The term consumer psychology refers to the study of how people relate to the goods and services they use in their daily lives. Also known as the study of consumer behavior, consumer psychology provides opportunities to examine issues such as what factors are most important when people decide to purchase a particular item, how customers determine the value of a service, and whether or not television and magazine advertisements can convince a reluctant consumer to try a new product for the first time. This field seeks to describe and explain consumer behavior, although some consumer psychologists will attempt to predict or influence a customer’s decisions.
The discipline of consumer psychology draws heavily from the fields of marketing, advertising, economics, anthropology, social psychology, and cognitive psychology. However, the psychology of consumers has been recognized as its own area of study since World War II. One of the first noted consumer psychologists was John B. Watson, the man who suggested that ads for Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder be structured to subtly play on the anxiety and insecurity commonly felt by new mothers. His technique of recognizing the emotional appeal of advertising remains a cornerstone of consumer psychology today.
Like any other discipline, consumer psychology has several possible areas of specialization. Some consumer psychologists study the impact of advertising or product packaging on a consumer’s purchasing decisions. Others focus their research on how marriage, parenthood, and other important life stages affect consumer behavior. The psychology of price, or how the perceived value of an item is determined, is another popular specialty within this field.
Consumer psychologists can be researchers, educators, consultants, managers, and policy makers. A bachelor’s degree in consumer psychology prepares you for entry-level jobs with advertising agencies, research firms, governmental institutions, and private corporations that wish to learn more about how customers interact with a particular product. However, a graduate degree in marketing, management, or advertising is often necessary before one can expect to advance within the field.
Career opportunities in consumer psychology offer a chance to interact with a variety of people while applying problem solving and creative thinking skills to a number of tasks. A typical day working in this field involves brainstorming, analyzing research data, preparing reports, and meeting with clients. The risk of burnout is quite high, however, since most professionals are expected to work large amounts of overtime when an employer is preparing for a product launch.