What influences our desires for certain fashions
Household - Market - Consumption
Dr. phil. Birgit Weber is professor for didactics of the social sciences at Bielefeld University. From 1989 to 2006 she worked in the field of economics and didactics of economics at the University of Siegen. From 2000 to 2002 she headed a project to promote entrepreneurship in teacher training as managing director of the Center for Teacher Training. As deputy chairwoman of the German Society for Economic Education, she helped drive the development of educational standards for economic education. In addition to fundamental questions of didactics in economics and social sciences, her specialist areas of focus are above all the culture of entrepreneurship, environmental economics and questions of the relationship between the state and the economy.
Email: [email protected]
introductionFrom an economic point of view, consumption means obtaining economic goods and services and using them privately. It relates to the use of income, the withdrawal from the market and the use of consumer goods. From the point of view of the individual, however, this falls short. Because the consumption process begins with the development of individual needs, the identification of needs and continues with the unconscious or conscious evaluation of information. This is followed by the rational or irrational choice, after which the purchase is made and the consumer goods are used and consumed until they are sold, exchanged, given away, recycled or disposed of after use. From a sociological point of view, however, these are not simply isolated decisions made by an individual. Rather, consumption is shaped socially in terms of needs, products and the orientation towards other people; it develops depending on individual socialization, trends and fashions. Therefore, in addition to the pure purchase decision, the social conditions and influences on and through consumer behavior and consumption patterns are important.
Consumers - sovereign or externally determined?Whether the market economy functions as an efficient coordination mechanism ultimately depends on the consumer. With their decisions, they ensure that the required goods are produced at reasonable prices and in good quality, thus directing interest in profit maximization in the desired direction. With their purchasing decisions, consumers reward the producers of the goods that best meet their needs. They punish those whose products they do not buy because of excessive prices, unsightly properties or poor quality. Whether the consumers want it or not, whether they act rationally or irrationally, whether they think about their purchases or not, they always have a sanctioning function. In this way, they help determine the production results on the markets. That is the basic idea of consumer sovereignty. Their ideal-typical ideas are confronted with a complex and contradicting reality.
The consumer researcher Gerhard Scherhorn pointed out the limitations of this consumer sovereignty more than 30 years ago. According to this, consumers are dependent on the offer, and the specification of their need for certain goods is influenced by the providers. In this way, the producers make the production decisions and try to use marketing strategies to draw the consumer's attention to their products out of profit maximization and self-preservation interests. With this "producer sovereignty", consumers do not have an active, but rather a reactive function: They can restrict their needs or switch products, providers and manufacturers. However, you can also make your objection clear either directly to the provider or via the media and consumer organizations. According to the sociologist and economist Albert O. Hirschman, emigration (exit) or contradiction (voice) are two basic reaction options for making it clear that the quality offered does not meet the requirements. To do this, the majority of consumers must be able and ready to evaluate market performance appropriately and to act accordingly. Thus, rational consumer behavior is not only in the interests of the consumers themselves, who want to increase their benefits with limited resources. Rather, it is a prerequisite for the functionality and legitimation of the economic order. But aren't consumers overwhelmed with these decisions? Can they be given this collective responsibility on the basis of their individual decisions?
The making of a purchase decisionThe satisfaction of needs - just a question of the good?
Consumers make a multitude of purchase decisions every week or use goods and consumables on a daily basis that they have decided to buy at some point in order to satisfy their needs for food, warmth, health, security, security, love, social recognition, stimulation and personal development. These needs can be satisfied with immaterial and material goods that can be manufactured in-house or are available from a variety of sources at a wide variety of prices and qualities.
- Food can be collected or hunted, grown in your own garden or on the balcony, bought in the discounter, supermarket, weekly market, organic market, from the farmer or in the delicatessen. It can be consumed as a prepared meal at home, in the canteen, at the kiosk or in a posh restaurant as a service. You can even do without food for a while. Whether you satisfy your nutritional needs with water and bread, with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes or with caviar and champagne, is not independent of personal requirements, but neither is it independent of cultural influences.
- Social security cannot be bought. Communication is best done in direct conversation and therefore - apart from the time - does not even cost anything. But if distances have to be bridged, telecommunication is required. Love cannot be bought either. But in order to get to know someone, measures are often taken to increase one's own attractiveness on the "partner market" and nowadays the services of fee-based introductory exchanges are used.
Even if, at first glance, some needs cannot be satisfied with goods for sale, that is often only half the story. The satisfaction of needs is increasingly becoming a need for consumption that requires money and is influenced from outside by the provision of a corresponding supply. If consumers knew which needs they could best satisfy with which means, an important precondition for a rational purchase decision would already be fulfilled in order to put the means in a reasonable relationship to the goals. But even that is difficult enough. The goods differ considerably in purchase price and quality, the purchase prices diverge according to the provider, the season and the quantity demanded. Low prices of goods can result in high costs for consumables, service, repairs and spare parts for consumers, as these costs are often not taken into account when making a purchase decision. Despite the qualitative equivalence of the products, lower prices can result from the fact that the environmental impact was not taken into account during production or the production costs were kept low due to problematic working conditions, low wages or child labor.
Product aesthetics using the example of shower gel
[...] If their owners feel frustrated and stressed after a hard day's work, they may resort to a remedy whose name promises a "calming evening"; if you are still adventurous on another day and prefer to relax in the disco instead of on the sofa, then get in the mood with a shower gel that might be called "Energy Risk".
But the name alone does not lead to the opening of a fictional space. Rather, it requires a sophisticated staging. Similar to a romantic text, the product design should set an inner film in motion: It is important to offer the consumer a role that he likes or at least to get him out of his everyday experience. How this can be achieved through a combination of different sensory stimuli can be explained using the example of the "Calming Evening" shower gel:
In contrast to many other shower gels, the name is printed here in German [...]. The mere fact that they are spoken to in their mother tongue has a calming effect for many people, as the otherwise dominant English contains an overtone of business or outdoor adventure. Classically calm lettering - without dynamic italics - on the other hand, promises stability.
It is even more important, however, that white writing stands out against a dark blue background: no other color is so strongly associated with relaxation, recreation and trust; one can think of the "blue hour" after work, but also of sleeping pills and sedatives, the packaging of which is often blue.
The shape of the product body also enhances the feeling of calm and contemplation. Its symmetry, by no means a matter of course in shower gels, appears stable and harmonious, the curvature of the rather flat bottle makes a smooth impression.
But it's not just about visual stimuli. Anyone interested in a shower gel may also want to know how it smells before making a purchase decision. If the cap is opened for this reason, the ear is addressed before an olfactory stimulus can be perceived. Although many do not consciously pay attention to the sound design, it has a subliminal effect. In this case, the sound of opening the shutter is associated with a sigh of relief. This suggests that the moment you use the shower gel, relaxation sets in: it is as if you were allowed to exhale freely.
The gel itself has a subtle smell, is not strongly perfumed, and if you like, you can guess the "sandalwood scent" announced on the pack, which promises a flair of warmth. In addition to the smell, the substance of the gel is also important. It flows milky white and creamy like cream from the bottle. This is perceived as pampering. The white not only promises purity, but is even reminiscent of breast milk. So "calming evening" suggests that you can return to your own origins, to a warm world without alienation, to a sheltered home.
[...] The shower gel is thus understood as a kind of psychotherapy: It should help to leave everyday frustration behind and to regenerate. [...] It creates a mood, it exaggerates everyday life, it creates meanings and thus also meaning.
[...] So, on the one hand, can one use consumer goods to develop or redesign one's own identity - this is the idea of "product-aesthetic education"! -, on the other hand, one often only consumes with regard to individual moods that one wants to experience more intensely or that one wants to avoid. [...] In the meantime, the choreography of emotions has become an everyday program that takes place even when buying a toothbrush, yoghurt or even a shower gel. More than ever before, almost all consumer goods model the world in which they live. [...]
Wolfgang Ullrich, "About the aesthetic education of people", in: APuZ 32-33 / 2009, p. 14ff.
The purchase decision is influenced by various factors. In purely theoretical terms, it requires a cost-benefit analysis. The benefit depends on whether the good is used to meet a specific need, behind which there is a need. The costs depend on the available purchasing power, which is influenced by price and income. Such a consideration places considerable demands on the consumer's ability to make decisions and process information. He has to decide on his own spending structure and the quality of the goods and needs a wide range of information about alternative ways of satisfying needs, about the properties of the goods and their effects. The offer is not only confusing, there is also contradicting information. In a large number of markets, the consumer is faced with an almost insurmountable information deficit that he can only cope with with scarce resources and limited processing capacity. His purchasing power is not only influenced by his own income and the price of the desired good, but also by the prices of other goods.
Just don't fall behind
Today the company produces brushes that contain up to seven hundred bristles in a tuft. There are bristles that are only a twentieth of a millimeter thin, but each tip is rounded off or split into even smaller bristles. There are bristles, the color of which indicates when the brush should be changed, bristles that are wavy instead of straight so that they not only brush with the tip but also with the side, and bristles that are embedded in the brush at an angle, and exactly at an angle of sixteen degrees, because that's the angle at which they can best get into the interdental spaces, as Oral-B research has found. [...] It was a long way [...]. On the other hand, the appearance of a toothbrush has not changed over the years. It still consists of a handle, a head and bristles, and the way of handling it has remained the same: you clean it. [...]
[T] he advantage that a good toothbrush has over an average one is in truth not so great that not every customer can destroy it if he uses it with the wrong technique or if he uses it too short or too little. Humans still clean worse than all brushes. In that case, it is not he who always needs better products. It's the manufacturers.
The research center of the Dr. Best is located in Bühl in Baden, [...] belongs to the GlaxoSmithKline [...] group. Dr. Best was originally the name of a lawyer who invested in a brush factory in the Black Forest in the mid-1950s and brought Germany's first branded toothbrush onto the market. Today, when the name is associated with an American dentist for almost everyone, it must seem like an idea from advertising, but it was the other way around. An advertising agency had Prof. Dr. Earl James Best discovered in a Chicago practice. A serious-looking man, who from then on appeared on television in a white coat, held a tomato in his hand, pressed a toothbrush against it, and behold, the brush gave way. That was at the end of the eighties.
At that time the market was dominated by the company Blendax, which today is hardly known for its toothbrushes. Dr. Best was five percent. The company wanted to sell the brand, but then decided to start over and brought out a brush made of a springy material. It yielded if you pressed it too hard against your gums. Other companies had also been working on the idea, but Dr. Best was the first to be in stores. An innovation, but it changed everything. Within a few years, Dr. Best a share of almost fifty percent of the German market. [...]
From then on, Dr. Best to put a new toothbrush on the market every year or two, trying to improve on each of its parts. The neck, which was only flexible, became an oscillating head, which was later given a ball joint. The head, which was initially rigid, was provided with a bent point and later divided into three so that it looked like a fork with movable prongs.Today there are models that have a tongue cleaner on the back and those whose head is mounted in a particularly soft gel head. [...] There are now eraser bristles that are supposed to whiten teeth, and when the floss market started to rise, some of the bristles became thinner and protruded over the normal ones to mimic dental floss. [...] But the model with the oscillating head, with which the company once conquered the market, is still available. It was a good brush, it just wasn't new at some point.
In the light of their Powerpoint presentations, the people at Dr. Best not to miss an important step in the development of the toothbrush. For many they were even the first. Nevertheless, their share of the market has only remained stable for years. They have to do more and more and all they can seem to do is prevent them from falling behind. We could be building the toothbrush of the future a long time ago, says [one employee]. It just needs to be understood by the customer. [...] People don't clean, people scrub. There were basically just two improvements that they immediately understood. One was the swing head, which prevented them from injuring themselves while scrubbing, and the other was the angled bristles. The rest didn't make much of a difference. Perhaps the customer as a customer is too slow for the developments that he drives forward as a producer. [...]
Marcus Jauer, "Schaum und Sein", in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung from January 16, 2010
- Personality traits: for example whether someone is more autonomous or allows himself to be influenced from outside, whether he is more selfish or altruistic,
- individual needs structure: for example, as a woman or man, single or family, young person or senior, rural or urban dweller with different skills, possibilities and time,
- individual values: whether someone rejects the consumption of meat for ethical reasons, supports people in poor countries through fair trade or prefers ecologically harmless, high-quality products to cheap products,
- Material and psychosocial environmental influences: such as the consumption environment and consumer behavior of the respective social group, the influences of the provider, the class or the cultural area along with cultural restrictions, such as during Lent, or incentives, such as during the Christmas season, as well as the diversity and structure of the available offer.
Buying food or house - always the same cost-benefit considerations?
Purchasing decisions are as diverse as buying a roll, a dress, a stereo or even a house. For these different types of goods, decisions are not made in the same way. While buying an old bread roll might spoil your breakfast once, the annoyance of a stereo system that would have been available at a cheaper price after a few weeks with better features and functions could spoil your mood longer. Buying a house for which long-term payment obligations have been entered into is associated with considerably more complex decision-making processes and risks even before the contract is signed.
But the purchase decisions for everyday products that are bought on a regular basis are not insignificant either. There is a risk of paying excessive prices and costs in the form of the alternatives that have not been perceived. Over the course of a year, these can add up to such an extent that one has to forego the enjoyment of other amenities instead. Obtaining information prior to purchase reduces the risk of overcharging, but increases the information costs and time involved in making decisions. No consumer is able to constantly compare prices and quality for all goods: He not only has a limited time budget, but also a limited capacity for information and decision-making. In contrast to companies, private households do not have procurement departments that organize their purchases in a professional manner.
Consumer research differentiates between four different types of purchase decisions. It is about:
- Spontaneous and impulse purchases for low-value goods,
- Customary purchases of goods for everyday use,
- one-time purchases of higher value consumer goods,
- particularly valuable and significant goods.
These types differ according to the type of goods, the subjectively perceived risk of the investment, the frequency and regularity of the purchase decision, the planning activity and the cognitive effort made. Consumers behave sensibly under pressure to make decisions if they do not incur the same information and search costs for everyday goods as they do for complex purchasing decisions for consumer goods. Legal regulations on price and quantity labeling or product labels enable a quick overview and can protect against permanently paying excessively high prices or receiving poor quality. Such signals can aid habit formation. Careful budget planning with stockpiling and a certain sensitivity to sales-promoting measures reduce the risk of falling for decoy offers and buying more than wanted. In the case of more complex purchase decisions, however, additional transaction costs - for searching, obtaining information, and possibly even signing a contract - are hardly spared.
In the case of many goods, the benefit and quality can only be determined through use. It may be possible to inspect the processing of a football before buying it, but its durability and functionality will only be proven after experience of prolonged use, while it is a question of trust that the football was not made through exploitative child labor. Whether goods are defective or fallen can be seen before buying. However, it can hardly be judged whether they contain ingredients that are harmful to health and safety-endangering components or whether they have been produced in an environmentally and socially questionable manner. Here consumers need trustworthy signals that certify health, social and ecological harmlessness when making a purchase decision.
Brands under competitive pressure
In the time of brand building after the war, the market was homogeneous: the markets were organized according to specialist sectors. The equality of interests of those involved meant that sales were not generated through (aggressive) prices, but through quality.
Heterogeneous markets emerged in the 1980s. In the search for new sales markets, the branch boundaries fell, and the price warehouse was created alongside the quality warehouse. The hard discount has now established itself on its fringes. He is the main winner of market development over the past twenty years.
Compared to the historical starting situation, we are dealing with a completely different situation. The price gap between the warehouses is eliminated through special offers, special products, cheap secondary brands and private labels. The market is polarized. The quality warehouse generates its sales through quality. It works with high investments (research / development, production, marketing) and has long-term commitments to employees, suppliers and the economic region. The cheap warehouse generates its sales through low prices. It avoids high commitments, copies quality brands, keeps cheap staff, and is opportunistic in its relationships.
For the quality market, everything depends on keeping your distance. The signal for the distance that is immediately understandable to the customer is the price. The quality warehouse, however, looks fascinated at the price warehouse and deals with it, through promotions, special products - and the way to cheap distribution. The price scale, which is so important for the customer's product assessment, is becoming fluid. The quality warehouse reaches the price warehouse via the bridge of the increased turnover due to the low price. The sub-markets are growing together - the price scale is becoming fluid and the profiles are blurring.
There are two dangers: First, the gap between costs and income is widening for brands. The high costs are offset by low returns. And they are entering a fundamental crisis: they are following the conditions of the price camp. Now the price is used as the sole means of sales promotion and the sense of discounts is no longer checked. Control of the action shares has been lost. And at the discount, the consumer learns how cheap brands can be. The hard discounter is the winner of this development. In this environment everything speaks for the hard discounter, which takes a clear position in the market in the confusion:
- Its permanent low prices convey continuity
- Its simple equipment explains the price position
- Its range is limited to fast movers
- Its suppliers copy the products and qualities of the brand manufacturers
- He documents his price gap with branded products at discount prices
- Reduced to the bare minimum, it works extremely efficiently.
Differentiation of services is the top priority when a brand manufacturer supplies private labels: Demarcation is the principle of a functioning market; this is particularly true for brand manufacturers. [...] Because the retailer pays the appropriate additional price for special qualities. The basic commercial principles must also apply to trade; Qualities require their price. [...] discounting cannot be the future of the economy.
Manfred Schmidt, chairman of the Institute for Branding Technology in Geneva, "Quality or Price? Brands in the acid test", in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of October 9, 2006
Consumption decisions are associated with different risks. Raymond A. Bauer (1960) differentiates between financial, functional, health, social and psychological risks that consumers perceive subjectively and perceive individually:
- Financial risks due to financial losses if the product is cheaper elsewhere, the funds could have been used better in a different way or follow-up costs for operation, follow-up investments or interest were underestimated;
- functional risks due to quality defects that result in difficult handling, high repairs or impaired functionality;
- health risks from allergy or cancer-causing ingredients;
- social risks due to a lack of prestige value of the product, whereby the intended signal of belonging to or differentiation from social groups does not succeed;
- Psychological risks due to a lack of satisfaction with unstable needs, insufficient information about one's own needs or a lack of distance to the object.
Depending on the perceived risk, buyers apply certain strategies to mitigate it. Well-known strategies are loyalty to brands or shops that make certain quality promises, buying products that have been tested by independent agencies (e.g. Stiftung Warentest) or recommending them from credible people or opinion leaders. Another strategy is to assume a positive price-quality relationship at higher prices.
Wrong developments in consumer decisions
With products, from their creation to sale, use and disposal, there is a consumption of resources that also requires well-considered consumer decisions. The household economist Udo Beier has created a typology of undesirable developments in consumer decisions, which should help to make oneself aware of one's own needs, to analyze the resulting needs more precisely and to adjust the purchase decision accordingly. This also helps understand the retailers' marketing strategies, who are happy to incorporate the small weaknesses of the consumers into their sales efforts.
- In this way, a purchase can be made without checking whether it would not have been possible to do without it or to manufacture it yourself (consumer passivism).
- The purchase itself can become an actual experience (desire to buy), a habit or even an addiction if needs are satisfied in this way that cannot be satisfied elsewhere (substitute consumption, compensatory consumption).
- The purchase is based on objective, subjective or imaginary properties of goods that are repeatedly changed by the sellers in order to fuel the demonstrative pursuit of the perfect, most up-to-date, most beautiful, prestige or image-worthy good.
- The purchase is made in order to impress others, e.g. by standing out from them (competition for effort), showing oneself as something special (snob effect), demonstrating that you belong (follower effect, striving for identification) or showing a favor to others (solidarity or courtesy effect).
- The purchase decision process is shortened, justified retrospectively or carried out according to habits in order to make a satisfactory purchase quickly and easily without great effort (pseudo-justification purchase).
- The purchase is made in ignorance of one's own needs, prices, qualities and dealers as well as the financial, temporal, health, social and ecological consequences (lack of transparency).
Advertise with an open visor
Karen Heumann: Oh yes! But manipulation in its covert sense doesn't quite hit it: Good advertising does its job with an open visor. The fear of being manipulated long ago by Vance Packard with his "Secret Seducers" is over. People [...] know: this is advertising. She wants to seduce me. If she does it in an entertaining, interesting way, people today are also happy to get involved. [...] [T] he people want to be convinced and sometimes seduced, one would like to decide for the more beautiful, better, more interesting! [...]
ZEIT: So your greatest opportunity lies in the consumer's ego.
Heumann: More in their individualism. Humans want to be different about the things they own. I used to be able to stand out and express myself on my first date through my record collection, for example, today I only have an iPod, a playlist, a database full of music. The gain in distinction takes place differently. My job is to look: How do people express themselves today? The speed with which this is currently changing is extremely rapid. People find something new straight away, and decoding it, sticking with it, is also a recruiter's job.
ZEIT: The Jever man reaches out to millions of people.
Heumann: Yes, and many people don't search Google either, but wait for the leaflet in their mailbox every day. It's just an incredibly accelerated time when you have to know all of these worlds. As an advertiser, you have to be at the same time as the very accelerated and the very persistent. [...] I mustn't assume myself. I always have to consider: Who do I want to reach and how does they deal with it? [...]
ZEIT: How often do you clearly decide in favor of the press?
Heumann: When I need a big stage. When I want to reach people who are more involved and read. Then they also perceive advertising intensely.
ZEIT: Does it also exist on the Internet? In the past few months there has been a heated argument about whether you can also build brands online.
Heumann: Of course, it was easy for brands that are already at home on the internet, such as eBay or Amazon. It becomes more challenging, for example, with a yoghurt brand. [...]
[...] ZEIT: Today's fishermen are among those who are trying to provide you with more information about consumers. They lay out their networks across the Internet and recognize when the same computer encounters the advertising network in different places. You can use it to create user profiles. Are they already good?
Heumann: Yes, we are at an extremely exciting point in development: the more precise the algorithms we reveal about ourselves, the more precise they are. Every reaction from us creates new data that help refine the algorithm. The software is already prognostic, so to speak, and soon it will really have better ideas for us than we do. I don't know about you, but I am already seeing much more targeted advertising. I recently received a brochure from a thalassotherapy hotel in Brittany, which I did not know, although, as far as I can remember, I only looked briefly on the Internet to see what this therapy can do in principle. Well, they did well. Whoever they were.
ZEIT: How many companies put so much effort into?
Heumann: I remember another crazy example from a Berlin friend who wanted to go to the Oktoberfest. And then she tweeted that she was looking for a dirndl.
ZEIT: Twitter is a service for ultra-short messages that can be viewed by everyone who belongs to the personal network.
Heumann: One of the people in the circle replied that C&A on Alexanderplatz still sells dirndls. And then it went there and there wasn't any more. She tweeted that again. And then the next day she received an email from C&A: Dear Ms. XY, we are terribly sorry, in fact the dirndls on Alexanderplatz are out, but we will send you four dirndls, then you can choose one.
ZEIT: That worked?
Heumann: C&A actually sent four dirndls, but made the mistake of not sending four different sizes, but only four different dirndls. That's why none of them fit. So almost done right. Still, of course, she thought it was great and tweeted it again.
ZEIT: Once a company didn't just simulate a dialogue ...
Heumann: ... but guided. And since the woman is an opinion maker, and a lot of people read her news, that is priceless for the company. Because it really affects people.
ZEIT: Does this individual case really teach anything for your everyday business?
Heumann: Yes, because it shows that establishing contact between brand and target group via social networks can work. That is highly relevant for the industry. Today it's about the art of creating dramaturgies that keep a customer in line, dramaturgies that are interesting but not intrusive. You can't let everything die for a punch line, as it used to be, but you have to seal yourself like a bolero. This is how a relationship is ultimately created. And brands have the opportunity to design such a relationship differently than products without a story. [...]
Götz Hamann, Stephan Lebert, "You have to seal yourself off like a bolero". Interview with Karen Heumann, Chief Strategy Officer of the Hamburg advertising agency Jung von Matt, in: Die Zeit No. 53 of December 22, 2009
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