Why Consumers Buy, and What Influences Purchasing Decisions

This is part one in our consumer goods strategy series.

Growing up with entrepreneurial parents, family time always felt like a market research study: “How does this tasteWould you wear thatAsk five of your friends what they think of X brand, then compare their responses.

When I was in middle school, my mother created a frozen food line with the promise of a healthy, home-cooked style meal. On the weekends we demo’d her food products together at Whole Foods to meet potential and current customers. Sometimes I would sneak away to the frozen aisle to see her products on display and to check out the competition. I thought a lot about how her brand could stand out among the others options on the freezer shelf––from photos, to ingredients, to branding. Then on the drive home, we discussed consumer feedback and ideas worth implementing. In addition to her food line, my mother also led R&D projects for organic CPG food brands, and co-created a healthy, fast-casual concept that piloted in a few airports.

Being a fly on the wall during my parents’ meetings with investors, brand consultants, magazines, food and apparel factories, and retail buyers inspired a lot of my work today. My mother’s creativity and entrepreneurial spirit was, and still is, contagious. She now owns two restaurants with my stepfather, who previously led business development and manufacturing for sustainable apparel brands. They’re both committed to using sustainable materials and ingredients whenever possible, from the decor in their restaurants to the food on the table. More than a decade before it was cool to eat quinoa and wear organic cotton, my parents and their friends were building businesses to make the world a little bit healthier, greener, and energy efficient.

In today’s economy, consumers have multiple choices for pretty much everything: coconut water, sneakers, airlines, and cell phones. This post looks at why people buy things, what triggers purchasing decisions, and how to create a brand people love that leads to long-term customer relationships.

Say hello if you’d like to share notes on emerging CPG brands, business models, and purchasing behavior. My email is

So, why do people buy things?

  • Celebrating––A milestone related to personal health, work, or finance.
  • Moving––To a new home, apartment, or city.
  • Gifting––For a friend, family member, colleague, or significant other.
  • Eating––Consumers eat 3x a day, 7 days a week. That’s about 80-90 chances a month for food brands to integrate into someone’s diet.
  • Major Life Event––Such as graduating college, marriage, or having kids.
  • Vanity & Confidence––Because the product will increase self esteem.
  • Behavioral Change––To start a hobby, improve health, or quit a habit.
  • To Replace Something––Because our current X is broken, outdated, or the customer experience is atrocious, so any alternative is appealing.
  • To Enhance One of Our Senses––Sight, Hearing, Smell, Taste, Touch
  • To Enjoy an Experience––Camping, traveling, cooking, etc.
  • To Fill a Void––On the wall above a couch, as a distraction from something else in life, or to make yourself feel better.
  • To Save Time––Such as a smart coffee maker for easier mornings.
  • Just Because—Sometimes we just want to treat ourselves.

What influences a purchasing decision?

Consumers are increasingly curious and conscious of your ingredients, labor practices, and competitors. Here are some key influences and questions we ask ourselves before making a purchase.


  • Cost — How much am I willing to spend on a fitness tracker?
  • Color — To match my personality, other gadgets, outfit, or home decor. Certain colors can have calming or alarming effects on consumers.
  • Quality — And durability. Is this device going to last more than a year? Is it expensive to repair? Will the company sell or send me spare parts?
  • Convenience — Is spending a little extra money going to save me time?
  • Time — Is it worth it to wait longer for something if it costs me less?
  • Savings — Is this device going to reduce my monthly _________ bill?
  • Usage — How often will I use this product? Is it multi-purpose?
  • Luxury — Is this the highest quality, most prestigious option?

Fashion & Hardware

  • Texture & Feel — Which option is the most comfortable to wear?
  • Free Shipping & Returns — A smart consumer knows this is baked into the price, but the convenience is worth it. Free S&R also reduces risk when buying an expensive or large item online, such as a new mattress.
  • A five star review — On your website, Amazon, or third-party seller.
  • A blog feature — Gadget and lifestyle blogs continue to influence purchasing decisions, and can help people discover your product. In addition to well-respected national and global media outlets, look for blogs that focus on your niche (such as health and wellness) with dense communities of readers who are more likely to buy things.
  • Product Safety — Does the product have sharp edges? Is the device going to overheat? Is it safe for a house with kids and pets?
  • Personal Safety––Does this product make my life or hobby safer?
  • Battery — Which option has the strongest battery, especially for traveling?
  • Cross Platform / Data / IoT — Which option syncs with my laptop? Which option plays well with my other gadgets, such as home speakers?
  • Trust & Security — Which company do I trust most with my data? Parents who put a live streaming camera in their kid’s nursery want to know the live feed is secure and only accessible to their family.

Food & Ethics

  • Labor Practices — Which company treats/pays their employees fairly?
  • Ingredients — If food, which product is the healthiest option? Am I allergic to any of the ingredients?
  • Taste — Which option appeals most to my taste buds?


  • Happiness — Is buying this going to make me happier?
  • Health — Will this fitness tracker or these new sneakers encourage me to going to the gym more often? Is this going to help me kick a bad habit?
  • The way it makes you feel — Depending on someone’s lifestyle, they may be looking for products that give them peace of mind, or a product that gets the party started.

Lifestyle & Cool Factor

  • Hobby — Does this product make one of my favorite activities more fun?
  • The brand your friends or favorite ‘influencers’ use — From shoes to phones, we tend to buy the products our friends have or recommend.
  • Does this make me look cool? — Kids buy the next big thing to fit in.

Retail & Visual Merchandising

  • Store Set Up — The placement of your products in-store will impact sales. Some food companies pay for top shelf or eye level placement at markets.
  • Selection — If you’re buying food or personal items at a bodega, you’re stuck with the small selection of brands they offer and the higher prices.
  • Packaging & Product Design — The color, look, and feel of your brand matters alongside other options at the supermarket, mall, or retail shop.
  • What’s in Stock? — Consumers might try your product because their favorite option isn’t available. You might even convert them!
  • What’s on Sale? — Some consumers will seek the lowest price items or those that are on sale, regardless of taste, ingredients, or quality.