Consumer research

How do I know what my customer wants?

Customers are not easily predictable. Nor are the frequently proclaimed “truths” about Generations X, Y, Z, millennials, baby boomers & co usually accurate. Human behaviour is much too complex for that. But what consumer researchers know of relevance to the furniture sector is summarised for you here.

Mar 06 2020

Around 16 to 20 years old, when young people start their adult lives, they buy their first furniture, lights and carpets of their own. At around 80, they buy their last. Germans spend roughly 43 billion euros on this per year, on average up to 150 euro per month per capita – around 40 euros more than for clothing, shoes or on health (2018 figures). Those are the hard facts. But there are deep and emotional reasons as to how and why people spend their money. Consumer researchers seek to uncover them. 

Consumer research going beyond the generational question

“In my opinion, the easily comprehensible customer that you read about in the press does not really exist”, says Professor Oliver Gansser, Economist at the Institute for Empirical Research and Statistics at the FOM University of Applied Sciences on the (German) programme “Consumer lives – I buy, therefore I am”. 

He proceeds on the basis that each individual represents values, which determine his or her behaviour. These are dependent for all intents and purposes on age – and other factors such as, for example, sex –, but it is nearly impossible to align them with “generations” that are not only ascribed with catchy names in today’s marketing, such as baby boomers, millennials, Generations X, Y and Z, but also with typical behaviours.

Gansser points out that there is no standard definition of generations: “Everyone has their own”, he tells ambista in interview. “That is a major disadvantage.” 

The things that people surround themselves with indicate, just like the manner in which they buy them, which worldview they represent. © Arek Socha/pixabay

Consumer behaviour is type-dependent

Professor Gansser has been conducting surveys since 2012, questioning individuals on their worldview and their purchasing behaviour. From their responses to questions on the value they place, for example, on equal treatment of people, personal success and justice or how much time they spend on shopping, how much attention they pay to brand-name products, etc., he derives seven behavioural types with the aid of software. These groups can be identified across the whole of Europe and feed into the European Social Survey.

The largest group is comprised of the autonomous, to which more than thirteen million Germans belong. For them, recognition and personal success are most important. The second-largest group, of around twelve million, are the value-led”, who take their social responsibility seriously.

With a little more than eleven million, the “harmony seekers” are the third largest group. Peace, justice and environmental protection form the focus of their worldview. By way of contrast, there are around nine million “responsibility resisters”, for whom hardly anything is really important.

Ten million “conformists”, however, adhere strictly to social norms, whilst “hedonists”, around nine million people, celebrate life and prefer consuming without limitations. The smallest group, with seven million, are the “connoisseurs” – they find happiness in the everyday, and are open to new things. Recognition and status feature as rather insignificant for them. 

For close to 100 percent, consumer behaviour corresponded to the basic values of the individuals surveyed: the autonomous like consuming, but brands played a lesser role than quality. Hedonists and responsibility resisters love novelty and consuming without hesitation.

The value-led, by contrast, buy rather cautiously, often with a view to long-term use, harmony seekers place great value on sustainability and conformists are easily put off by an overabundance of goods (the behaviour types for download: Professor Gansser’s research as a PDF ). So for Professor Gansser, consumer habits are always an expression of individual personality. 

Consumer research illuminates individual behaviour

Professor Dr Andrea Gröppel-Klein researches consumer behaviour at Saarland University. With the help of special glasses, she measures what attracts their gaze and how long they dwell on one product. With interesting results: trendy labels with important additional information do not draw more attention to the product or serve to better remember it.

Feelings alone are likely to awaken the interest of buyers. Using sensors on the skin of test subjects, Professor Gröppel-Klein demonstrates that it is primarily products of brands associated with a face that attract attention. 

Statistics reveal a lot about the development of the furniture market. But they are not designed to figure out individual customers and how these are best served. © Destatis.de, screenshot

What does this research mean for the furniture sector? 

The practical tip is as follows: Commercials, advertisements and campaigns should include faces which arouse sympathy and positive feelings. This is how people remember brands and why they buy their products. Values which fit with the purchaser’s worldview are decisive for sympathy.

The better a product fits with an individual’s attitudes – or according to Gansser their behavioural type –, the more likely it is that it will be purchased. Furniture manufacturers and distributors should ideally know their customers as well as possible. This means knowing much more than how much money they have available or which generation they belong to.

It is much more important to be able to understand their attitudes. Professor Gansser is convinced: “It is of great assistance, if I know the various behavioural types and can then classify my customers. In this way, individual customer segments can be formed, and a customised offer created for them.” 

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