General Consumer Behaviour and Research in a Specific Country / Belgium


Herve Scoubeau (1985) ,"General Consumer Behaviour and Research in a Specific Country / Belgium", 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: 143-146.

Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives, 1985     Pages 143-146


Herve Scoubeau, University of Mons - Belgium


An analysis of the household consumption structure and evolution in Belgium would have a limited interest according to the small importance of this country in the world-wide economy. But Belgium can be considered as a representative of Western-Europe, so far as its way of life and purchasing habits are concerned. Moreover, Belgium is a country member of the E.E.C. and Brussels a capital that enjoys social and economic activities of first importance, as it houses, among others, the E.E.C. head office. This situation puts forwards the analysis of the Belgian household consumption structure and evolution, and bring then a significant interest. The last part is based on the "marketing approach of the consumption" theme including the limits of the statistical analysis of the consumer's behaviour, the panel concept and the typology concept. The whole is rounded off by some general conclusions and an outline of some prospects for the future.


It is impossible to describe briefly 10 millions of Belgian consumers, 270 millions of European consumers and nearly 330 millions, with Spain and Portugal. That is why we shall only analyse certain aspects of the study, but nevertheless, we shall try as much as possible to respond to the general topic of this meeting : "the consumer research".

1. The concept of purchasing power, its principal components and its evolution during the thirty last years.

The purchasing power is the potential we have to purchase a determinated number of goods and services by means of available incomes. According to this idea, we consider the standard of living as the use of the potential, in other words as the actual consumption.

This means that we place the purchasing power in the point of view "resources" and the standard of living in the point of view "expenses".

In order to analyse the evolution of the purchasing power, it is possible to confront the evolution of the prices with the evolution of the gross incomes. But this is not a sufficient purchasing power indicator. Indeed, it does not to take into account the non-professional incomes, and the social and fiscal politics.

That is why preferably found upon the available income which includes these different elements is the more representative.

From 1953 to 1977, the incomes index is lower than the prices index, but its rates of growth is much higher.

In 1976-1977, the situation changes: the incomes index becomes higher than the prices index. In the beginning of the eighties, the curve of the incomes is really the same as the curve of the prices. This indicates that the purchasing power is reducing. Indeed, since 1981, the government has been taking austerity measures. This is absolutely necessary for the Belgian economic raise, but requires a certain effort as far as the purchasing power in concerned. In the socio-professional categories, we see that, until 1975, the incomes's curve of the manual workers was higher than the intellectual workers's one. But since 69 the last one has been progressing, and we record a reversal of situation in 1976.The purchasing power of the intellectual workers is then higher than the manual worker's one.

In which measure does each of the great consumption items contribute to the general evolution of the prices and from that to the evolution of the purchasing power? The services always display the more important prices indexes. The progression is regular and moderated till 1967, and after an indulating period till 1972, it becomes rather important.

In 1979, the prices's indexes of the non-alimentary expenses become superior to the prices's indexes of alimentary produces but both remain inferior to the services's index.

Consequently, in term of prices, the services affect more the purchasing power of a family.

In a general manner, as a result of the increase of the incomes, the structure of the consumption expenses of the families has evaluated in a way that confirms the theory of Engel. Indeed, while the part of normal goods represented two thirds of the total expenses between 1953 and 1962, it represented only one quarter of the total expenses between 1973 and 1982, whereas the part of superior goods was growing.

With the informations given by the consumption statistics, we can appreciate the complexity and the diversity of the Belgian consumers.

The localization of the person and his belonging to a determinated social group are elements that determine his condition and his behaviour.

It is possible, in the best of cases, to draw the general bents, that are common to a majority of individuals. But often. it is not possible to draw up a typically localon socio-professional profile because of the disparity of the behaviours.

It is thus necessary to complete the quantitative information founds by qualitative informations given among others by panels and the typological analyses. This will be the second part of our conference.

2. Attempt of an approach marketing of the consumption.

The point of view of the firm is that in order to put a marketing strategy into shape, you first need to know carefully the conditions of the market and the behavioral-characteristics of the individuals that form the market.

The panel is one of the tools making possible to study the behaviour of the consumers and to follow their evolution.

The marketing-man can also refer to the typological approaches, which present different profiles of consumers

Commercial studies based on the panels of consumers - The concept of panel.

A panel of purchase or of consumption is a set of individuals who represent a particular population. These individuals agree to give informations of quantitive type (the sort of produces they buy or consume; the quantity or frequency of purchase or consumption) and / or of qualitative type (attitudes, purpose, and opinions). In marketing, the firms use the panel in order to estimate the structure and the evolution of the market of their produces and the marks in a competitive environment.

In 1978, the Belgian Committee of Distribution made a sample survey on a panel of 1.250 families The results are written down according to the types of housing, the regions, the provinces, the socio-professional categories and the age ranges.

The first part of the survey concern the general behaviours and opinions of the members of the panel. The second part is a support for an analysis by products.

These results allow us to analyse the purchase habits, the behaviours and the opinion of the consumers.

We shall present a general approach, based on the following elements;

- the localization of the purchases.

- the one who is responsible for the purchases.

- the attitudes of the consumers towards some products.

- the attitudes towards the informations diffused for the consumers and towards the advertising and promotion.

- the opinions of the consumers about socio-economical problems.

- the sharing out of the families's budget be tween the different categories of goods and services.

The results of this panel study strengthen the traditional conclusions : the supermarkets are generally appreciated for their reasonable prices their great assortment of goods and their easy car park, while the groceries are favoured by factors like the fact that it is nearer, the friendly greeting and a good quality.

It becomes also evident that 50% of the country families go to town only once a month and even more rarely. More than 807 of the consumers of the panel appreciate the pedestrian street, which allows them to conciliate walking and shopping (this incite them to consume). The street market regularly attracts 25% of the consumers, they buy there fresh food, plants, flowers and clothes On the other hand, correspondence shopping is occasional, and quite irregular; it is motivated by the adherence to a club and by attractive prices.

Most of the working people eat their lunch at work or in a restaurant.

Who goes shopping and how do they prepare shopping? Most of the time, women go for shopping alone, however their husband help them regularly and more and more frequently.

They go less frequently together to the shop (except to the supermarket), and they rarely send their children alone. Before going to the shop, they draw up a purchase list, but they commonly buy extra products; which they rarely regret.

It is also interesting to get informations about the attitude of the consumers towards some products. The products which have the mark of the distribution are well known by the majority of consumers; they are considered of equivalent quality but they are less expensive than the products of concurential marks. Moreover, a very great number of consumers in the panel are favourable to the introduction of natural food products in the shops and would even accept to buy them at a higher price. Natural food products constitute, then, a new potential market. As far as information and publicity is concerned, six families out of ten are conscious of the existence of tests of products which are carried out by consumers's organizations; 657 of them read more or less regularly and 357 take them into account when they go shopping.

Another aspect of the question concerns the mentions written on the label : nearly all the people who were asked the question find it very useful to know the deadline of validity of the product and the price per kilogram; they also think that the label has an essential information role. On the other hand, two thirds of the consumers think that advertizing has an information role and more than the half of them like to watch advertizing on television, but we must notice that most of the new products are discovered in the shops.

Finally, the study attempts to discover what people think about general socio-economical problems like robbery. 927 of the individuals consider robery as an heavy fault, but 3 individuals out of 5 think that it is a comprehensible act. Most of them are opinion that it is normal to control the client and that preventive education is necessary at school, at home and anywhere else. From that gallup poll by the panel, we see that is possible to go deeper into analysis of the consumer. Indeed, the panel seems to be an effective tool to know the purposes, the attitudes and the behaviours.

Another application of the concept of panel is the creation of models which analyse the structure and the evolution of a market. The societies of marketing put models into shape, these models are intended for the firms that want to know their custom, they adapt these models to the data of their enterprise. In a general manner, we can distinguish two categories of models, the first analyse the structure of a particular market, the second analyse the evolution of the behaviour of a particular custom. It is clear that both types of models are complementary. The models of the first type, which we shall call statics models describe the customers of a product or of a mark in terms of predetermined variables (ex: quantity value and purchase frequency).

The second type of models is especially used to measure the faithfulness of the customers or the transfer of their purchases. Later, the analyses of the marketing conditions (modification of the marketing variables all the marks) allows to verify if the recorded phenomena are momentary or lasting.

The question that can be asked about models is is it possible to put the consumer'sbehaviour into a mathematicalform? If the same data is introduced two times into a model, both solutions are identical. On the other hand, a consumer placed twice in the same situation may react quite differently; besides it happens very frequently. There are in the human behaviour impulses that do not respond to any scientific law and it will never be possible to put it exactly into a mathematical form. So, the model is not the exact reflection of the human behaviour. At the most, it is its caricature.

Nevertheless, the analysis by means to models gives very interesting informations, on condition that those informations are taken under some reserve. Nowadays, the big societies of marketing try to discern by zieans of typological analysis the changings in the world of the consumers.

Use of the typological technics for the analysis of the consumer's behaviour - concept of typology

Typology is the science of elaboration of types facilitating the analysis of a complex reality and the classification. The typological analysis uses a certain number of methods that regroup peoples for their similarities of behaviour. Peoples are generally evaluated according to several criteria and grouped in accordance with the similarity of their evaluations, in order to try . to maximize the resemblance within the group. The characteristics used to evaluate the individuals can be economical or socio-democraphic variables, general psychological criteria or psychological criteria that are particular to a specific situation (needs, attitudes, ways of living ... ).

To put the notion of typology into concrete form, we shall examine some recent studies applying to the Belgian market. The idea of building up a socio-cultural typology of the population in Belgium had already been exploited in 1982 by the society Ogilvy and Mather. Before reviewing the principal results of this study, it is useful to know its methodological foundations. To know their attitudes, opinions and behaviours, the individuals were asked to say their agreement or disagreement about 151 assertions written in a set of questions and relating to questions about the attitudes and opinions towards traditional values (work, family, church), education, sociology, and the idea that youth have about future. In extension of the part "attitudes", informations have been gathered about political behaviours: intention of votes; effective vote; opinion about the Belgian politics and personal position in the political range.

Jointly with this qualitative approach, the characteristics of consumption were analysed by means of a list of 70 representative produces defined by their principal marks.

On the whole, about 500 marks were selected. In the end, the individuals were subjected to a survey about the hearing of 50 media (radio, T.V., cinema, press). The weighted sample was formed by 2,000 Belgian residents, aged of 15 and more, divided in 3 age groups, 4 social classes and 3 types of housing. The gathered data permit to separate 21 ways of thought. All individuals adhere more or less intensively to one or several of these-currents. Then, peoples presenting a rather similar profile were regrouped, that lead to the establishment of 9 social types:

- the purposeful consumer 23% : the gathers in formations to better choose the produces, marks, and shops. For him, to consume well means to affirm his identity, to live cleverly.

- the modernist tolerant 16,8% : he is open minded, he tries to understand the others, he likes living and takes advantage of all its pleasure, but he respects his own rules.

- the social egoist 157 : his actions, his contacts with the others revolve around his personal interests, he is socially aside, he tries by all means to be different from the others.

- the defensive individualist 11,8% : he wants to resist to all kinds of manipulations. It is no use discussing his ideas. His social life is limited to the persons who adopt his positions. His most important care is his physical form.

- the new-rustic 9,3% : consumerist, he recommends return to nature, he has a critical mind and have a care for objectivity, but however, he is not an active reactionary.

- the decision-man 7,57 : impulsive and completely determined, he likes to spend money, but takes little interest in the others.

- the quiet hedonist 6,27 : he lives in harmony with himself and the surrounding society. He is not materialistic and concede much importance to leisure.

- a demotivate conservative 5,3% : he has the nostalgia of traditional values and authority. He is anxious about the future. He lives in his universe, sheltered from the outside world.

- the integrated resourceful person 5,1% thanks to his relations, he can always overcome the problems.

Near the typologies of national effect, there are a certain number of researches with an investigation field limited to particular groups of consumers like "youngs" and "women". In a consumption point of view, young people are fundamentally different of adults because of their economical dependence. They spend their money for secondary goods especially intended for leisure activities. They are distinguished by a purchase behaviour of playful type, which is not motivated by necessity or usefulness, but by their affectivity. For young people, consumption is first a means to express their personality and the evidence of their power of decision. In spite of these common points, young people do not form an homogeneous entity. The inquiry shows that the social origin and the sex have an important role in the way they consume. There are four principal types :

- the playful and conformist type : he researches for immediate pleasure and fallows the models of consumption presented by the media.

- the scholastic type : his present actions are determined by the objective " social and professional success"; young people belonging to this category are inclined to draw nearer to the adult's world. They are indifferent to commercial actions intended for the youth.

- the individualistic and autonomous type : the teenagers belonging to this group aim at their own realization; they are concerned about their independence: they try to satisfy themselves by their own means. Only money can make them happy.

- young people with no taste for consumption type: they are sociable; these young people want to use their habilities by doing creative and productive activities. They reject in fashion products and excessive consumption.

As far as consumption is concerned, the women has indisputably the greatest role in the responsibility of the purchase of the household. Indeed, she takes the decision for 82% of the food purchases, 617 for the drinks, and from 26 to 867 for the other products. That justify completely to perfect the women typology.

Groups can thus be constituted, representing an homogeneous profile, each group being significantly different of the others.

Nine women categories can be pointed out, defined according to the purchasing habits, the socio-economic profile and the psychologic character. This sharing out is done exactly according to the same principle as the two previous ones. Thus we shall not study it more over. Those described methods get all their importance when targets of the commercial strategy have to be defined and when new market have to be discovered. The typological studies can make the producer becoming conscious of the fact that a single concept-product is not always enough to satisfy the consumer needs.

From the informations given by those studies, it's possible to establish and to propose some variants of the product, adapted to the requirement of those different types of consumers. Likewise advertising message and diffusion of the information will be addressed to a supply which is not unique. Of course, and it was the same for the models, it's important to define the limits of typological studies. It's very difficult to establish a classification of the human behaviour. One person doesn't correspond exactly to one classification. Each human people is a combination of the most important characteristics of 3 or 4 different groups.

Nevertheless, this technique has the merit to exist, it is quite single, and in spite of the possible mistakes, it brings out some very satisfactory results.


Crisis is over. The dictionary defines crisis as : " the moment a illness characterized by a sudden and generally decisive change, in the wright way or in the wrong way; the important phase is in the evolution of things, events, and ideas".

Now the change is achieved. The mutation period is finished. The cards are redistributed. We are in a new situation. Maybe, under certain aspect, is this situation less favourable. We must try to adapt ourself, and not refuse this situation by qualifying as "crisis".

The context has changed. It's up to us to take profit of it, by adapting us to this new situation. The consumer also has changed. Let's try to know him, to understand him and to satisfy him as well as possible. We must, for that, use the means that the marketing research brings us. Panels and typologic studies allow us to know much better this new consumer, and, thus, can be considered as a good instrument of which it would be uncautious to do without.

It's not up to the consumer to adapt himself to the business world. It's up to the business world to adapt himself to the consumer.


Nielsen Marketing Research; La consommation et la crise. Cop. A.C. Nielsen Company (Belgium)SA

J.S.Cramer; Une analyse de budg ' et de famille par composantes principales. Overdrukken n' 5, Instituut voor actuariaat en econometrie.

Vincenzo Lomonaco; Analyse de la consommation des en Belgique. Universite de I'Etat a Mons, Faculte des Scineces Economiques et Sociales.

Ben A.Bakker; The unifying process of the european consumer. Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Eleanor Brantley Schwartz; Dimensions of American Consumer Behaviour. Cleveland State University. International Investment Trade Institute.



Herve Scoubeau, University of Mons - Belgium


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

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