What are your buying habits? [Archives:2007/1093/Business & Economy]

October 11 2007

Consumerism is one of the oldest phenomenon that has accompanied capitalism. In many countries and throughout the ages, consumers evolve and adjust in accordance to their own socio-economic realities and attempt to fulfill their needs and desires in buying and acquiring objects and products, thereby playing a role in shaping the trends of consumerism and affecting the needs and desires of their fellow consumers.

In a micro scale, everyday people do not think about their role in shaping the economy through consumerism, buying groceries, preferring a brand over another, buying a car, spending a holiday, and any other purchase decision made by consumers affects the economy as a whole. This survey attempts to discuss the buying habits of Yemeni consumers in an attempt to understand how their consumption shapes the markets and economy.

Routine Buying Habits:

Almost all people have their routine buying habits, products and brands which they buy on habitual bases depending on their impulses and instincts telling them that 'this is the right product for me'; 'this fits my tastes and budget'; 'this is what I feel comfortable using'; and so on. Routine buying habits apply mainly to buying foodstuff such as canned foods and soft drinks; in addition to buying fast moving consumer goods such as shampoo and toothpaste.

“Routine buying habits are very hard to change” said marketing specialist Fouad Assad, who works with one of the prominent retail establishments in Sana'a, “Yemeni consumers are fixated on a selected range of products they trust and can afford, and it is next to impossible to change these habits unless you market a similar product which is significantly cheaper that their usual product”.

He also adds: “There are products that have been on the retail outlet shelves for some twenty years, and will continue to stay there for many more years, such as the Mary biscuits and AbuWalad cheese, these products have become a part of the Yemeni culture.”

Mohammed Shamhan, who works with a competing retail firm, contradicts that opinion saying that supermarket shelves have seen an amazing transformation, where many imported products have invaded the local markets and therefore attracted their own buyers, who fancy changing their routine buying habits, he adds: “we see new brands popping out of no where, this made in Saudi, that made in Egypt, and consumers try new brands every day, and no longer want to stick to their old favorites”.

Among this and that, Cashier, Abdullah Aqil, states that consumers are slowly changing their routine buying habits, however, it is still the price that determines what consumers buy, it is always about the offers and discounts offered to help consumers change their minds.

What's a discount and what is not.

In spite of the notion that consumers tend to be attracted to discounts and sales, many consumers indicate that they do not trust that there are real discounts or that the limited-time offers being advertised are genuine, Housewife Abeer M. says: “Discount offers are just another way for businessmen to boost their sales, they are either selling old products that are out of fashion, or are about to expire.” She also added that in many occasions such offers have a very limited discount accompanied with a harsh no-return, no-refund, and no-exchange policy, which makes one hesitates if it is a good idea to buy during a discount sale.

Other respondents also confirmed that they doubt if such sales are really worthwhile, AbdulSallam Muhsen, a government employee, stated that the public depends on word of mouth to know if the sale in a particular outlet offers a good value proposition or not, especially since there is no competition between retail outlets in Yemen which have – more or less – the same prices on offer, with slight discounts, contests, and other promotions to increase publicity and in turn consumer demand.

Renown marketing consultant, Hamoud Al-Bukhaiti, stated that 57 percent of the people do not trust the sales and promotional contests being publicized in the market, adding that 71 percent of people believe that all advertising and paid-for publicity campaigns are misleading and includes false information. This false information ranging from an exaggerated discount percentage to misstating the features and revised value proposition being offered, such as increasing the quantity for the same price or giving free gifts with the product.

Contradicting this view, in defense of the value proposition of discount seasons, Businessman, AbdulRahman Al-Haidary, stated that his corporation offers genuine discounts during their sale period of up to 70 percent. Furthermore, he stated that consumers can compare the prices throughout the year with the prices of the sale period to realize that the discounts are serious; this also explains the rush of people who buy from his retail outlets during sale period.

Semi-rational beings

There are several factors which come into the purchase decision, says economist Raidan Al-Saqqaf; “Human beings are semi-rational when it comes to making a purchase decision, they rely on rational arguments such as price, quality, and utility, as well as irrational aspects such as liking, tastes and perceptions, and this is where marketing kicks-in in order to affect the purchase decision”. He explained that people might buy a particular product because of the associated feelings and status it gives them, while others buy a different product because they care more for its utility.

Branding professional, Farouk Alwan, stated that most marketing strategies start where the value proposition falls short, if your product cannot compete with another product in terms of the rational aspects of the product, then you should start improving your brand name towards making your brand more appealing and therefore it can compete with other brands, touching on the irrational side of consumers.

Editor of Family and Development Magazine, Imad Ahmed, said that consumers fall, in many instances, victims to their own choices which are dominated by emotions, the irrational aspect of the human nature makes the consumer believe that brand A will make me look better or brand B will make me feel better about myself, he adds: “this behavior is one worth studying in great detail as it is directly related to how people understand and perceive what they need and what they desire, because experience shows that people do not really know what it is they need and end up making choices that are – to a large extent – dominated by their irrational choices”.

A bit of Advice

Our survey indicated that although most people have less real income to spend considering the skyrocketing inflation the country has been experiencing, Yemeni consumers try to be as creative as they can with the money they have at their disposal, and this explains why people tend to try new products and brand that seem to have a better value proposition for the money or are sold at a discount, therefore it is advisable to depend on common sense when making the purchase decision, and asking oneself if the product is the best choice to serve the purpose it is being bought for in terms of utility, or if there is a replacement which will cost less and perhaps is more effective.