Consumer Psychologist Career

What is Consumer Psychology?

John Watson, founder of consumer psychology, is named so, because he was the first person to recognize the impact that emotions have on consumer purchases. This branch of psychology originated during the 1940s, and remains a popular form of psychology to this day. In fact, once the family-owned company Johnson & Johnson witnessed how beneficial consumer psychology was for businesses, it began running baby power ads that focused on a mother’s attachment to her baby. Consumer psychology is a branch of social psychology that focuses on consumer behaviors. It takes an in-depth look at the “wants” and “needs” of consumers, to determine what influences their purchase choices.

More specifically, consumer psychology examines the factors (i.e. cost, preferences, availability, brand, shipping times, product packaging, effectiveness, color, longevity, etc.) that can influence what a consumer purchases. This may sound odd, but even a consumer’s mood can impact, which products he or she purchases, on a given day. Businesses often rely on consumer psychology to help them determine what products or services, consumers are likely to purchase. As a result, these businesses are able to “revamp,” alter, add, remove, or change existing products and services to make them more appealing to consumers. Businesses use this form of social psychology to encourage workers to spend their paychecks on their products and services.

Consumer psychology has been acknowledged as its own area of study since World War II. Like any other field, consumer psychology has several areas of specialization. Some psychologists study the impact of advertising or product packaging on a consumer’s choice. Others focus their research on how marriage, parenthood, and different life stages affect shopping behavior.

What are the Job Duties of a Consumer Psychologist?

A consumer psychologist’s primary duty is to “get inside of the consumer’s mind.” In other words, understand how consumers think, and what influences them when purchasing products and services. Other duties include: researching and studying consumer behaviors (i.e. preferences and influences) to determine what consumers are likely purchase (based on past purchases). Consumer psychologists typically research the consumer market by conducting focus groups and/or surveying/testing study participants.

In addition, some psychologists discretely observe consumer behaviors, while they shop. The results are then amassed, analyzed, and documented in various reports. Some consumer psychologists are also responsible for finding ways to encourage consumers to purchase certain products and services. A consumer psychologist may be self-employed, or he/she may work full-time at an agency, business, organization, or private practice. Moreover, a consumer psychologist may work at an advertising/marketing or government agency, or a college university.

Why is Consumer Psychology Important?

As mentioned above, consumer psychology aims to assess what factors influence the purchase or use of goods and services. It looks to determine how an individual’s feelings, beliefs and perceptions alter their buying patterns. In terms of consumer psychology, the ‘customer’ can be an individual, a population or even a company. They can be ‘buying’ goods, services or even ideas.

The importance for businesses is clear – if they understand the motivations of the customer and what factors impact upon their buying, they can better understand their market and place their products in it, in the most beneficial way. They can set pricing, promotions and even marketing of their products in such a way as to make their offering as appealing for customers as possible. This will ultimately increase their sale and improve their business success.

It can be just as valuable for the customer though. Consumer psychology works to put the customer at the center of the business model and, if they are understood well, the outcome should be the best possible version of the product for them. If a company understands more about the customer motivations and actions, products should be priced at a level they are willing to pay, promotions should be of interest to them and the most interesting of products should be marketed in a way that makes it accessible to them as a consumer.

Consumer psychology will always have the ultimate goal of maximizing a company’s sales and success but the involvement of consumer psychologists can work in favor of the consumer as well.

What is the Job Outlook for Consumer Psychologists?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, industrial-organization psychologists are expected to see a 53% increase in job opportunities by 2022. Many, if not all, businesses hire consumer psychologists to help improve their products and services, therefore, consumer psychology falls into the industrial-organization psychology subset. Psychologists, in general, are also expected to see an 11-12% rise in psychology jobs by 2022 (bls.gov). These increases will stem from an influx of new businesses (i.e. small, medium, and large). In other words, with television shows like Shark Tank, more and more people are starting businesses and organizations.

This boom in the business market is expected to continue for the next 10 to 20 years (bls.gov). Businesses want to capitalize on the consumer market, therefore, they will continue to seek out consumer psychologists to help them attract and retain consumers. Businesses will also seek these psychologists to help improve and enhance current products and services, and develop new ones based-on consumer preferences. Better products equal more purchases, and more purchases lead to more jobs, and higher salaries. Furthermore, over the next decade, 900 new consumer psychology jobs will be created (bls.gov).

How Much Does a Consumer Psychologist Make?

As of May 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a general psychologist earns approximately $89,810, per year, on average. A consumer psychologist may make more or less than this amount, depending on a several factors, such as: location, training, experience, education, and skillsets. More specifically, a consumer psychologist, who holds an advanced degree (i.e. doctorate) and board-certification, may make more annually, than a consumer psychologist with a master’s degree, and no certification or license.

Those with a Ph.D., license, board-certification, experience and an advanced skillset, may command the highest salaries. Furthermore, consumer psychologists, who work at large businesses or firms, also make more money, than those, who work for smaller, less profitable businesses or firms.

What Education is Required to Become a Consumer Psychologist?

To become a consumer psychologist, one must first earn an undergraduate degree (B.S.) in a field of his or her choice. The courses taken at the undergraduate level will vary, based on the person’s major and field. Basic courses that will be required include: English composition, social sciences, college math, electives, research, etc. At this level, a student is not required to complete an internship or complete a thesis or dissertation. This program will take approximately 4 years to complete.

Once the student has graduated with a bachelor’s degree, he or she will be ready to enroll in a graduate psychology program. Some schools offer industrial/organizational psychology graduate programs with a focus on consumer psychology, while while others may offer standalone programs in social and consumer psychology.

The purpose of a graduate consumer psychology program is to prepare students for doctoral school, and/or careers in the consumer psychology field. Graduate consumer psychology courses may include: general psychology, lifespan development, emotional intelligence, statistics, business processes, consumer trends, psychology theories, research, marketing, economics, consumer perceptions, psychology of price, and emotions and purchases. At the graduate level, a student will be required to complete a thesis (research paper) and/or a supervised internship at a business or organization. This program may take between 2 and 3 years to complete. The student will be required to earn between 60 and 78 credit hours (depending on the program) before graduating.

Once a person has earned a graduate (master’s degree), he or she may opt to earn a doctorate in consumer psychology. The goal of a doctoral program is to prepare students for research positions, private practice/independent consulting, or teaching psychology courses at a college or university. At this level, the student will be required to complete a dissertation, and a supervised internship at a business. Many consumer psychologists earn a doctoral degree in industrial-organizational psychology.

Courses at the doctoral level may include: business management, statistics, advanced psychology, data analysis, research methodology (i.e. quantitative and qualitative). This program can take up to 7 years to complete. The student will be required to complete between 100 and 125 credit hours to graduate with a doctorate,

It is important to note that one may find entry-level jobs in the consumer psychology industry with a bachelor’s level degree in psychology, however, most employers prefer employees, who have a master’s or doctorate in the field.

Licensure requirements vary from state to state. A consumer psychologist may not require state licensure for non-clinical positions. It is highly recommended for future consumer psychologists to visit their state licensing board. However, most state require licensure before you can call yourself a “psychologist”. Requirements for licensure typically include (but not limited to) an APA accredited doctoral degree in psychology, supervised experience under a licensed psychologist, and passing licensure exam.

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