We explain what a consumer is and the difference with a customer. In addition, we explore the main characteristics and behavior.

A consumer performs a search and evaluation process to acquire a good/service.

What is a consumer?

A consumer is a person who engages in a purchasing process, that is, an exchange in which they acquire a product or service in exchange for money. Consumption seeks to satisfy a basic need, obtain a benefit, or gain satisfaction.

Emerging technologies applied to communication channels and digital marketing strategies continue to reshape the way businesses interact with consumers, both to better understand individuals and fine-tune message segmentation to effectively target potential customers.

Difference between customer and consumer

consumidor - cliente
Good customer service throughout the purchasing process contributes to customer loyalty.

The difference between a customer and a consumer is:

  • A customer is a person who repeatedly buys from the same store or platform. This does not imply purchasing the same good or service every time, but rather that the purchasing process regularly takes place on the same point of sale. Customers identify with the brand or perceive additional value in their purchases.
    For example: Someone who consistently chooses the same brand of pants due to comfort and good value for money is considered a customer of that brand of pants.
  • A consumer is anyone who makes a purchase of a good or service, regardless of whether they are a customer at a specific point of sale or not. The population with the capital to buy goods and services forms the consumer base.
    For example: A traveler stopping by a store on the road to buy a soft drink is considered a consumer.

Businesses apply various tools including digital marketing both to improve user experience during the purchasing process and to achieve greater brand loyalty. The ultimate goal is to turn consumers into customers.

Consumer behavior

Understanding consumer behavior during the purchasing process is key for businesses. This knowledge allows them to optimize business strategies, improve sales processes, and offer added value.

Creating added value is a primary objective of marketing, as it helps foster and build up the relationship between brands and consumers, thus converting consumers into loyal customers.

Consumer behavior comprises the series of actions an individual performs until a purchase of a good or service is made. These actions can be influenced by economic, psychological, or emotional factors.

To understand consumer behavior, it is necessary to answer questions like: What do they buy? Why do they buy it? Where do they buy it? and How often do they buy it? These questions yield quantitative and qualitative data, enabling in-depth analysis.

Marketing makes use of insights from psychology and applies them to consumer research. The purpose is to predict consumer reactions to certain stimuli that are conveyed in communication campaigns and throughout the purchasing process.

Example of consumer behavior during the purchasing process:

  1. Recognition. The consumer identifies a need or desire, either spontaneously or triggered by external stimuli like advertisements.
  2. Search. The consumer then selects potential points of sale or brands of their preference offering the desired product.
  3. Evaluation and decision. The consumer evaluates the best possible alternative, based on available funds, quality, and delivery time, among other factors.
  4. Purchase. The transaction is completed using a convenient method, compatible with the seller’s payment channels (cash, credit card installments, bank transfer, or cryptocurrencies).
  5. Post-purchase evaluation. The consumer can assess both the product and the seller, through a review on a website or social media. They may buy another product from the seller again, becoming a customer, or it might be a one-time transaction. Any of the post-purchase actions provide invaluable feedback to businesses, allowing them to identify their strengths or weaknesses through customer ratings or reviews.

Characteristics of consumers

Understanding consumer behavior allows for identifying the main types of audiences. Recognizing the characteristics of target consumer groups is vital for businesses to ensure the success of their business strategies and marketing campaigns.

Among the types of consumers are:

  • Potential customers. These are consumers fitting certain criteria that make them likely buyers of a specific product. Among the metrics taken into account by brands to develop their business strategies are geographic location, age range, tastes, preferences, and shopping habits.
  • Impulsive or emotional consumers. These are consumers who make a purchase to satisfy an ephemeral want which dissolves shortly after buying the product. They constantly seek to acquire new products and do not stop to rationalize the purchasing process, but rather are carried away by emotions influenced by the social context.
  • Rational consumers. These are consumers who analyze several alternatives and factors before making a purchase, such as quality, price, durability, among other aspects.
  • Deal-seekers. These are consumers who buy the products they need strictly when they are on sale or have special discounts.
  • Loyal customers. These are consumers who trust a brand and make repeat purchases based on past experiences. They establish a relationship of trust with the brand.

Companies analyze multiple metrics such as cognitive, behavioral, social or cultural factors to identify their potential customers. Technology applied to digital communication channels has allowed for in-depth market and consumer research to obtain accurate and tailored data based on specific, observable and measurable indicators.

Importance of consumption

Consumption is the use of a good or service to satisfy a need or desire. It represents the final stage of the production process, and it is when goods and services are acquired by people. Consumption drives the economy of a nation by making the exchange with consumers possible.

However, for consumption to thrive, factors like domestic production investment, relaxed import restrictions, and a stable local currency are essential. Without these, inflation occurs, which is the generalized and sustained increase in market prices, diminishing purchasing power.

Today, the great challenge for economies worldwide is to find a balance between the consumer society and sustainable production, given its environmental impact. The fast pace of natural resources’ consumption and waste generation represent an insurmountable challenge for the planet and humanity. Therefore, a paradigm shift concerning humanity’s consumption system is required.


  • Kotler, P., Armstrong, G., Gay, M. G. M., & Cantú, R. G. C. (2017). Fundamentos de marketing. Pearson.
  • Da Silva, D. (2020). ¿Cómo es el comportamiento del consumidor? Descrubre las etapas del proceso de compra y principales KPIs. Zendesk
  • Cambridge dictionary (2022). Consumer. Dictionary

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To cite properly, we recommend doing so according to APA standards, which are international standard guidelines followed by leading academic and research institutions worldwide.

DE AZKUE, Inés. "Consumer".
Encyclopedia of Humanities. 19 January, 2024,

About the author

Author: Inés de Azkue

Bachelor of Arts in advertising (University of Morón)

Translated by: Marilina Gary

Degree in English Language Teaching (Juan XXIII Institute of Higher Education, Bahía Blanca, Argentina).

Updated on: 19 January, 2024
Posted on: 28 September, 2023

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