As noted in an earlier chapter, the relationship between the buyer and the seller exists through a phenomenon called a market exchange. The exchange process allows the parties to assess the relative trade-offs they must make to satisfy their respective needs and wants. For the marketer, analysis of these trade-offs is guided by company polices and objectives. For example, a company may engage in exchanges only when the profit margin is 10 per cent or greater. The buyer, the other member in the exchange, also has personal policies and objectives that guide their responses in an exchange. Unfortunately, buyers seldom write down their personal policies and objectives. Even more likely, they often do not understand what prompts them to behave in a particular manner. This is the mystery or the "black box" of buyer behavior that makes the exchange process so unpredictable and difficult for marketers to understand.
Buyers are essential partners in the exchange process. Without them, exchanges would stop. They are the focus of successful marketing; their needs and wants are the reason for marketing. Without an understanding of buyer behavior, the market offering cannot possibly be tailored to the demands of potential buyers. When potential buyers are not satisfied, exchange falters and the goals of the marketer cannot be met. As long as buyers have free choice and competitive offerings from which to choose, they are ultimately in control of the marketplace.
A market can be defined as a group of potential buyers with needs and wants and the purchasing power to satisfy them. The potential buyers, in commercial situations, "vote" (with their dollars) for the market offering that they feel best meets their needs. An understanding of how they arrive at a decision allows the marketer to build an offering that will attract buyers. Two of the key questions that a marketer needs to answer relative to buyer behavior are:
• How do potential buyers go about making purchase decisions?
• What factors influence their decision process and in what way?
The answers to these two questions form the basis for target market selection, and, ultimately, the design of a market offering.
When we use the term "buyer", we are referring to an individual, group, or organization that engages in market exchange. In fact, there are differences in the characteristics of these three entities and how they behave in an exchange. Therefore, individuals and groups are traditionally placed in the consumer category, while organization is the second category. Let us now turn to consumer decision making.