: are we automated buyers?

  1. I very much agree with what is stated in this article, and that’s when the question arises , is taken into account consumer behavior and variables to develop a marketing strategy

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Carlos,

    A great blog, well put together. I agree with all of what you have in this and it represents a great breakdown of the topic. As for your question:

    Are we automated buyers influenced by marketers?

    I believe that the depth that marketers are now going to, with the use of suggestive prompting (i.e. product placement in TV shows) and NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) and so on… This has all tipped us over the point of being able to truthfully answer that question..

    I like to think that I have complete free will, instinctively and intuitively making my own decisions and choices based on sound rational and judgement. Whilst I have great discipline and restraint for compulsive purchases, I still find myself at the mercy of falling for some of the biggest gimmicks out there and waiting in anticipation for the next thing…. As I sit surrounded by all my Apple products!

    If you haven’t seen this before its a great example of how susceptible we all are to sensory prompts.. Including marketeers themselves..

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I really enjoyed the article as well, particularly the premise that we are automated. I think the truth lies somewhere in between and that our purchasing behaviours is reflective of our broader lives. For example, I don’t think about getting dressed in the morning because it is something that is routine. The reality is that if we all had to think about every little thing we did then we would be pretty inefficient. I think our purchases are reflective of this. As the above article outlines, there are some purchases that we are on autopilot for because we are thinking of other things and therefore being more efficient. However, there are some purchases that we will think more about.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Carlos – Your article made me think of my purchase yesterday. I’m renting a property that does not have a dishwasher. The landlord has said I can put one in but he would not. For the last 6 months I’ve been researching dishwashers online but have yet to make the decision to buy one. On Friday morning when looking at the pile of dishes in the sink I thought enough was enough!! Then on my drive in to work I heard an advertisement for a local whitegoods shop having a sale this weekend. On Saturday morning I walked into that shop and 15 minutes later I had purchased a dishwasher and organised for its delivery.
    Was I influenced by the advertisement I heard? I sure was! I heard an advertisement for a whitegoods sale immediately after making a decision a pile of dishes in the sink was no longer acceptable. The advertisement spurred me into action!
    I think marketing helps the consumer make an automatic action but it may not actually make them purchase the item. In my scenario, if I hadn’t completed my research beforehand I may have only looked. Instead I knew what functions I wanted and I knew the price I wanted to pay. When I walked into the store, the assistant approached me immediately and after listening to what I wanted, showed me a product that met those requirements. If the assistant was unhelpful I may have walked out but not gone to another shop to complete the purchase.
    This was an interesting post for me to reflect on my dishwasher purchase. I think the alignment of all of the steps continued the automatic action, started by hearing an advertisement, but I think it would have stopped at any point if my expectations were not met.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Carlos,

    Thanks for this great blog which is very well structured and links to textbook and additional research. I agree with your opinions in this article.

    The simple experiment is a good idea for us to analyze Consumer Behavior, which remind me that I bought a different brand sugar a couple of weeks ago because of the price discount. Same as the salt you mentioned, sugar is a convenience purchase with low involvement (Iacobucci, 2013). We buy it very often and don’t spend much time thinking in the prepurchase process. In this case, we are automated buyers. Moreover, one of my friends, she thinks yogurt is good for health and eats it almost every day. But she never stick to one brand and always buy the one on sale for the week. This is another example of low involvement purchase which don’t build brand loyalty as you mentioned.

    Are we automated buyers influenced by marketers?

    In my opinion, the answer would be it depends on the types of consumer purchases, customer involvement and the characteristics of individual consumers. For convenience and low involvement purchases, we are automated buyers influenced by marketers. These purchases usually go well with price discounts (Iacobucci 2013). Lots of friends I know and myself are often captured by the program of WWS everyday rewards, Flybuys bonus points and some kinds of discounts, etc. While for shopping and medium involvement purchases, I would say we might be semi-automated and we do need time to think before the purchase. For specialty and high involvement purchases, we usually spend a lot more time and effort before the purchase. Therefore, we are not easy to be influenced by marketers. For example, we usually need several months before we buy a property. Because buying a property is very expensive and is one of the biggest decisions that we will ever make. We need to take time prepare ourselves in every step in order to make the home a blessing, and not a negative experience (About 2015).


    Liked by 1 person

  6. Are we automated buyers influenced by Marketers,- I think the short answers is yes – absolutely. There is an entire profession and industry that is based on this being true. To me the key question to ask or reflect upon is, is that a good thing?

    Upon reviewing the text book and awesome blogs of others that detail the sophistication and pyschology behind marketing analysis and the techniques applied, I’m left feeling so manipulated ……It almost makes me want to go off the grid, turn vegan and grow my own wheat grass (now where was that brochure again…)

    But seriously is it OK for marketers with all the resources at their disposal to manipulate us in this way. Does it ensure we get what we want when we want it? Does it ensure we get what we need?

    When it involves us becoming customers for something we dont want or need or is bad for us then I don’t think it is. There needs to be a moral or ethical framework round this. However on the other hand where there is some good involved it is probably valid. Don’t know how you define what is good and for who – but that’s another story!

    Perhaps it just boils down to being informed consumers . Not just of the product we want or need but informed of the techniques being applied to ‘shape’ or influence our thinking. Maybe Marketing should be taught in Highschool. Maybe I’m just getting old and grumpy.


    Liked by 1 person

  7. In a number of respects we are automated buyers. The focus of marketing seems to be less on providing consumers with information to make better decisions but rather just persuading them to purchase products they do not need without thinking too much about it. Strategies such as subliminal advertising seek to bypass the decision making process entirely.

    Impulse purchases are without doubt automated, there is not much time invested in making a decision on whether or not to buy a newspaper or chewing gum. Marketers even use the placement of products in stores to encourage impulse buying, magazines and candy are placed near the checkout points where consumers just pick them up without a second thought.
    Standard (everyday) purchases like bread are also automated. While marketing probably cannot change the quantity of bread one buys, consumers do not spend time considering whether or not to buy such as basic thing as bread.

    My question is, when do you think marketers realized this? How did automated buying evolve?

    Liked by 1 person

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