Women’s Buying Habits – 3000 word essay



The Shakespearean adage that “beauty is but only skin deep” would perhaps find itself ignored today as our society experiences changed ideals of beauty and attractiveness or women. The world of advertising, fashion, news media, and the entertainment industry in Britain has had a strong role to play in this regard. While modern feminists would find most of these images highly disturbing, they still form interesting points of view for the business eye as to how the media has been successful in creating a world where it is easy for women to be  single or divorced or have babies out of wedlock, go to Pubs and be the proverbial “corporate queens”. More importantly it has been interesting to note how the image of the modern woman is attached to a blond blue-eyed attractive woman who seems to have it all including a 36-24-36 figure and the perfect spotless skin.

The modern woman as portrayed by the media is incredibly thin, can be a super mum and a high class executive at the same time, raising children and holding down high powered jobs. The British media easily spins images of the high street fashion girl running down Oxford Street and the highly paid executive lawyer coming down Chancery lane in designer shoes and coats. The image creation does not stop there as it seems that after a brief perusal of media ideals, black women will always be super slim with amazing bodies in a “Beyonce” like fashion and show a powerful countenance. The ideals of beauty seem to have reverted to size zero models and it is interesting to note from a marketing perspective that if female body proportion and facial features do not resemble the images portrayed by the western media’s definition of an attractive women, a woman may be compelled to feel unattractive. How does marketing theory and practice achieve such a result then? The reason for this query is that many women,as a result of images and perceptions being fed to them during campaigns begin to  question their attractiveness and try their best to conform to the images being generated by the media as the prevailing social norm.



So the question is whether effective marketing and media practices can alter the social norms by tailoring female perceptions to such an extent that  the relationship between the need to lose weight and the glamorization of thinness, along with the idea that being thin and achieving success  become interlinked with each other.The discussion whether this is an untrue and constructed reality or not is another story but the interesting point to note is how and when this becomes effective when women make their everyday choices of food ,clothes,jewllery and particularly makeup.

A few decades ago the debate was whether a stream of racism had permeated media where black or Asian models were not featured and the woman of every color was expected to try and become fair blue-eyed whilst ignoring her natural beauty. Today even if the skin color of the model in the advertisement does not play a major part when a consumer decides to make a purchase there is another kind of demarcation appearing in the advertisements where “thin is in” and the modern woman consumer is targeted to realize that her beauty needs the aid of certain cosmetics and makeup in particular.


When we analyse this process of perceptions and how the female consumer is targeted it would be expedient to observe the process of consumer choice through the consumer behaviour model (called the stages in consumer decision-making) which describes five stages in making a decision. In theory then choosing a suitable approach to study decision behaviour is imperative to the validity and accuracy of answering such a question. Coming to the analysis of the female mind and perception process. Several schools of thought have presented different perspectives and models for the consumer decision-making process. These can be categorized into four major approaches: the economic view, the passive view, the cognitive view and the emotional view (Schiffman & Kanuk, 2004). Some similar approaches include the psychographic/lifestyle approach, the consumer typology approach and the consumer characteristics approach (Schiffman & Kanuk, 2004).


If we analyse female decision making behaviour via the economic view this would mean that consumers are rational decision makers, with complete knowledge and capabilities to identify the perfect decision. The passive view presents an opposing view, depicting consumers as impulsive and irrational purchasers. The cognitive view which looks at the consumer characteristics , perceives the female consumer as a ‘thinking problem solver’, and focuses on processes by which consumers seek and evaluate information to arrive at a ‘satisfactory’ decision. The emotional view holds that female consumer decisions are driven by deep feelings for certain products or services stirred by messages given by makeup marketers  (Schiffman & Kanuk, 2004).


While all of these explain consumer decision-making from valid perspectives, the cognitive view or the consumer characteristics approach has been widely acknowledged by researchers as the most explanatory and powerful construct as discussed in my research. When we analyse female decision making behaviour it is possible to see that a great deal of consumer behaviour is ‘goal directed’ (Schiffman & Kanuk, 2004). The cognitive view of female decision-making acknowledges the importance of goal setting, achievement and motivation.


The consumer decision-making model recognizes that consumers are unlikely to obtain all available information about every choice, and are likely to undertake a decision when they perceive they have sufficient information about some of the alternatives (Schiffman & Kanuk, 2004). Female make up buyers are unlikely to obtain information about every existing university or programme on offer. Instead, they are more likely to base their decisions on the information they have received from peers or media to arrive at a ‘satisfactory’ decision, which involves socio-cognitive and socialization processes that this research will attempt to investigate. Furthermore the theoretical premise of my paper focuses on the motivational cognitive and affective  orientations that relate specifically to consumer decision-making.Such an approach compliments the objective of this research, which is to evaluate the effect of cognitive processes and attitudes on female buyers’ decision behaviour when purchasing make-up.


The figure below summarises  the consumer buying decision process and influences


Possible Influences on the decision progress

Personnel InfluencesPsychological InfluencesSocial Influences








Roles and family

References groups

Social classes

Culture and subcultures


Consumer buying decision process






The 6 stages, which a female buyer will then be going through, as discussed in my research paper pertain to the following:

  1. Problem Recognition; which pertains to the awareness of a need in this case to wear make up which would help the particular female consumer feel acceptable in the society. This also mandates recognising that there is a vast difference between the desired state and the actual condition of the desires of the consumer. Mainly like the relationship between “hunger” and “food” this pertains to creating a stimulus or awareness in the consumer mind which goes on to arouse the query “I did not know I was deficient in this regard”. This happens   when a woman with pimples sees a model with clear and glowing skin smiling and successful in a commercial she is prompted to ask herself whether her pimpled skin is the reason behind her lack of confidence and low status in her peer group.
  2. Information search-: The second step as discussed would be “information search” which pertains mainly to her previous experiences of females with better or fairer skins being more successful and acceptable in the society (internal search). Her external search would pertain more to word of mouth from friends and relatives. Last but not the least the ultimate manipulation of the consumer mind would stem from marketer dominated sources and comparison shopping aimed at “selling” makeup to the consumer base.
  3. Evaluation of Alternatives-: Thirdly it was observed during my research that the female consumer would focus on the need to establish criteria for evaluation, or features the buyer wants or does not want. These might be her experiences going against loud makeup (the “tramp” analogy). Marketers try to influence by “framing” alternatives in the consumer mind. The same face powder or perfume will be marketed differently to young teenagers and working women through different packaging and advertisements.
  4. Purchase decision ; As already observed pertains to the female make up consumer’s buying alternatives, including product, package, store, method of purchase etc.
  5. The fifth stage as was observed differs from the ambit of decision, mostly due to the time lapse between stages 4 & 5 pertaining mostly to product availability.
  6. After the make up product has been bought there is a last stage called the “post purchase evaluation” which relates mostly to satisfaction or dissatisfaction after the make up has been bought.
  7. It was also noted that while all these stages do not and cannot always result in a purchase, and that not all female decisions to purchase make up can include all five stages the consumer’s perception still does have a psychological influence on the buying decision process.


The next theory that was discussed pertained to buyer motivation in terms female perceptions to buying make up. “Motivation is the driving force within individuals that impels them to action” (Schiffman & Kanuk, 2004). In short, motivation pertains to the purpose of responding and reacting to a given event .The cognitive/consumer characteristics approach chosen for this research suggests social cognitive theories of motivation would provide a comprehensive overview of the motivational dynamics involved.

It is evident that human motivation involves more than simple processes of deprivation and gratification. Based on the principals of social cognitive theory, it shows individuals to be anticipative, purposive and self-evaluating proactive regulators of their motivation and actions. The social cognitive foundation of the theory is the reason for its selection in this research. Self-efficacy is defined as people’s judgements of their capabilities to undertake courses of action required to attain certain types of performances. Self-efficacy is not concerned with capabilities one has but with judgements of what one can do with whatever capability one possesses. Based on the above it can now be discussed as to how the female mind is influenced by self-efficacy, motivation and socialisation.


In terms of this I would now like to refer to my research findings. As it can be recalled the women interviewees were asked questions like the major factors, which they looked for in, make up brands and the frequency with which they shopped for make up. Age groups and favouritism were also a concern with the three major age groups ie .15 to 18,18 to 35 and 35 to 50.There was an effort through the interviews to elicit the answer to the extent to which such consumers were influenced by make-up campaigns and their personal reasons and perceptions as to the use of make-up and whether it gave them more confidence.


The interview with Tosin Fam revealed that she was using make up to preserve her feminine self amongst the male dominated work environment. She believed make-up to be a means to an end of celebrating the fact that they were women and different from men. In terms of perceiving a make up brand the interviewees were looking at brand personality rather than cost it. Whether the make up brand in use had been marketed for working women or sporty teenagers meant a lot to them.

At the same time there was a sense of feeling amongst the women that they did not want to be taken as non serious or “too loud” in the work environment” .It can thus be gleaned that in terms of motivation or the consumer buying processes the link of make up with the image a woman wants to portray is very strong. They want to be cared for and accepted by the society.

This is in line with the Maslow Model of the hierarchy of human needs as discussed before where as the need for love and confidence are important factors to the female buyer.

Other factors which were analyzed from the interview results and the literature review included the effect of consumer socialization which is defined as the female individuals’ acquisition of skills, knowledge, attitudes and experiences necessary to function as consumers .Interpersonal influences were also a factor as they pertain to groups of significant others (family, peers, etc.) with who young women identify themselves, and whose group norms on values, judgements and behaviour they follow or refer to. For the minds of the female consumer, socialization processes provide a rationale for susceptibility to interpersonal influence, and can help gain a better understanding of social cognitive processes involved in buyers decision to fashion clothing. When studying the attitudes of younger interviewees in their late teenage or mid twenties it was possible to see that such buyers were in continuous socialization process, forming an ego and expressing themselves to the outside world.


All these concepts of the female psychological processes come full circle as one observes the changing perceptions of beauty she experiences through her exposure to society and everyday advertisements. This would mean that she would through ‘motivation’ strive to meet her needs that drive a person to action. This has been argued in my paper as the need for a person to have a sense of belonging to a group – an evolutionary human tribal instinct perhaps – could act as a catalyst to encourage a woman to make a purchase. This arguably stems from the perception of brand personality relating to what people may base their final purchase decision on by evaluating their experiences of using that product. In my research it was observed that the closer the make up product succeeds in identifying similar characteristics shared with the female customer, the more likely it is that the person will buy the product, whereas perception argues that people are influenced by things based on their experiences and values which have helped to shape their experience of life. For example a sporty looking Nike deodorant is more likely to get the attention of a female athlete than a fashionable teenager.

The methodology of my dissertation was aimed at exploring the consumer’s buying decision making process, motivation and interpersonal influence to provide a broad understanding of the effects of internal, external and contextual factors on individual decision behaviour. The interviews, which were a part of qualitative research, concentrated upon the influence of personal feelings, beliefs and intention on female decision behaviour. In this research, a deductive approach was used in order to develop a more precise understanding on make up market in the UK industry and then narrow it down to conclusions for the way ahead for the make up industry and how these can serve as a marketing tool for better business by understanding female perceptions. Unlike the inductive approach, the deductive approach tests a theory (Saunders et al., 2003). A hypothesis was drawn accordingly and expressed as measurable variables that can then be tested to either sustain the initial theory or modify it if the findings show a different angle to the set theory.

It was important to gather as much information and different points of view as possible in order to ensure validity and to avoid bias for our study of female make up consumption in the UK.Thus in order to collate the qualitative primary data, interviews were arranged with women of different age groups. In addition to the primary data collection, secondary data was collated from Mintel Reports, newspapers, official bodies’ websites, books, and academic journals.

Secondary research was initially carried out to have a better understand the research topic. The research questions were then drawn from suggested problems arising from the former market dynamics in the UK. Having a situational analysis was vital in undermining any potential gaps in the literature that would be filled with primary research in order to answer the research aim and research questions of this study.

The compilation of primary qualitative data was carried out through in-depth interviews with a few female interviewees. Saunders et al., (2003: pp.243) describe an interview as ‘a purposeful discussion between two or more people’. It facilitates the collection of both reliable and valid data that serve as answers to research questions and objectives (Saunders et al., 2003).


The advantage of qualitative research in the form of interviews was that it allowed me to better understand the relation of brand personality with female psychological processes. It was discovered that not one but many factors influence female decision making when it comes to make up purchasing and can be classified thus as a combination of advertising, personal beliefs and individual needs.


While the results of the literature review and the qualitative research showed that one reason for women to buy make up products was because they liked wearing make-up, further investigation revealed that the sense of feeling attractive was also an important factor at hand here. While some women are conscious partakers of such decisions others make their selections unconsciously which may be due to strong and successful persuasive advertising.  In the end it is all about ‘selling’ and how the marketer will successfully target a woman’s ego and her wish to retain her sense of belonging in the society through brand messages.


Finally makeup is both a need and a want. When the marketers target both segments they tend to realise large profit margins through clever linkage of the target consumer base’s personality with their brand. This was concluded from the realisation that female consumers’ personality plays an important role in attitudes towards makeup. Female consumers use make up brands as clues to indicate product performance, and to a large extent, favourite make up brands speak of familiarity and credibility of the same in helping them up keep their desired image. They will buy the same brand again, hoping that each time it will compliment their personality in the same way. Thus buying make up might actually be an affair of tapping into the female salient beliefs which are beliefs about a product, a brand, etc. that are activated and consciously considered at once. Thus make up marketers will be trying to reinforce, challenge and manipulate the female consumers’ belief toward a product or a brand in terms of their past experiences with that product or brand.




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  2. Schiffman, Leon G., Kanuk, Leslie l.: Consumer Behavior, 2nd Edition. Prentice Hall, 1983, pp. 615.
  3. Solomon, Michael R.: Consumer behavior: buying, having, and being, 2nd Edition.
  4. Thakor, Mrugank V., Lavack, Anne M.: Effect of perceived brand origin associations on consumer perceptions of quality. Journal of Product & Brand Management, 12(2006), 6, pp. 394-407.