Consumer Behavior Decision Making L’Oreal

Consumer behavior is an important management field, the study and application of which can provide a lot of insight and value to the marketers. This research paper is based mostly on the existing theories and models of consumer behavior. The first part looks for external factors influencing consuming behavior at various stages and the second applies theories to a well known business organization, L’Oreal.

Consumer Behavior

Hawkins (2008) says that the consumer decision making process is often the result of a single problem however, at other times consumption decision is based on a number of factors. The example provided by Hawkins (2008) to explain the difference actually helps the reader in better analyzing the types of consumption requirement. Running low on gasoline while driving leads to a single factor consumption decision whereas the realization of an aging automobile, growing feeling of inadequacy or low self esteem lead to a multi factor consumption decision regarding a commodity or a service.

For the marketers of an organization, it is important to take into consideration both the types of consumption such that the overall sales of that organization are increased. Consumers are the end point of the supply chain processes. They actually are the magnetic force for all kinds of manufacturing, production and retailing processes that are taking place in a market or in an industry. The stronger the magnetic force in fact, the better will be the overall processes of production, manufacturing and retailing. It is therefore important for the organizations to capture as much of that attraction of the customers as possible. One simple reason for that is that customers are the ones that provide revenue to the business. An interesting quote by Jeff Bezoz, the CEO of Amazon.com says that it is actually the customers of the organization that give the business the money to operate and not the competitors of the organization and thus, all the strategies that the organization makes to improve the business performance (or market capitalization) should be oriented towards the customers (Stockport, 2009).

This idea then forms the core of the field of consumer behavior. Consumer behavior, initially stemming out of the study of micro economics has actually gotten extensive and intensive enough to be termed as a completely independent study of management sciences and one that can have serious policy implications for a business entity.

Consumer behavior holds that the purchasing decision of the consumer can actually be analyzed through various models and theories and using those findings, a business can orient its market plan to gain competitive advantage in the market. A number of external and internal factors become a part of understanding how and why consumers making purchasing decision, using decisions and disposing off decisions and how preferences and tastes as well as norms, cultures, peer pressures and traditions become a part of this decision making process (Lamb, Hair, McDaniel, 2011).

Since it has now been established that a number of internal and external factors play a role in influencing the consumers in their consuming decision, the breakdown of each factor is possible. As far as a business organization and more precisely the strategic managers or the marketers of the organization are concerned, external factors are the ones which they have the power over and thus they can influence the attraction felt by consumers for the product being marketed. However, before the marketing managers can actually pin point the external factors and manipulate them, each stage of the decision making process of the consumers needs to be analyzed.

Analysis of how external variables are used by marketers to influence consumer decision making at the various stages of the consumer decision making model. Illustrations through examples

Nominal Decision Making Process

Hawkins (2008, p. 561) identifies the nominal decision making process and defines it in the following words,

“Nominal decision making, sometimes referred to as habitual decision making, in effect involves no decision per se….A completely nominal decision does not even include consideration of the “do not purchase” alternative. For example you might notice that you are nearly out of Aim toothpaste and resolve to purchase some the next time you are at the store. You don’t even consider not replacing the toothpaste or purchasing another brand.”

According to Hawkins (2008) then a nominal decision making process can be broken down further into brand loyal decisions and repeat decisions.

For the marketers, development of brand loyalty is another arena that is receiving significant attention mostly because of its importance that has been highlighted through the theories of consumer behavior. The more the consumer feels loyal to the brands, the lesser he or she will actually consider buying another brand and thus the number of secure sales for the organization will increase and in the longer run, the provision of stability of revenue for the organization will also be enhanced.

The example for the nominal decision making process has already been highlighted by reviewing Hawkins (2008) however to provide another example is the purchase of soaps, bottled milk, tea brand, coffee brand or sanitary pads. Mostly, for all of these products, the consumer mechanically throw these products into the shopping cart without even considering that just right to the brand that they picked lies another, probably better brand. Development of this behaviour in the consumers requires effort and strategy from the marketing manager of the business organization.

Five Step Decision Making Model

Next is the five step decision making process as studied by Lamb, Hair and McDaniel (2011). In this model, the first step is the recognition of need of a product or service by the consumers. The second is the information search, third the evaluation of alternatives and fourth the purchase of the commodity or service. Finally, the fifth step is the post purchase behaviour. In regards to the model however, the following has been said (Lamb, Hair and McDaniel, 2011, p. 189),

“The five steps represent a general process that can be used as a guide for studying how consumers make decision. It is important to note though that consumers’ decisions do not always proceed in order through all of these steps. In fact, the consumer may end that process at any time or may not even make a purchase.”

However, this model does provide important steps that can be used by the marketers to create external influence on the consuming behaviours of the customers. Baker (2003) says that these five stages together are affected by a number of external and internal factors. These factors include the cultural, social, individual and psychological factors and are actually applicable to all the stages of the consumer decision making process. Therefore, if the customers are to use factors to influence the consumer decision making process, these factors are to be manipulated. For the purpose of this section of the research report, only external factors will be analyzed for each stage of consumption of the goods and services.

The first step is the recognition of needs. This is actually the first and the most important step that the marketers can use to attract the customers and thus gain competitive advantage and even first movers advantage in the market. This is possible by making the customers realize the need for the product that the firm is offering. Hawkins (2008, p. 565) says that,

“Marketers often attempt to cause consumers to recognize a potential problem for which the marketer has a solution…this sometimes involves making consumers aware of problems well before they arise.”

The important word here is “potential”. The usual way through which the problem solving approach goes is to at first recognize the problem and then solve it. Providing external stimulus on the need recognition stage of the decision making process, marketers are actually making the customers create a problem in their head that they did not realize existed before. Obviously this can be both real and imaginary but there is no necessity that the consumer knew of the solution to the problem before. For example, the invention of diapers stimulated the need recognition stage of the decision making process. Before that for centuries, mothers and maids were using cloth and plastic panties for their babies and everything seemed to go fine. With the advent of diapers however, it became almost a necessity. Something without which bearing a child seemed like a serious problem.

Similarly, the marketers can influence the information search stage of the consumer decision making process by providing to the consumers the necessary information through various media. Nowadays, television advertisement, billboards and internet are the favorite sources of providing the consumers with the information about the product and how that product is the one that the consumers require in solving the problem. For example when proctor and gamble came up with the diapers, pampers, they needed to provide the useful information to the consumers about the product. So that the customers who have already realized this problem and were looking for a solution find it in the shape of pampers. This then can require free samples and other promotion techniques as well. As of today however, the techniques that remain dominant have been mentioned.

The marketers can influence the third step that is of alternative evaluation by allowing the customer, through efficient marketing strategies to realize that the product the firm is offering is the best one for the consumer.  The external factor used here can be the help of celebrities to promote a product. Knowing that a specific product works better than anything else for something well known and looked up to can actually lead the consumers to be inclined more towards the purchase of that product.

On the fourth stage of the consumer decision making model, prices are the factors that need to be considered and used by the marketers. The consumers should know that the price they are paying for the product is actually worth it. Here, the factor and consciousness of social class can play an important role. The effect of social class on consumer behavior, apart from the direct relationship of income levels and value of consumption, there is also a direct relationship till the upper class between the realization of social class and the desire to mobilize in the social class hierarchy and the value of consumption (Loudon, 2007). It has been noted that the upper, upper middle and the middle class seriously dreams of being recognized as the elite (how o not really care about the prices but about the quality) make more expensive purchases of the products or services to reinforce their social class image in the society.

Select a company or not-for-profit organisation that you are familiar with and critically evaluate how a specific consumer behavioral theory or model can aid in understanding consumers’ actions. Demonstrate how this then guides the practical implementation of marketing strategy in your chosen organisation.

The Organization

The business entity selected for the purpose this section of the report is L’Oreal Paris. This is the largest beauty and cosmetics brand in the world. In 2009 L’Oreal completed its hundred years and recognizes its moves in the business world as that of being adventurous. L’Oreal (2011) notes that above and beyond that financial success that the organization has achieved, the journey of L’Oreal has been marked by a quest for innovation, a quest for excellence, a question for the purpose of actually existing in the market and finally a quest for diversity in regards to the range of cultures, preferences and tastes of women around the globe.

Consumer Behavior Decision Making L’Oreal
Consumer Behavior Decision Making L’Oreal

This organization has actually celebrated beauty around the globe. L’Oreal has a huge international presence and operates in five continents of the worlds excluding Antarctica and Australia from the list. By the global 100, this beauty brand was actually ranked amongst the world’s 100 most sustainable business organizations. Moreover, this organization in 2011 has been presented with the best financial performance by the Boursoscan (L’Oreal, 2011).

The overview of the organization notes that for a century the organization has been pushing back the boundaries of science to invest and meet the aspirations of millions of women and men (L’Oreal, 2011). L’Oreal seeks to provide the best cosmetics to the world in terms of quality, safety and efficacy. In 2010, the business had consolidated sales figure of 195 billion Euros. Currently, the organization is managing 23 global brands in 130 countries of the world and registered 612 patents in the year 2010 (L’Oreal, 2011).

Theory of Consumer Behavior

Behavioral School of Thought: Classical Conditioning

In regards to the core behavioral theories, Schiffman (2008) notes that there are a number of routes through which the conditioning of consumers to buy a particular product can be done. The first route is the classical conditioning in which the consumer links a certain response to a product. For example, in regards to L’Oreal, classical condition will be that using the Voluminous Mascara introduced by the organization, the eyelashes will actually look darker and prettier and the result will be similar to what Ashwariya Rai puts on her eyes. The conditioning stimulus here will be the darker, more volume eyelashes like the ones that Ashwariya Rai appears with. Through the advertisement then the unconditioned response of the consumer who needs to buy mascara turns into a conditioned one.

Behavioral School of Thought: Cognitive Associative Learning

Next, Schiffman (2008) studies the cognitive associative learning behavior. According to this view, the relationship or (congruity) between the conditioned stimulus and the unconditioned stimulus influences the expectations which in turn influences the behavior of the being. This theory believes that the actions that occur after certain stimuli have been provided are in fact learned and occur because of the increase in knowledge. For example in the example above, the purchase of mascara would occur because knowledge about the qualities of the product has been gained. Unlike the cognitive associative behavior however, the classical conditioning believes that the reaction that occurs is actually reflex.

Economic Theory of Consumer Behavior

Apart from these theories, one consumer behavior theory that actually stems out economics more than psychology is the theory of consumer behavior. Irwin (2005) says that the consumers according to the model provided in this theory consumes at a point where there occurs an intersection between the consumer indifference curve (the choice curve of the customer where combinations of consuming two alternative goods achieve the same level of utility or satisfaction to the customer) and the budget constraint of the individual (as understood mostly by the current income levels of the person or the saved up income from a previous period).

This model assumes that the consumers are rational individuals who are responsive to a price change of products and who also have complete information about the product and the alternatives. Also it is assumed that the individual under question is subject to a budget constraint and that he or she has to manage more than one thing in a given period of time speaking financially.

Attitudes in Consumer Behavior

Perner (2011) however studies the theory of consumer behavior which says that the problem solving approaches of the consumers are actually internal (made up of the memory and thinking process of the individuals) and external (made up of the word of mouth, the media, the store visits and the trials amongst others). In this theory then, the evaluating behavior of the individuals are made up either compensatory, non compensatory, hybrid or abandoned strategy. The first one is the decision based on overall value of alternatives. The non compensatory evaluation requires that the consuming decision meets at least one important criterion and the hybrid is a combination of compensatory and non compensatory evaluation types. Finally, the abandoned strategy is when the consumer finds the initial criteria unrealistic and proceeds to a less desirable solution to the problem. Next, Perner (2011) notes that the consuming behavior of an individual is seriously affected by the attitudes of that individual; and that in turn attitudes are affected by the intentions, the beliefs and the feelings about a particular brand.

 As far as L’Oreal is concerned, consumer behavior can be understood critically through these four theories and the findings can be further used to design a strategy to expand the consumer market and the competitive advantage of the market.

Recommended Marketing Strategies

Starting with the attitudes of the consumers, L’Oreal can be added by understanding what beliefs individuals have about the products and services that the brand itself and that the competitors of the brand provide. This can be measured and analyzed through the attitude measure developed by Perner (2011). Next, the feelings of the consumers can be understood through this attitude model. For example, a fan of Ashwariya Rai, or Penelope Cruz (the brand ambassadors of L’Oreal) will feel a push for consuming the product after aggressively understanding how they feel for the product. Also, being there for a century, this brand is also a name through the generations. Understanding those feelings of the consumers will help steer the marketing plan of the organization towards a greater organizational performance overall.

Next, the theory of consumer behavior includes the importance of prices of the product. This is actually one of the core consumer behavior theories and is the most detail about the behaviors of the individuals. In this regard the organization can use the theory to understand what effect a price change of the products and services has on the sales of the organization and the demand of the consumers. Make up, after a certain limit is usually a luxury for individuals and L’Oreal is an expensive brand.

To keep up its market share and to not lose to organizations which are charging a lower price for similar products through the substitution and the income effect it is important for the management of the organization to carefully consider the underpinnings of the theory of consumer behavior. For this purpose, if the price of the good is actually not that far away from the actual investment put into the product in terms of research and development and manufacturing, the organization can actually use the coin of high quality. The perception of consumer about the quality of the product is a vital asset when an organization is designing its price and marketing policies. The better the consumer perceive the quality of a product to be, the more he or she will be willing to spare for that product because they will know that the money is being well spent and that there will be no hazardous consequences of using a particular product.

Conclusion

Nelson (1970) studies that the consumers are continuously busy in the choice making between different products however, the consequences of these choices are dimly known by them. One of the reasons is that they lack full knowledge about the price and quality of the product. The marketers of a business organization then can utilize the consuming behavior and the attitudes of the consumers for the purpose of attracting the maximum share of revenue for the organization.

This research paper studied how the marketers can actually use external factors including the social class, peer pressure, celebrity following and fashion trends to influence the consuming behavior of the consumers.

The second part of the research report analyzed the various theories of consumer behavior. Those theories then were in critically used to apply for the case of L’Oreal Paris, one of the largest multinationals in the world. Dholakia et al (2010) says that in the case of multimedia and multi channel organization like L’Oreal, the analysis of consumer behavior is different than the usual analysis. Finally, for the applied consumer behavior theories, a number of marketing strategies were recommended for L’Oreal.

References

Baker, D. (2003) Consumer Decision Making. 4th Ed. USA: South Western.

Dholakia, H. et al. (2010) Consumer Behavior in a Multichannel, Multimedia Retailing Environment. Journal of Interactive Marketing, Volume 24 (2), Pages 86-95.  

Hawkins (2008) Consumer Behavior. 6th Ed. India: Tata McGraw Hill

Irwin (2005) Theory of Consumer Behavior. USA: McGraw Hill.

Lamb, C., Hair, J. and McDaniel C. (2011) Essential of Marketing. 7th Ed. USA: South Western.

L’Oreal. (2018). L’Oreal Website

Nelson, P. (1970) Information and Consumer Behavior. Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 78 (2), pp. 311-329

Prener, L. (2011) The consumer Behavior: The psychology of marketing.

Schiffman, L and Kanuk, L. (2007) Consumer Behavior. 9th Ed. India: Pearson Education Inc

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Consumer Purchasing Behaviour Social Media

The Impact of Social Media in Influencing Consumer Purchasing Behaviour: A Study of Clothing Retailers

Title: Consumer Purchasing Behaviour and Social Media Influence. The impact of social media on the purchasing behaviour is an area of interest that has gained much interest and study in the 21st century. This research focuses in the ways in which social media has had an effect on the purchasing behaviour and most of the interest in the clothing and retail industry. The first part of the research will take a look at the various ways in which the social media influence has impacted on the purchasing behaviour. The different stages of purchase will be analysed in the background study, both before purchase, during purchase and after purchase behaviour and the influence of the different forms of social media on the same.

The data collection method that has been used during this research is the analytical study design. The researcher distributed questionnaires to a study sampled population, which consisted of university students at London South Bank University since they are considered to be the most consumers of social media. The results that were obtained indicted that social media has a very big influence on both the three stages of the purchase process. The recommendation, review and consumer motivation among others are the motivating factors that make the use of social media have a big influence on the purchasing behaviour of consumers.

Consumer Purchasing Behaviour Dissertation
Consumer Purchasing Behaviour Dissertation

This research will therefore have a big influence on the marketing strategy that will be used by future clothe retailers. It also gives an insight on the influence of technology and social media to be specific on the purchase behaviour of the modernised internet users. Therefore, more research should be done by clothe retailers on the best way to promote their businesses through social media.

Dissertation objectives

  • To determine the role of social media in influencing the pre-purchase phase of the consumer purchasing Behaviour lifecycle
  • To determine the role of social media in influencing the purchase phase of the consumer purchasing Behaviour lifecycle
  • To determine the role of social media in influencing the post-purchase phase of the consumer purchasing Behaviour lifecycle

Dissertation Contents

1 – Introduction
Background of the study
Statement of research
Study objectives
General objective
Specific objectives
Research questions
Significance of the study
The scope of the study
The study limitations
Research structure

2 – Literature Review
Social media
Social media marketing
Consumer purchasing behaviour
The role of social media in influencing the pre-purchase phase
The role of social media in influencing the purchase phase
The role of social media in influencing the post-purchase phase

3 – Research Methodology
Research Design
Population
Sampling Design
Sampling Frame
Sampling Technique
Data Collection Methods
Questionnaires
Research procedures
Data Analysis Methods
Limitations
Ethical Considerations

4 – Results and Findings
Description of the sample
Response Rate
Respondents’ gender
Social Media Sites
Time Spent on Social Media Sites
The role of social media on making purchase judgements
Frequency of Influence of Social media on purchase decisions in clothing Retail Industry
Social Media Influences on the Pre- purchase Stage Analysis in Clothing Retail Industry
Problem recognition
Information search
Evaluation of alternatives
Social Media Influence on the Purchase Stage Analysis in Clothing Retail Industry
Consumer Attitude in Purchase Stage
Consumer Motivation in Purchase Stage
Product Perception in Purchase Stage
Social Media Influence on the Post-Purchase Stage Analysis in Clothing Retail Industry
Feedback
Satisfaction and Dissatisfaction
Product Performance

5 – Discussion, Conclusions and Recommendations
Discussion
The role of social media in influencing consumer purchasing behaviour
Social media Influences on the Pre-purchase Stage
Social media Influences on the Purchase Stage
Social media Influences on the Post-Purchase Stage
Conclusion
The role of social media in influencing consumer purchasing behaviour in the clothing and retail industry
Social media Influences on the Pre-purchase Stage
Social media Influences on the purchase Stage
Social media Influences on the Post- Purchase Stage
Recommendations
Recommendations for further research

References

Appendix
Questionnaire

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Luxury Goods Consumer Purchasing Behaviour

Evolution in Consumer Experience and Purchasing Behaviour of Luxury Goods

Title: Consumer Experience and Purchasing Behaviour of Luxury Goods. This dissertation aims to determine whether behaviour changes in consumers have been affecting sales of luxury branded accessories over recent years. The research is significant to the luxury products particularly the sale of accessories within the fashion industry. The fashion and design industry stakeholders range from store-owners to merchandisers and business executives whose decisions reflect on the customer’s reactions and the behaviours toward product thus affecting sales of that particular product. The purpose of conducting this research is to find out whether the luxury products’ perception has depreciated over time due to impacts brought about by changes in customers’ behaviours. The research also aimed at determining whether luxury accessories have become readily available in the market and the impacts of the associated factors which make the brands less luxurious.

The consumer behaviour is basically affected by factors such as change in mode of communication, social networking, globalization, mass consumption, harmonization of the culture, e-tail, celebrity branding and the 2008 economic recession. The researcher has collected data from a wide range of literature such as academic sources and journals to help in finding out the main changes existing in consumers’ behaviour. These academic materials represent the theoretical section of this research. The research conducted involved carrying out interviews which were compiled per oral and written format. This were then sent to luxury retailers as a section of case study and later analyzed. The author finally managed to compare and contrast the obtained results on the theoretical analysis in parallel to the company case. The results were compared with a report conducted on luxury spending habits which have been published by the American Express representing part of this research discussion.

Luxury Goods Brands Dissertation
Luxury Goods Brands Dissertation

Dissertation objectives

  • To determine the consumer’s experience and purchase behaviour changes in the recent years within the luxury market
  • To find out whether the consumers’ behaviour changes phenomenon depreciates the luxury value of luxury brands
  • To find out whether the consumer experience and purchasing behaviour changes influenced consumption and consumerization of the luxury brands leading to the wider accessibility of luxury in the fashion industry

Dissertation Contents

1 – Introduction
Background of the study
The aim of the study
Objectives of the research
General objective
Specific objectives
Research questions
Research hypothesis
Research methodology
Expected outcomes
Problems and limitations
Theoretical framework

2 – Literature Review
Background information
The history and evaluation of luxury goods branding in high fashion
The key concepts
Accessories
The relationship between the price and quality in the luxury market
Globalization and changes in the luxury goods market communication
Social networking
Blogs
Mass consumption
The global marketplaces, global consumer culture and harmonization
E-tail
Celebrity branding and endorsement
Celebrities as a reference group
Celebrities as style icons
From the point of view of a fashion luxury brand
From the point of view of the luxury goods market as a whole
Future of the luxury products and market after the recession

3 – Research Methodology
Research Design
Data Collection Methods
Compiling Interviews
Sampling Frame
Piloting
Company Cases
ASOS
Helsinki 10
FINSK
Data Analysis
Limitations

4 – Data Findings and Analysis
Results
Discussion

5 – Conclusion
Recommendation
Scope for Future

References

Appendix
Questionnaires

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Family Purchasing Behaviour

The Effects of Gender on Family Purchasing Behaviour

Family Purchasing Behaviour – There is a great need to conduct research on purchase behaviour and patterns of families. Democratization of the society has been on the rise, and this has affected the way gender is viewed by both the members of a family as well as the entire society. Due to the changes caused by the democratization of the society, the traditional family model which involved a define hierarchical organization and where role played by each member of the family were clearly defined, has been reduced into a new family model, with less hierarchical organization and that includes new family patterns. Some of the modern family models include single parents, multi-nuclear families, cohabiting couples, homosexual couples among others. In this dissertation, there will be extensive use of the terms such as ‘couple’, ‘husband/man’, as well as ‘wife/woman. This is mainly because these are the key elements of a family.

Family Purchasing Behaviour
Family Purchasing Behaviour

Family purchasing behavior is a complex unlike individual purchasing behavior. The process involves complex stages right from making the decision to the real purchasing. There are several factors that affect the family purchasing behavior. This study will investigate the effects that gender has on the family purchasing behavior. It is of great important to understand how gender affects the family purchasing decisions. This understanding will help in predicting the purchasing pattern in spouses. This study is therefore very important to the firms as well as institutions of higher learning. By understanding the family purchasing patterns, the firms will be able to adopt marketing strategies that will help in achieving increased sales. The institutions of higher learning will benefit from this study since by understanding the family purchasing patterns; they will adopt the best strategies in training marketers. This dissertation will investigate the effect of gender on family purchasing behaviour.

The dissertation will use a quantitative research design and an open-ended and closed questionnaire for data collection. The sample will be made of 150 couples, making it 300 individuals from London. Data analysis will be done by the use of SPSS. The findings of the study will be useful to both the firms as well as the institutions of higher learning. This dissertation aims at investigating the effect of gender on family purchasing behavior.

When making the purchase decisions for the family, both the husband and the wife are likely to disagree due to the diversity in their tastes and preference and the fact that they both want their viewpoints considered in the purchase decision. Many academics suggest that the power of the spouse in the relationship has a greater impact on the decision making. For instance, if the wife believes that her husband has more power over her, she will be very comfortable with her husband making most of the decisions. In the other hand, there are instances where the wife will influence the purchase decision of particular products. For instance food stuffs. This is because; women are taken to be very conversant with household goods.

Dissertation Objectives

  • Investigating the way through which couples make purchase decisions
  • Investigate the conflict between couples when making purchase decisions
  • Investigate the influencing tactics in couples while making purchase decisions

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Social Media and Consumer Decision Making

Social Media Influence In Consumer Decision Making

Abstract

The impact reference groups or social connections have in an online marketing environment, on the product purchase decisions of consumers is analyzed in this article. The influence of social media in the decision making process of consumers is investigated, and the influence of the strength of social ties on the final decision are discussed. The article discusses theories and concepts related to social relations, social media, and consumer purchase decision making process. To understand the impact social media has on consumer purchase decision, interview is conducted with micro and macro business owners using Facebook business pages, and having over 50 fans for their fan page. To analyze the data statistical analysis, and descriptive analysis methods are used. The research concludes that a strong tie in social relations serves to influence the purchase decision making process of consumers positively. To create a successful business by adopting an online marketing strategy, building strong social relations is important.

Research Overview

Social scientists have for a long duration highlighted the importance of group membership when it comes to determining individual or group behavior. The fact that individuals act according to a reference frame produced by groups to which they have widely been accepted has been perceived as a sound premise for some time. Marketers have widely accepted the construct of a reference group as critical in at least some forms of consumer decision-making. With the growth of the internet, and online marketing, social media is becoming an indispensable part in everyday lives of people. People are social beings, and at present, consumers are participating in activities like sharing experiences, knowledge, and opinions online. They also take part in online discussions to share their experiences with a product or a service.

The speed with which information transfers has increased with the electronic word of mouth growing more rapidly. Positive recommendations and discussions online have the potential to bring in increased business volume for firms in a short time. There is also the probability of a negative complaint online that can cause mistrust in a service or a product. A new form of social communication has been made possible by online media. Groups or individuals who might never meet in person are able to influence consumer behavior and their purchase decisions. The increasing use of social media is evident from the growth in online population using social network sites. Facebook the leading social media website has observed 23% growth in its user population during 2013, with 1.1 billion users making use of the site each month.

Social Media Decision Making
Social Media Decision Making

This study investigates the influence of reference groups online brand and product purchase decisions by looking at the interrelations between forms of product use conspicuousness and forms of influence from reference groups in social media. Consumers have a wide access to different types of social media, tools, and platforms. Social media significantly impacts the process of information sharing amongst individuals in the online shopping environment. Through this research, the role played by social media reference groups in forming strong or weak relationships with consumers that can influence the consumer decision making process are investigated.

Problem Statement

The study proposes to investigate the relationship between the social media influence of online users, the behavior intentions of consumers, and the role of social media influence in consumer decision making process. The strategy of information search online is adopted by consumers to reduce the risks involved in a purchase decision. Increasing technological advancements lead to ease of information access. Consumers can easily obtain information about services or products through social media before making a purchase. This research is focused on making both practical and academic contributions. Academically, it serves to bridge the gap between consumer decision making and the influence of social media reference groups in forming weak or strong relationship with consumers. Practically, social media marketers benefit from the research results. They can gain a deeper understanding of an online shopping consumer’s decision making process.

Research Questions

Research questions to be explored to investigate the social media phenomenon in online shopping are;

  1. What are the characteristics of social and online influence groups and references?
  2. Personal and demographic factors like gender, age, education, and profession have an influence on information shared through social media. Their experience and prior knowledge influences their level of social influence.
  3. What are the ways through which information and ideas travel through such a reference group or an online community?
  4. The credibility of the source depends on the reference group and the way in which information is conveyed. An understanding of how information or ideas travel through the reference community helps in identifying factors that have a high level of influence on consumer decision making.
  5. What are some forms of ties or connections do consumers have to other consumers in the communities?
  6. Consumers form ties in the online community, resulting in the establishment of a reference group or community. By investigating in what ways and how such communities are formed, social media marketers can leverage their online advertising campaigns.
  7. How is consumer decision making influenced by social media reference groups and communities.
  8. Social media reference groups, and communities alike, are proposed hypothesized to play a major role in the purchase decision of consumers.

Research Aims and Objectives

The research aims to investigate the ways in which social media influences consumer decision making during an online purchase. The various ways in which a social media group or community is used as a reference, the ways through which such groups or communities are accessed, and ways in which information is accessed from these groups by consumers are investigated. Main objectives of research are;

  • To identify the ways in which social media has established a source of power and leveled the playing field for consumers?
  • To investigate in what ways leaders of these reference groups or opinion leaders develop in online communities or any other reference group.
  • To analyze what some of the roles of social capital play when it comes to value of the social communities created on social media?
  • To offer recommendations to social media marketers on how reference groups and communities can be leveraged to their firm’s advantage.

Rationale for Research

The results obtained from this research could offer considerable evidence on the influence social media has on online marketing. The overall process of consumer decision making while making an online purchase decision, combined with the influence of social media helps managers reduce risks involved in social media marketing, at the same time offering recommendations on the ways in which they can increase their online credibility. Research on social media marketing is relatively new in marketing research. Negligible research exists on interrelating social media marketing and its influence in the consumer decision making process. This research focuses mainly on online shopping, social media, and reference group influence on consumer decision making. So, the theoretical contribution of this research helps fill in the gap in previous literature.

Research Methodology

Business pages created on Facebook are the central tool and the key research methodology is action research. Action research involves making systematic observations, and collection of data, that can be used to solve problems, and improve professional business practices. Micro and small businesses are focused. Data is gathered through interview and by using questionnaire. Facebook pages created by small entrepreneurs are used to create a fan base for their small enterprises. As the page continuous to grow and increase in size when it comes to the fan base of about 50 to 60 users data is to be conducted, mainly by carrying out semi- structured interviews.

The research design is action, qualitative research oriented with the conviction that reality is virtual created by factors of socio- economy. Primary data is gathered through semi- structured and open interviews. Data regarding the experiences of the entrepreneur while using and adopting social media like Facebook is focused upon. Secondary data is generated by the recording transcripts from the weekly training and interaction with the participants to understand their requirements and experiences. Tertiary collection of data is carried out through virtual ethnography by carrying out internet-based interviews through Google talk, chat, Skype and blogs.

Structure of Article

To ensure research meets its aims and objectives, clear research questions and research focus are developed first. Analysis of theories and concepts is done in the literature review part. Here theories and concepts relevant to social media as a marketing tool, and consumer decision making process are explored. Research methodology is developed based on literature review, and research aims. This gives a detailed outline of the research methodology to be employed for data collection. The research approach, philosophy, choices, ethical issues and methodologies are explained. Analyzed data gathered from semi – structured interview, and research findings are presented in based on which, conclusion discusses the research concisely, using which suitable recommendations are offered.

Conclusion

The way in which consumers make purchase decision has changed with the advent of social media. Rather than waiting for messages or advertisements giving information about a service or a product from companies, consumers are now seeking information on social media directly. Online community has the greatest amount of influence, especially on online shoppers. Research proposes to investigate the characteristics of online communities and reference groups involved in social media. The ways in which such groups influence the consumer decision making process is explored. For data collection, semi – structured interviews are conducted with online micro and small business entrepreneurs making use of social media tools like Facebook and blogs.

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