What is a customer?
In marketing we tend to use the word customer / customers and consumer almost interchangeably. However our customer and the consumer are not strictly speaking the same. A customer is a person or company who purchases goods and services. A customer becomes a consumer when he or she uses the goods or services i.e. where there is some consumption.
Customers can be categorised as B2C which stands for Business-to-Customer (B2C) for example where you buy sweets from a shop, Business-to-Business (B2B) where the shopkeeper uses the services of an accountant to write his tax return, C2B which is Customer-to-Business (C2B) for example where an individual sells his gold watch to a jewellery store and C2C or Customer-to-Customer (C2C) where customers sell goods to each other. A great example for C2C is eBay, where consumers sell goods to other consumers.
A Marketing Oriented Approach
A marketing orientation underpins our focus on the customer/consumer and their needs and wants. Our marketing orientation occurs as a result of all of the people from within our business from the managing director to the receptionist making the satisfaction of customer needs and wants their whole reason for being. Now let’s take a look at how we find information that will shed light on what our customers and consumers need and want. The benefits of a marketing orientation centre on the fact that customers can be grouped into segments and segments can deliver profits to the organisation. Customers also need information about products and services, and how to use them.
Therefore we can define a consumer as an individual who (buys and) uses a product or service. So the consumer could be the customer that goes into the shop to buy the sweets. However the final consumer may not always be the customer. For example, a parent goes into the sweet shop and buys some sweets. He or she does not eat them, and so they are not the consumer. The child would eat the sweets and be the consumer, although he or she did no buy the sweets and so they are not the initial customer.
The reason we need to know the difference between a consumer and the customer is that we will want to design communications and understand the consumer behaviour of the person that instigates and influences a buying decision as well as the final consumer. For example the child will influence the mother’s decision on which sweets to buy. However it can be much more subtle, for example a wife might influence the clothing choices of her husband, or a child might influence the family’s choice of a holiday destination.
Customer needs and wants.
Obviously the terms customer and consumer are often interchanged. So with a definition of marketing, we will aim to anticipate the needs and wants of consumers and/or customers. Needs and wants may differ. So let’s return to our mother and her child, since a mother may wish to feed her child nutritious food at mealtimes, the child may wish to eat sugary and less healthy food. The mother is the customer and she purchases based upon her need, whereas the child is the final consumer and he or she may focus on what they want. So needs and wants may differ between customers and consumers.