How to Become a Consumer Psychologist

What is Consumer Psychology?

Consumer psychology is concerned with the manner in which people respond to products and services. Various consumer-related activities are explored, including the purchase and use of goods and services and the decision-making processes involved in purchasing decisions. Consumer psychology explores various levels of these activities, including the behavioral, cognitive, and emotional responses associated with the pre- and post-purchase phases of consumerism. For example, a consumer psychologist would seek to identify a color combination for a billboard advertisement that would produce the most interest and engagement among potential purchasers of the product advertised.

The purchasing behavior of consumers is explored in relation to the psychological processes that underlie decision-making. Personal variables, such as the attitudes of consumers, situational variables, such as features of individual products, and the interaction between the two, are examples of topics explored in relation to consumer decision-making. In this regard, consumer psychology relies heavily on the theoretical underpinnings of cognitive psychology. The field is also closely linked to social psychology, as social influences, such as what kind of brands are popular, are highly associated with consumerism.

Consumer psychology also utilizes methods and practices of psychological research in laboratory settings and in the field to describe and explain consumer behavior and devise methods to predict and explain that behavior. Although consumer psychology is highly focused on research, consumer psychologists may conduct that research in a variety of settings, such as for government agencies, private businesses, or for colleges and universities.

Consumer psychology emerged as a distinct discipline in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s as radio and TV advertising became increasingly popular. After the conclusion of World War II, when nations were seeking to rebuild their economies, advertising and consumerism became even more important as the populace was encouraged to buy fantastic new products. As a result, in 1960, the American Psychological Association (APA) formed the Division of Consumer Psychology, which is now called the Society for Consumer Psychology. The purpose of the Society is to advance the study of consumer-related behaviors.

Related: Career Options With a Degree in Media Psychology

What Does a Consumer Psychologist Do?

Consumer psychologists are often interested in what makes people more motivated to purchase certain items. They may, for instance, look at how the placement, packaging, or advertising of a certain product affects its sales. This is all done in an effort to maximize profits for the sales of goods. To study consumer behavior, consumer psychologists often set up focus groups and surveys but can also observe customers in actual places of business. In addition to products, consumer psychologists can focus on lines of products or entire businesses to investigate what makes people chose one particular option over a competing one.

Consumer psychologists often do consulting work. A company could, for example, want to investigate why a product they recently released is selling much below expectations despite positive results among focus groups. In response, a consumer psychologist could investigate whether there are any differences between how the focus groups and the consumers are experiencing the product.

They could also explore the presentation and marketing of the item to see if there was anything that displeased potential customers. Perhaps the item itself wasn’t eye-catching enough or looked too ostentatious. It is possible that the product in question was sold at poor locations or venues and was consequently failing to reach its target consumer-base. All these are potential reasons the sales of a product could disappoint the company distributing it and are things consumer psychologists have to consider regularly in their line of work.

Why Do We Need Consumer Psychology?

It is no secret that Americans love to shop. Christmas is an excuse to shop, and so is a birthday, graduation, promotion, engagement – any landmark that once called for a card now is the perfect time for a product of some sort. Even boredom is an excuse to spend some money. It should not be a surprise that a branch of psychology was invented to study what influences people to buy products and services, it’s a mix of economics, anthropology and psychology called consumer psychology.

Consumer psychology is important to businesses that make their living off of selling something to the people. This is where consumer psychologists come in handy – they do their best to predict the unpredictable and tell the makers of products what makes a person buy something. Colors, timing, outside forces, price point – all of these and many more factors play a part in getting someone to pull out their wallet.

What Does it Take to Become a Consumer Psychologist?


It is important to find behavior of the American shopper interesting in order to enjoy a profession in the consumer psychology field. Perhaps you have always wanted to know why you overspent at the mall as a teenager, or think that advertising has no effect on you and want to explore this concept further. This could be the right branch of psychology for the everyday shopper.


To start down the road towards consumer psychology, one must first graduate with a bachelor’s degree. A degree in psychology is ideal, although any degree is acceptable if it will get the student into a graduate school. A minor in business or products design could also help the student’s general understanding of consumer psychology. You might be able to find many entry-level consumer psychology jobs with a bachelor’s degree.

Next you must choose the right graduate school to attend.  Don’t forget to do thorough research when choosing where to pursue an advanced degree. Many institutions specialize in certain programs, and some offer consumer psychology. All the universities that have consumer psychology programs should be considered despite location – the best schools for this profession are the goal no matter where they are. Typical courses in a graduate program include: Consumer Behavior, Psychology of Branding, Group Dynamics, Gender Roles, Economics, Research Methodology, and Consumer Decision Making.

According to the BLS, research, independent consulting, and academic fields typically require a Ph.D. or (Psy.D.) program. However, depending upon the nature of your bachelor’s degree and the Ph.D. program, you may not need a master’s degree to enter a doctorate program. Many future consumer psychologists skip the master’s degree in favor of a Ph.D. The salaries later in life favor the Ph.D over the master’s degree in psychology. Ph.D. is also mandatory if you officially want to be recognized as a ‘psychologist’.

Talk to professors or professionals: Whichever professor sparked an interest in consumer psychology should be the one with the best information. Professors can offer advice based on personal experience and might have reasons to attend or steer clear of certain schools for consumer psychology graduate programs. If you can track down a professional in the field, they can be an important source as well – ask where they went for their PhD, if they recommend it, and anything else you might need to know.

Talk to admissions counselors: If you have compiled a list of possible institutions for an advanced degree, start calling or visiting when possible. Talk to the admissions office.Perhaps they can give vital information about making yourself an ideal candidate for that school: specifics on GRE scores, letters of recommendation, personal statements, etc.


Any psychologist wishing to complete his or her PhD needs an internship. Every student must interview for potential internship positions and rank them via according to which one they favor. The rank order is due in early February, and students and training directors of internships learn of their placement on the same day. Once placed, a student must do that internship.

Where Do Recent Graduates Work?

While most recent psychology graduates begin their work for a government agency, consumer psychologists have a different path. Beginning consumer psychologists are often on market research campaigns for companies that are launching a new product or service.

Consumer psychologist can become a trusted source for businesses. Many businesses use consumer psychologist as consultants to verse the business in factors that will affect sales of their product or service.

What are the Careers in Consumer Psychology?

  • Advertising Manager
  • Media Coordinator
  • Research Analyst
  • Product Developmental Consultant
  • Sales Representative
  • Public Relations Manager
  • Advertising Manager
  • Marketing Executive
  • College Professor
  • Independent Consultant

What is the Salary for a Consumer Psychologist?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2014, the average annual wage for psychologists was $89,810 and the average hourly wage was $42.50. This figure is taken from the “psychologists, other” category. Salary for consumer psychologists may vary depending on the amount of experience, job location and employer.

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