What do consumers consider when making a purchase?

By James Smith, in the penultimate article of a four-part series

Long before we were in the midst of a pandemic, I carried out a survey of over 270 cyclists. While this may seem like a small number, in the field of consumer research it is a healthy response. I will lay out these results for you so that you can consider whether adopting an environmentally-friendly outward brand position might help your sales/brand position. This pandemic will end and we will one day begin looking inwardly again. It is important that we are using this time to prepare.

271 consumers responded to the survey, and all respondents completed all nine questions. The initial three questions were used to establish gender, age and annual earnings. The remaining questions were used to discover the preferences of the consumers when considering pricing, branding, ethical and environmental concerns. As with earlier evidence in the literature review, the vast majority of those that responded were male. However, there were still a significant number of females that responded to the survey.

Age and annual income
35% of respondents were aged 45-54; the 35-44 age range followed this at 24%. The most popular wage range was between £50,000 and £74,999, with over 26% of respondents falling into this category, and the £30,000 and £49,999 respondents were next with 24%. These answers follow on from questions one and two, backing up previous research that the highest-earning ranges are from 40 to 50. A 2018 report on the This Money website stated that “most professionals should expect their pay peak between the ages of 40 and 49”. Therefore, it can be stated that the respondents in the majority were male, earning between £30,000 to £75,000.

Did pricing affect choice before purchase?
In question four, respondents were asked whether pricing affects their purchase choice. It is interesting to see that pricing is always a critical factor, with over 31% of respondents stating that they still consider pricing and over 40% saying that they usually consider pricing.

These considerations do not necessarily reflect the previous questions when considering the annual earning income of these respondents. It is important to note that while it might be correct to consider that the majority of respondents may have disposable income for things like cycling, this survey took place in the middle of the Brexit crisis. A 2017 report for the Leibniz Information Centre for Economics showed that “the economic costs of the Brexit vote are already visible and quite large. In the third quarter of 2017, the output loss due to the Brexit vote amounted to approximately 1.3%, and the cumulative loss in GDP was close to 20 billion” (Born et al., 2017). The slow down in the British economy may skew these figures as it may lead to a lack of consumer confidence.

The report goes on to say that “it is clear that Brexit will amount to a bundle of policy measures which will result in economic disintegration of the UK and the European Union. Whether this is because of higher tariffs, non-tariff barriers or both, it is likely to bring about a reduction of living standards which, in turn, may rationalise reduced investment and consumption expenditures: not only in the future but, because of anticipation effects, [it may already be happening today]”.

Do our consumers actually care about the environment? Does it come to their mind?
In question four, the research tried to identify how high up in the mind of consumers the environmental impact of their purchase is. The importance of the environment might be getting overstated in the media; while 48% mentioned that they sometimes consider the environment, only 6% always consider the environment.

The literature review identifies some reasoning for that due to difficulties in finding environmental and ethical credentials instore or online. Consumers are in a time-pressured environment and may feel that researching environmental impacts, or ethical considerations, are too tricky when either searching online or when in physical stores.

Do our consumers consider our ethical position?
Question six shows similar results to question five; while 40% of the respondents sometimes consider the ethical impacts of their purchase choices, only 8% always consider the ethical implications of their purchases. The small number of respondents who still consider the environment and/or ethical implications of their purchases can be a powerful purchasing group if these numbers are broadened across the UK consumer population.

The age old argument: is brand still important?
This shows that brand and pricing are far more critical to the consumer than ethical or environmental considerations. Over 30% of respondents always consider the brand quality when choosing their purchase with 44% usually considering the brand quality. When viewed as a whole, over 70% either often or always consider the brand quality when purchasing.

What if you were asked to choose between ethics and environment?
The current media coverage of the climate crisis and the general public perception of the environment may go some way to explain why environmental concerns come before ethical concerns; however, the literature review raises the point that it is easier to find environmental credentials online than ethical considerations.

In my final piece, we will take evidence from two senior members of the cycling industry to hear their thoughts on brand/environment position.

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