What is Consumer Behavior?

When discussing marketing and my interest in consumer behavior, I am often asked “What is consumer behavior?”. I typically respond with something like “it is the study of how consumers behave, why they behave in certain ways, and how they respond differently in various situations”.

Consumer behavior (also known as consumer psychology) is a fascinating field that digs into the what, why, when, how, and where of marketing. Rather than focus on definitions,  let’s look at the types of questions one can ask.


It is often easiest to think of consumer behavior in terms of one question: “Why?”. Why is (arguably) the core question of consumer behavior and academic research. If you continue to ask why, you will start to see how fascinating marketing is as a discipline and the unique (or predictably irrational) patterns in which people behave.

Why do prices end in .99?

Why do consumers respond differently to losses versus gains?


Along with why, how is one of the fundamental questions consumer psychologists use when analyzing marketing. In essence, it asks to what extent does the effect happen. For example:

How does price signal product quality?

How do purchase quantity limits affect shoppers?


When often asks at what time or in what situation does a particular effect occur. While why and how are the two questions I ask most often when developing questions for my consumer behavior research, when can also lead to interesting findings:

When are sports fans more likely to say “we” when referring to their team?

When do consumers focus on the units (ex. 365 days vs. 1 year) and when do they focus on the numbers?


Questions that start with what can be very helpful in better understanding general ideas and principles. Consider the following questions:

What are some persuasive words and phrases?

What is social proof?

Or even the title of the post:

What is consumer behavior?

Consumer behavior is very interesting field that has implications for marketing, sales and a host of other business functions. While not every question starts with a why, if you’re just getting in to the field or discipline, it is a great starting point to dig deeper into the consumer theories and principles that drive marketing.

What questions do you ask in marketing situations? What consumer behavior questions do you have? Leave a comment with any additional perspectives on consumer behavior or any questions that you find interesting.