General Consumer Behaviour and Research in Spain: Past, Present and Future

ABSTRACT - The present situation of Consumer Research in Spain is characterized by a general backwardness. This paper tries to illustrate, from a. historical perspective, the factors underlying this backwardness. Also, it provides a view of the different developments and a forecast on the directions that Consumer Research will take in the future.


Javier Alonso Rivas, Ignacio Cruz Roche, and Jose Miguel Mugica (1985) ,"General Consumer Behaviour and Research in Spain: Past, Present and Future", in SV - Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives, eds. Jagdish N. Sheth and Chin Tiong Tan, Singapore : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 42-45.

Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives, 1985     Pages 42-45


Javier Alonso Rivas, Universidad Autonoma De Madrid

Ignacio Cruz Roche, Universidad Autonoma De Madrid

Jose Miguel Mugica, Universidad Autonoma De Madrid


The present situation of Consumer Research in Spain is characterized by a general backwardness. This paper tries to illustrate, from a. historical perspective, the factors underlying this backwardness. Also, it provides a view of the different developments and a forecast on the directions that Consumer Research will take in the future.


The last twenty five years have shown an effective development of intensive efforts and research oriented toward a better understanding of human behaviour concerning its consumption activity. The knowledge and understanding of consumer behaviour has become a basic task both at the entrepreneurial and institutional levels. Firms have realized that since consumers have adopted a-more aggressive and demanding role, they have to modify their attitudes. At an institutional level, every Government has necessarily to be aware about the quality standards of living and welfare of the people, being consumption a major issue of this awareness.

The emergence of the studies on Consumer Behaviour as an autonomous discipline is a phenomenon that, as we all know, takes place in the 60's. It can be asserted that ever since, a significant advance has been-made -out:, -from an obscure and sporadic research toward a comprehensive effort in the study of all those aspects relevant to the knowledge of consumer behaviour. Whether from a scholar or business approach, theoretical or empirical, published or not, this cumulative effort has been a subject of different reviews. The evolution of research on the Consumer Behaviour field his been well systemized by Sheth (1974).

At the present time, there is a wide and varied literature on Consumer Behaviour and, in addition, it has become a subject widely included in University teaching programs. However, it can be said that these developments have not resulted so far in a systemized body of knowledge but rather in a very dispersed one.

In Spain, the present situation is significantly different from the one existing in other countries like the Unites States. A first differential feature is the general backwardness which might be checked when revising both the quality and quantity of the published works. Secondly, the developments that have been taking place up to date are basically empirical with very little theoretical content. A third feature is that, although observing a real interdisciplinary nature, Bahavioural Sciences like Psychology and Sociology have contributed very little to the body of literature being Business and Economic Theory the major sources of published research. Finally, it might be pointed out the poor presence of Consumer Behaviour as a recognized subject at University.

The first basic and general objective of this paper is the analysis of the Spanish situation concerning this research area. It will be examined the origin and evolution of research through the 'review of its major developments in the last two decades. On other side, it will be offered information relative to the influences perceived and detected in these developments together with its interdisciplinary content. These data will allow us to offer an approximative picture of the present Spanish situation. Hereafter, the second basic objective to be attained will be to depict the main directions of research that will be undertaken in the coming years and the expected changes in the different approaches to be used by Spanish researchers in the Consumer Behaviour area.

In summary, what is intended is to offer a historic, present, and future view of the Consumer Behaviour studies in Spain.

Additionally, it is also an aim of this paper to analyze the presence and role played by Governmental institutions (i.e. the recently approved General Law on Consumers and Users Protection), and private consumer protection associations.


In Spain, the development of our discipline is in an initial stage mainly characterized by an empirical and formative content. Except for some first line works, it can be said that the general state of the discipline in Spain is far behind from the latest developments which are taking place in other countries.

From our point of view, there are several factors underlying this backwardness.

The Late Emergence of the Consumption Society

The first signs of a consumption society in Spain arised in 1959, after two decades of post-war autarchy and stagnation. However, during the following years, the economic growth didn't lead to a situation which could allow a true generalized enjoyment of all kind of goods. by that time, the average Spanish citizen earned an income seven times below the one enjoyed by an American, five times less than an English, and four Limes less than a German. In addition, deep inequalities in the income distribution kept a significant part of the Spanish people under the poverty line and away from the benefits of the economic growth. In fact, these first steps toward a pervasive consumption, were more a reflect of both a political interest and the naivety of Spanish consumers than a true and solid basis for the development of a consumption society.

Later on, in the early 70's the idea of a rebel consumer emerges although it was restricted to a very reduced group of people. By the end of this decade it grows the idea of a greater equalization among consumers. But this intention was addressed more toward a quality of life level than to a more just income distribution, still very unequal. But at the same time, the effects of the international economic crisis stopped the economic growth.

At the present time, from an economic point of view, the Spanish society might be considered as a handicapped consumption society in which the households are facing continuous drops in their available income contrasting with an increasing trend towards consumption.

Slow Spread of Marketing Management

So far, it can't be said that the Spanish firms have shifted their interest from a production management perspective to a more marketing orientated one. The Spanish executives, in general, still prefer to solve the marketing problems once they face them rather than acting ahead of time. Only lately, the marketing ideas and techniques have been introduced in our country, through the settlement of multinational corporations which are leading other Spanish firms to the adoption of a more rationalization in their marketing management.

Some studies show that the percentage of firms understanding and maintaining any information system and conducting their own marketing research is very reduced. Very rarely, techniques for data gathering and analysis are used by the firms them selves and it is more usual to hire these type of services from specialized firms.

A Highly Dispersed Consumers Movement

In our country, the consumerist movement arises with an important delay compared to other countries: the first consumer associations emerge in the 70's. From a legal point of view, the 1963 Antitrust Law might be considered the first step in consumer protection and further legal developments like the 1964 Associationship Law allowed, for the first time, the creation of consumerist associations. Some of these groups were promoted by the political regime (like the peculiar Housewives Associations which in 1968 joined together into a National Federation). By the same time, in 1969, the National Federation of Consumers was created. However, these first Associations showed to be of very little help to consumers since their goals rarely went beyond theoretical issues. During the last years, it might be observed a great increase in the number of consumerist associations. but this large increase (their number is above one hundred), has determined that no one of them has bargaining or countervailing power enough to influence the public life. in general terms, some features concerning this associationship movement might be highlighted:

- Multiplicity of associations with similar goals in overlapped territories, acting with no coordination and little efficiency,

- Small size associations resulting in a very reduced representativity

- Lack of economic resources due to the low level of membership

- High level of dependence on public funds which are discriminatorily assigned

-Very little cooperation among the different associations due to the personalist character of their leaders.

Lack of Interest of the Public Administration

The consumer rights have been traditionally disregarded by the previous Governments and, from a legal point of view, the consumer protection has been very scarce. Although, formally, there is a legislation covering issues such as antitrust policies, advertising control, market orderlies, and regulations on some business practices, their enforcement and efficiency have been very poor. There has been a real lack of interest and progressiveness in the attitude of the Public Administration.

But if from a legal perspective the situation is critical, from the point of view of the consumers information and education, the situation is even worse. It is a fact that consumer education issues have not been included in any of the different levels of the Spanish educational system. Concerning information, there have been very little efforts to bring data to consumers through the mass media. Just a scant number of initiatives might be pointed out: the creation, in 1971, of the Domestic Trade and Consumers Council and, in 1975, of the Consumer National Institute.

Lack of Interest of the University

Traditionally, the Spanish University has been reluctant to integrate foreign developments in the different areas of knowledge. It has been a very little dynamic institution, and with very limited economic resources. The teaching programs carried out in the different universities are, often, more a reflect of personal interests than a resemblance of the evolution of the disciplines, and of the true needs of society and the productive sector. Within our knowledge area, Consumer Behavior, the backwardness has been relevant. The Business and Economics Schools have disregarded the discipline not allowing the possibility of integrating it within the University. Only the Universidad Auto noma de Madrid, has stimulated the development of marketing and has included the Consumer Behavior discipline as a subject in advanced courses. As a consequence, there is only a small group of researchers and professors working in this area and facing substantial restrictions in their creative capabilities.


As it was pointed out previously, we can assess that Spain is in an empirical-formative stage regarding Consumer Behavior. The present efforts might be grouped in two directions. First, those studies performed or hired by firms wishing to check the results of their decision making process in the market. Most of these studies pay very little attention to the individual as a consumption unit, applying a motivational approach.

Second, some researchers are trying to build up the Consumer Behavior discipline as a specific area of study, independent, and interdisciplinary. We adopt a micro approach, primarily based on the study of the individual action and its interrelation with the social environment. Although so far, the aims of these efforts are basically oriented to reduce the distance with the theoretical development of the discipline in other countries, we are beginning to offer some partial contributions to the theoretical body which could be of some interest to the international research collectivity (Alonso 1984).

The present situation can be illustrated by presenting the last developments in three different fields: Public Administration, University, and individual researchers.

The Public Administration Field

The present Spanish Administration is undertaking some positive actions departing from the previous neglectness of other Governments. These shifts can be grouped in five aspects:

1. Attitude shift.- Public institutions have partially modified their approach when facing the problems of consumers and consumption. There is an increasing awareness about the inequalities existing in the marketplace and they are trying to provide a greater protection to the weakest element, the consumer. It is aimed to reach a higher level of transparency in the market and a higher quality for products and services offered.

2. Reinforcement of the National Institute of Consumption (NIC).-

This Institute, dependent on the Health and Consumption Department, is settling down as a basic element in the attitude shift of the Administration. During the last three years the Institute has been reinforced by widening its domain, and strengthening its informative, orientative, and formative activities.

3. Increase in information.- Although this point presents a varied number of directions, it is necessary to highlight two important facts. On one side, an increase in the share of the budget assigned to perform research on consumption issues. However, so far, most of this re search deals with empirical studies providing information about market features so to implement adequate measures. on other side, the NIC is editing and publishing, for the fist time in Spain, a journal specialized on consumption ("Estudios de Consumo").

4. Educational efforts.- First, the NIC is sponsoring seminars and courses in consumption issues. And second, it is pretending to include in secondary schools some subjects dealing with consumption issues.

5. Legal developments.- There are two important facts to be highlighted. First, the Spanish Constitution (October, 1978) clearly states that the public institutions will guarantee the consumers defense, and that consumer associations will be promoted as well as the information and education provided to consumers (Art. 51). Second, in July 1984, it was published the General Law on Consumers and Users Protection which has been the first law approved covering and developing the above mentioned article of the Constitution. The future development of this law will disclose if there is a real shift of the Government's -attitude on consumption.

The University Field

The Spanish University is starting to undertake a process directed to increase the presence of Marketing in the Business Schools, and our discipline is at the present moment covered in three of them.

This fact is resulting in an increase in the number of professors and researchers working in both theoretical and. empirical studies. The main research directions developed in :his field are:

- Consumer's welfare and opinion indicators (Al vira, and Garcia, 1984)

- Knowledge about the consumer activities in the market-place (Castro, 1984)(Cruz, Alonso, Mugi ca, Marten, 1984)

- Consumption structure (Gimeno, 1984)

- Brand choice (Alonso, 1981 a)(Alonso, 1981 b)

- Evaluative criteria (Plonso, 1981 c)

- Expenditure structure (Rebollo, 1984)

- Environmental influence (Alonso, and Castro, 1984)

At the same time, some cross-cultural works and theoretical developments are taking place. However, the basic factors of the situation at the University are a limited, backwarded, and isolated research performed with very scarce resources.

General research

The most recent studies show that in the business sector only a few firms perform research about the behaviour of consumers in their potential markets. Not even a basic goal like innovation drives firms to the performance of this research. Only a limited number of firms specialized in consulting and a certain number cf semi-official organisms offer. once in a while, results of these isolated efforts. In general, the studies show a great lack of a systemized methodology, they are basically empirical focusing on very specific issues.


What might be forecasted in Spain, relative to our work area, is not very optimistic. Unfortunately, the low research level, both in quality and in quantity, of Marketing Management will persist. The potential advances to be forecasted will be developed by a limited number of research. In the coming years, the Consumer Behavior field will continue in an empirical stage with some needed formative content. Only a few theoretical developments are expected to take place. However, in spite of this stagnation, some trends may be advanced about the future evolution of research:

1. A contrast of some partial or general theories developed by other authors and a parallel development of criteria for the evaluation of these theories

2. A widening of the empirical research covering aspects as the social and groups influence; leadership processes, and environmental interaction

3. A specific treatment of the attitude as a dynamic and useful variable for shopping decisions' forecasting

4. To quantify the existing relationships in the consumer behavior models

5. An increase in cross-cultural analysis

6. A deeper analysis of the public aspects of consumption

7. Studies on the information processes used by consumers.

Finally it is important to point out a basic aspect for the near future: the imperative effort that researchers will have to undertake in order to approximate to other foreign researchers so to narrow the existing gap and initiate the collaboration for joint research.


This brief exposition has tried to show the present state of Spanish research on the Consumer Behaviour field based on its previous historical evolution. Also, some possible future trends are highlighted. The present situation is characterized by a scarce number of works, basically empirical, resulting from the small number of researchers devoted to our discipline. Besides, still it can be observed a little awareness of public institutions and Universities concerning this area. Very likely, future advances of the Spanish research on consumer behavior will take place only if the limited number of researchers working presently on this area are able to show ability, originality, and perseverance.


1. ALONSO, J. (1981 a):"Modelos Estocasticos de Eleccion de Marca: una Revision". Cuadernos Universitarios de Planificacion Empresarial, Vol. 7, 1, 143-152.

2. ALONSO, J. (1981 b):"Modelos Estocisticos de Eleccion de Marca: un Contraste de Utilidad p a ra la representacion del Comportamiento del Consumidor". ESLC-MARKET, 35 (May-August), 169-176

3. ALONSO, J. (1981 c):"Un anglisis de Atributos en el Mercado de la Cerveza". ALTA DIRECCION, 99, (November-December), 103-112.

4. ALONSO, J. (1984): "El Comportamiento del Con sumidor: Una aproximacion teorica con estudios empiricos", Instituto Nacional del Consumo.

5. ALONSO, J. AND CASTRO, F. (1984): "Cambio Culturay Marketing en Espana". ALTA DIRECCION, 116 (July-August), 47-68.

6. ALVIRA, F. AND GARCIA, J. (1984): "Indicadores del Bienestar y Sentimiento del Consumidor Espanol". Estudios sobre Consumo, I (April), -29-38

7. CASTRO, M. (1984): "Encuesta sobre los Consumidores Vascos". Estudios sobre Consumo, I -April, 197-210.

8. CRUZ, I. ; ALONSO, J. ; MUGICA, J.M. and MARTEN, 1. (1984): "Un analysis comparativo del Compor tamiento del Consumidor: resultados en diferen tes areas geograficas", Estudios sobre Consumo, 2 (September), 27-34.

9. GIMENO, J.D. (1984): "Los presupuestos Familia res", Estudios sobre Consumo, 1, (April), 39-54.

10.REBOLLO, A (1984): "Anglisis de las Fuentes de Informaci6n EstadTstica sobre el Consumo en Espafia", Estudios sobre Consumo, I (April), 115-134.

11.SHETH, J.N. (1974): "Models of Buyer Behavior: Conceptual, Quantitative and Empirical". Harper and Row Publishers, (391-406).



Javier Alonso Rivas, Universidad Autonoma De Madrid
Ignacio Cruz Roche, Universidad Autonoma De Madrid
Jose Miguel Mugica, Universidad Autonoma De Madrid


SV - Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives | 1985

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