Confused consumer – are you one too?

Written By

Sarba Basu

Confused consumer - are you one too? Loading

As she opens her wardrobe, a paraphernalia peeps out, of bottles of moisturizers, tubes of different colored gels and creams and sticks of kohl and lip liners. The cupboard, of course, doesn’t limit itself to cosmetics, you will find in it new bedsheets still in their perfect packaging, lamp shades of various textures, little glass jars of candles, earphones and headphones (very big difference, you must understand) handbags lying among scarves of different shades of blue, umbrellas kept in the hope of rain and of course sunglasses right beside them for quite the opposite weather. Who is she, you ask? She may be of some importance somewhere, but in our story, she is our confused consumer, a case study of buying patterns and product involvements.


There are few people who know exactly what to buy, when to buy and how much to pay. They do not need to research much before making a purchase nor do they need to hear a salesman convince them of the latest trends. The sentiment that may arise here is called consumer involvement. It is the degree of attachment of the consumer to a product or brand. A person displaying high product involvement is rarely persuaded otherwise, he or she has in-depth knowledge of the product or a brand and makes buying decisions fast enough. On the other hand, a person with a low level of involvement has no relevance attached to the product. In those cases, also, she may not be needing any supplementary information about different brands provided through various marketing channels.


A consumer’s decision to buy depends on few broad factors such as the consumer’s income, tastes and preferences, the price of products and definitely advertisement or marketing campaigns among others. Let us get back to our dear confused consumer, she is definitely heavily influenced by marketers. Her involvement towards a brand seems to be very low as she ends up buying the product most successful in promoting itself either through information related to health facts or durability or by the sheer look of the item. In today’s commercial world, retail businesses thrive because of such consumers. They are easily gullible to latest trends, mass influence and marketing gimmicks. Our confused consumer is up to date with current products in the market, of course in categories of her interest. She tries out a different brand of shampoo every month, she buys a new phone cover almost every three months and she makes sure she buys the latest ‘healthiest’ snack.


The other day, our protagonist went shopping in a supermarket, and right after she was done selecting her regular items she stumbled upon a few irregular ones (three different kinds of cheese, hair color packets, a new set of cushion-covers adding to the existing set of six at home, a candle jar to name a few). The regular items she bought were part of her routine purchase, she did not need much time thinking over them or contemplating on what the salesman tried to say about the different brands. The second kind of buying behavior reflects impulse purchase, the kind which makes us buy the stuff abundantly stacked at cash counters—chewing gums, candy bars, key chains, lip balms, glossy magazines which we are sure to know we won’t be reading more than a page!


We might wonder what goes on in the mind of a buyer. Why do you buy Oreos and your friend buys Cream Crackers? Why does our confused consumer seem confused between a Moto G plus phone and a One plus 5 or for that matter why are you sure of buying a Honda City and your friend is dead against it? This brings us to the point of understanding the underlying process behind consumer decision making. A person goes through five stages while deciding to buy something—it can be a toothbrush or a TV. It starts with a need for that item. You might have a sudden urge to eat out on a Friday night. Next comes information gathering, searching all available information related to the product needed by the consumer. This can be from various sources—personal, public or commercial. So, going by your eating out need, you decide to check sources such as ‘Zomato’ to fish out a nice place for dinner. After this, the consumer evaluates alternatives as per need and budget. Looks into the alternative products or services or different brands of the same one. Suppose, you suddenly contemplate on not spending so much on dinner at a fancy place and think of going for a movie instead or maybe go shopping. This evaluation is done based on core and augmented properties of each alternative product. It could be the benefits received from each good or the additional aspects such price and location. The penultimate step is to actually purchase the item in question and finally, the last step is a post purchase evaluation. The consumer analyses whether the product was a good buy or not. You might end up going to a restaurant and come out feeling completely disappointed with the quality of food and you might think next time to always choose going to the cinema over eating out. Our confused consumer goes through a detailed process each time and hence the confusion increases. Few items such as electronics or a house, usually high-priced products, require extensive decision making—the information gathering and evaluation of alternatives are done thoroughly consuming quite some time.


The decision making of any consumer can be affected by certain network externalities. Our consumer feels the bandwagon effect quite frequently. If everyone around her starts wearing white high-ankle sneakers, she suddenly decides to buy them herself, not really contemplating on the ‘need’ part of the decision-making process. This is also called a herd mentality. Again, few buyers display something quite opposite, a snob effect—as more people buy something, they tend to want something else just to maintain exclusivity. Many people couldn’t even think of affording a ’snob good’ such as a Rolex watch. ‘Snobs’ would want their purchased items to be the only one in the market. Also, our confused consumer occasionally suffers from the Veblen effect—the more expensive a product, the more better it seems to be. A pair of Steve Madden shoes seems far superior than a regular Bata one—why? —simply because its more expensive.


Retailers, today, understand consumer psychology quite well. Hence, they design their marketing strategies keeping in mind all the factors affecting consumer demand. If consumers only satisfied their basic needs, most product companies would be running at a loss. Marketers cash on consumer impulse and invest in making their products visually pleasing and also giving an illusion of immediate need. They also strategize in shelf placements in supermarkets and stores making sure to grab the consumer’s eyeballs at the very beginning of their shopping journey. An artificial want is created in the mind of the consumer influenced by information through blogs, videos and advertisements by the product companies. People like our confused consumer keep on getting confused by the plethora of brands available and keep changing their choices quite frequently.


As we continue to look into our confused consumer’s cupboard, we share the sentiment as well. We are all confused being part of this retail oriented generation boosted by digitally enhanced commercial prospects. We are forever travelers in our never-ending consumer journey.




My name is Sarba Basu and I work as a Business Analyst with a consulting firm.Reading has led me to love the art of writing as well and here goes one such attempt.

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