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Consumers are not always buyers

Updated: Dec 12, 2020

As a marketer, I've often fallen into the trap of equating the fulfillment of consumers' needs with the purchase of goods and services. But that's not always true. Far from it!

Consumers can be extremely resourceful creatures in managing and meeting their needs. As economists will point out resources are limited except for intellectual capital which doesn't seem to have any boundaries.

Below, we've tried to list the numerous ways people try to manage needs. Not all the options are available to a consumer for each specific need, but in general they usually have more options than just purchase.

Go without

Live with a need or problem, e.g. let a minor cold pass by itself


Chose to wait for a more appropriate time to meet a need, e.g. wait until payday or discount period


Resort to borrowing, e.g. use a neighbor's chainsaw to cut branches, rather than buy one

Solve partially

Tackle part of the problem not all, e.g. buy a new pair of pants not a new suit


Get someone else to fund it, e.g. your employer pays for the book you need


Get someone else to make a purchase as a gift it, e.g. grandad buys your kids' play station


Turn to a charity for your need, e.g. church meal

Steal or cheat

Do it illegally, e.g. watch a new release movie free over the internet


Use a publicly available service, eg: read a book at the public library rather than buy


Use a free service, rather than pay, e.g. Log on to free wifi in local coffee shop


Solve the problem with a substitute, e.g. buy tent and go camping rather than stay at hotel


Make it yourself, e.g. change car oil at home


Pay for usage not purchase, e.g. lease a car rather than purchase


Buy and use with others, e.g. share a rental home rather than rent alone

Full Purchase

Just one of many options!

The range of need fulfillment options, a consumer has, impacts sales and marketing tremendously.

At Capita we like to refer to these options as the primary competition businesses face. All too often marketers focus exclusively on secondary competition, that between similar products from different companies, not realizing how much business is lost due to consumer resourcefulness.

As a final note, there is another level we call tertiary competition which relates to the competition within a company's product line, but that's for another time.

Primary competition is very powerful and can wipe out a product, category or industry in the blink of an eye. Just a few reminders:

  • the music industry's losing battle with free music on you tube

  • private health insurance struggle with public health services and

  • travel agent & hospitality industry competition from Airbnb users

This list of course is not final. If there are are other options we've missed, please drop us a line so we can update the article.

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