Motives in customer purchasing behavior

Word “motive” is often posed in active connections emphasizing person’s own will in achieving important targets and enjoying a good life. The word itself flatters ones image as a tool of personal willpower and autonomy. How often we tend to think that we’re independent, self-oriented, self-directed, self-made men and women? But in a fact – are we?  Motives reflect success stories, but they are related also in failures.

Motivated behavior has been defined as goal oriented and purposeful activity. Motives, on the other hand, are supposed to involve with needs, desires, instincts and other internal stimulators, but in a fact we are not dealing with very simple phenomenon. Motivation has been studied a lot, but still we know surprisingly little about it. Just because behind customer behavior there are bunch of factors that define us not only rational but also social-emotional actors. Ones worldview, values and attitudes determine his behavior and actions as customer and decision maker also when purchasing.

Most people justify their purchases, especially expensive ones, such as a car, a house or hi-tech electronics on rational grounds. In this case, motives are typically based on explanations like necessary need, positive peer reviews, product is a test winner or it has positive price-quality ratio. At the same time emotional motives are often unconscious and connected with self-image, identity, interests and affinity. Under emotional motive individuals tend to forget rational way of decision making but justify the needs unconsciously based on needs to lift their self-esteem and strengthen ones status.

On the basis of (subconscious) emotions customers interpret advertising messages as visual, emotional or informational level. Attitudes in a fact are in a key role in decision making since they dictate the way consumer chooses the product and place of purchase.

Motives are often approached by different kind of psychological theories. Most known are Maslows Hierarchy of Needs and Aldefers ERG-Theory. Professor Jagdish Sheth has research motives in customer behavior in business.

According to Sheth (1975) there are are five core utility needs for product satisfy:

1. Functional motives are related to the technical functions the product performs.

2. Aesthetic-emotional motives are the style, design, luxury, and comfort of a product (class). These motives are not only important for the specific (brand) choice but also for the generic (product) choice. The product class is evaluated in terms of the fundamental values of the consumer in the emotive areas of fear, social concern, respect for quality of life, appreciation of fine arts, religion, and other emotional feelings.

3. Social motives are related to the impact that consumption makes on relevant others. Status, prestige, and esteem may be derived from the possession and usage of products and their conspicuous features.

4. Situational motives are not motives in the sense of long-term desires to reach a certain goal. The selection of a product may be triggered by situational determinants such as availability, price discount, and/or accessibility.

5. Curiosity motives are motives that are supposed to prompt trials of new and/or innovative products. The consumer may try a new product; however, his repeat-purchase may be independent of such trials.


Pretty interesting – or what!


Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs



Juuti Pauli, 2006, Organisaatiokäyttäytyminen

Venho Noora, 2009, Nuorten kuluttajien motivaatiotekijät muotiluksusbrandien ostopäätösten taustalla. Kandidaatin tutkielma. Lappeenranta University of Technology. School of Business:

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6 Responses to Motives in customer purchasing behavior

  1. raisavarsta says:

    Yes it is!! I find this one of the most interesting and least understod areas of buyer behaviour. However you make the point very clear here, I hope that people find this post and use this information 🙂

  2. mikatuppurainen says:

    Thanks Merja for this! Great article!
    We tell ourselves when we buy a big and expensive car that we needed it because it’s safe or we need more room etc. Usually they are true but for Porsche’s price you could get four as safe and roomy cars. Usually it’s motives that drive us on… We just wanted the car because for example it was cood looking and the brand effected us positively and we could annoy our neighbours…
    Why do people after buying a car or an apartment tend to watch the car and apartment advertisements more intensively? And why are they boosting these purchases to friends etc? Because they want to rationalize their purchase to themselves after. So maybe they are wondering about their true motives about the purdhases…

    • metsapeiju says:

      … afterwards – indeed! But… are they wondering their true motives, or could it be they’re afraid got fooled? Social factors are quite heavy when one evaluates his/her position among other members of the tribe. I believe, that one way or another we humans tend to look after acceptance by our nearest ones. Making stupid things, beeing fooled, causing jealousity etc. jeopardize our stand and that is why we want so badly to prove to be right and force people on our side…

  3. riiamarika says:

    Nice article! Motivation as a whole is a really interesting topic. What´s the thing that motivates us to do anything? Why are there some things we do happily even when we are exhausted and things that we struggle with no matter how important they are? It´s probably even more difficult to recognize the triggers behind the buy than behind the action. As today our whole identity is kind of based on the things we consume; what we wear, how we live, what we eat etc. and when you think that every single purchase has a motivational trigger behind it.. Well there´s definitely a worksite for researches there 🙂

  4. metsapeiju says:

    Thank’s riiamarika, for sure there are lot’s of work for researchers, but if I’ve have chosen a carrieer of researcher I’d be more interested in ones lack of self-reflecting! 🙂 Motivations connected with behaviour are somewhere very deep in our brain. Some of us are more aware of their power than the others, but on the other hand there is a mechanism which stops us ! Uh, what a system…

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