Consumer psychology is the study of how people’s thoughts, beliefs, perceptions and feelings influence their buying habits for services and goods. Consumer psychologists study the buying habits of individuals, groups and organizations and the manner in which they select, pay for, use and dispose of products and services. Also included are experiences that are paid for, like amusement parks, zoos, museums and vacation tours.
Consumer psychologists study consumers’ decision-making processes, motivations and social persuasion to gain insight into why consumers buy certain items and not others, and why they buy from certain companies and not others. They also study the influence that friends, family, culture and the media exert upon consumers.
Consumer psychologists use this information to develop marketing techniques for targeting potential new customers and for reaching out to them to buy products, and also to help companies maintain their current customers.
Related: Becoming a Consumer Psychologist
Normally, the first step for consumer psychologists is the establishment of the target audience for a client’s products. Psychologists determine the typical buyer’s sex, age, educational history, race and financial situation.
The next step is usually to research the types of products and messages that appeal to the target audience. This research can take the form of phone surveys, questionnaires, focus groups, experiments and direct observations.
This research then needs to be applied to the client’s situation and needs. Finally, strategy needs to be developed and then applied in the form of advertisements, inventory placement, packaging, employee training and other marketing strategies.
Types of Degrees
Consumer psychology is one of the few fields in psychology that doesn’t require a doctoral degree. Some entry-level jobs only require a four-year bachelor’s degree in psychology, such as certain jobs in market research, advertising or sales. Some mid-level jobs in those fields are available with only a master’s degree.
Bachelor degrees in consumer psychology aren’t available, though some schools offer a concentration or minor in it. A dual major of advertising and psychology is another good option. At the undergraduate level, students should steer toward subjects like:
- Social psychology
- Abnormal psychology
- Marketing and Advertising
- Consumer behavior
- Consumer science
- Marketing research
- Marketing management
- Marketing communications
A few schools offer two-year master’s degrees in consumer psychology, and some offer concentrations in it. Coursework may include:
- Consumer motivation
- Reaching the target market
- Understanding customer perceptions
- Marketing research methods
- Psychological research
A doctorate in psychology is required for most of the top jobs in consumer psychology, including becoming an independent researcher or university teacher. For candidates who want to mainly work in research, a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in consumer psychology is recommended. Other candidates can choose between a PhD or a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD). For those who primarily want to teach, a Doctor of Education (EdD) degree works fine, as do the other two degrees. Most jobs don’t require a license.
Consumer psychologists typically work for corporations, governmental agencies, research organizations, advertising agencies, media outlets or universities. Those at universities normally have dual jobs as researchers and teachers. Those working for governmental agencies often design and improve public health or safety messages.
Here are some areas of specialization within this field:
- Corporate social responsibility
- Legal applications
- Capturing consumer interest
- Social media
- Unconscious motivations
- Trans-cultural researcher
- Long-term customer relations
- Methodologies of research
- Leadership and management
- Prejudices and stereotypes
- Comparisons of media
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, as of May 2014, the median annual wage for psychologists was $89,810 and the mean hourly wage was $43.18. This figure is taken from the “psychologists, other” category. Salary for consumer psychologists may vary for the amount of experience, job location and employer.