What Is a Critical Consumer?

This shopper prefers pink hats.

A critical consumer will utilize a wide range of criteria in evaluating products--from fruitcake to refrigerators. Some of the factors don't rely simply on affordability, quality, price-to-value ratio, company reputation and guarantees but can include ethics as well. How much, if any, weight is given to each of the factors used to determine a consumer's choice is unique to the individual but may be more predictable due to sophisticated market research than you might think.



The more literate and sophisticated the buyer, the more tools of critical thinking are brought to the decision making process. The more a consumer knows about the sound of thumping a watermelon and the sound you expect to hear from a ripe melon, the more literate the buyer. If it's watermelon picking season and you assume perfect information about the price of watermelon at one store versus another, a critical buyer may give up the resonant thump in one store in favor of the same but cheaper thump in another.


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Research plays a large role in determining consumer choice, particularly for big-ticket items like vehicles, homes and washers and dryers. The amount a critical consumer is planning to spend is proportional to the amount of research that he will do. The drive across town to save 2 cents per pound for a watermelon may not be worth the time and effort. But the $1,000's in difference between cars and washers and dryers deserves the extra time and attention to thoroughly research desirability, dependability, functionality, longevity and overall performance. Between the Internet, consumer reports and anecdotal information critical consumers have more than enough information to make an enlightened choice.


Personal Preference

Sometimes one good reason can outweigh a hundred others. A company's reputation may be sufficient for a critical buyer to purchase a product of a particular brand that she has come to trust from experience or reputation even though there are 57 reasons for her to choose otherwise. It's not the number of reasons, it's the relative weight each reason is given by an informed consumer. Some buyers, no matter how critical, will buy nothing but Volkswagens even though they are essentially Audis with a Volkswagen body on top.



A critical consumer may also eschew purchasing a less-expensive high-quality sneaker in favor of a high-cost sneaker of equal quality because he believes workers should be entitled to fair and living wages for their work. In the case of the former manufacturer, the buyer knows employees work in sweat shops in Malaysia and in the latter, the company pays union wages, provides health care and offers profit sharing to employees. A critical consumer can choose to purchase based on personal morals, values or ethics. To such a buyer, dollars are votes and the buyer, in this case, votes for fair treatment of workers.



No matter how critical a consumer may be in evaluating a purchase, successful larger companies probably know about as much about you as you do about them. Companies collect information from every source imaginable, including customer surveys, polls and private sampling groups. But information about shoppers comes from sources you don't even think about, such as your surfing preferences on the Internet, census data, credit scores and a myriad of public data sources. If you've ever ordered a pizza for delivery and were asked for your phone number, that information along with your address and name (and what you ordered) becomes part of a database.


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