Does consumer behavior change or is it a constant?

Does consumer behavior change or is it a constant?

There have been many articles recently that say that consumer behavior changes.  In the advent of social media, consumers are now behaving differently.  It’s been troubling me for a few years, so I thought I would ask.

Does consumer behavior change?

Let me be controversial here and hypothesize that consumer behavior doesn’t change. Consumers are simply responding the way you would expect, except that their information sources are now different.

For marketers consumer behavior is based on how consumers make all of those tiny little decisions that lead to some purchase decision.  On the whole, consumers don’t change, they just receive different stimuli, different information.  The only time consumers actually decide differently is when they become educated about a particular topic or their life circumstances change.  In this case their preferences actually change.  Unless it’s a sudden life event, consumer preferences that drive how they evaluate different products only evolve slowly through education.
If an individual becomes unemployed, the preference for ‘every day low prices’ moves to the top.  I hypothesize that their preferences have changed and therefore their core consumer behavior has changed.

If an individual becomes educated on the ill effects of plastic and bisphenol A (BPA), the preference for products in glass bottles or aluminum cans goes up.  I hypothesize that their preferences have also changed in this case and therefore their core consumer behavior has changed.

In both of these cases, a consumer’s preferences have actually changed.  The way they make decisions has changed.

On the other hand, if the consumer hasn’t lost his/her job or hasn’t seen any recent documentaries on the ill effects of plastic, when the consumer goes in to the store, they will make their purchase decision in the same way that they always have, based on their perceptions of the brand, the value of price, and all of the other well-known drivers of purchase decisions.

So how does this apply with social media?

In pre-historic times (i.e., pre-Facebook timelines), if someone were to want to buy a TV, they would ask their friends, ask their family or ask the guy in the office that’s the TV expert and then they would make a purchase.

In post-historic times, (i.e., post-Facebook timelines and social media in general), they would go online, they would visit a few reviews sites, they would post a question on their Facebook page.  Then they would go out and make a purchase decision.  Did their purchase preferences (the reason why they chose one brand over another) change, or did they simply have a different set of information – maybe better, maybe not, but most likely different?  Did their preferences now change, affecting how they make all those tiny little decisions finally culminating in an actual purchase?  Or did their preferences stay the same, but their information sources were now different and hence they may have come to a different decision?

Or is it a combination of both, because the education process took a different turn and they were swayed one way or another, because they didn’t talk to that expert in the office, but traded posts with 10 pseudo experts in their social graph?

I think this is critical, especially as we look at the purchase process and where and how marketers can insert messages into their consumer’s daily lives to drive the purchase decision in their favor.

Let me know what you think.