Spanish Consumer Behavior: Comparison With Other Countries

ABSTRACT - The knowledge of consumer-buying behavior has become not just a national issue but a much wider field of research. The present situation focuses the interest in gathering data from consumers in different countries and regions in order to analyze their behavior within each geographic area as well as for comparative purposes. The main objective of this paper is to offer some data illustrating some of the major aspects of Spanish consumer behavior and how their buying decision process develops.


J. Alonso, I. Cruz, and J.M. Mugica (1985) ,"Spanish Consumer Behavior: Comparison With Other Countries", 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: 147-150.

Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives, 1985     Pages 147-150


J. Alonso, Universidad Autonoma De Madrid

I. Cruz, Universidad Autonoma De Madrid

J.M. Mugica, Universidad Autonoma De Madrid


The knowledge of consumer-buying behavior has become not just a national issue but a much wider field of research. The present situation focuses the interest in gathering data from consumers in different countries and regions in order to analyze their behavior within each geographic area as well as for comparative purposes. The main objective of this paper is to offer some data illustrating some of the major aspects of Spanish consumer behavior and how their buying decision process develops.

To obtain this objective, we will present a description of some aspects relative to the buying decision process from the theoretical model (Engel, Blackwell, and Kollat, 1978). This discription will be followed by data gathered in a comparative analysis research project performed in 1984.


The general description of the buying process of the individual Spanish consumer might be illustrated through an adaptation of the Engel, Blackwell and Kollat model, The model is modified in one of its major components as depicted in Figure 1.



The modification is justified since the information processing area is something internal to the individual. That is, the perception phenomena is clearly-determined by both the personality and the learning structure of the individual. In the individual's psychological area, these two new variables arise: perception and learning (Alonso, 1984). The first one determines, jointly with the past experience and the evaluative criteria, the learning process, and this process may result in a shift in past attitudes. Learning is, generally, an essential factor for human beings and, particularly, for the individual consumer. Considering this model, the perception of the environment, the information, and the level of satisfaction of the performance of our activities will allow a learning effect. This learning effect will impact on later behaviours in the market.

Based on this modified model, we will present a brief illustration of how the different variables affect Spanish consumers and how they make their buying decisions. We will treat internal an external structures separately.

Internal Structures

First, if we consider perception as a complex process through which the individuals select, organize, and interpret the sensorial stimuli transforming them into images endowed with a meaning, it can be said that the perception of Spanish consumers is very restricted. This restriction is due to their low educational level and to the poor information available in the marketplace. In addition, the fact that Spain can be defined as an anxious consumption society, results in a high retention level of the information offered by the environment. On the other hand, some mechanisms in the marketplace act in different ways; psychological prices work rather well while the risk perception plays a small role due to the non-reflective character of Spanish consumers concerning this issue at the present time. Finally, the perception of an attribute might be enough for a Spanish consumer to associate quality to a particular good even if the evaluation of the rest of the attributes is negative. This fact often results in a not very rational brand loyalty process.

Second, concerning the learning process of the Spanish consumer, it might be said that there are not enough objective reasons leading a particular consumer to behave in a certain way when facing any buying decision. It is based more on motive learning rather than on knowledge. Research on this issue (Alonso, 1981), shows that for most mass consumption goods, the Spanish market might be reduced to three categories. The first one and most important is made up of consumers with a strong brand loyalty; a second category can be adequately explained by a Markov model of loyalty to the last brand purchas--d; and, a third and smaller category made up of consumers showing a strict random behavior.

Lastly, it is important to point out the evaluative criteria issue. As a consequence of the abovementioned features, the Spanish consumer is not very evaluative even for high price goods. The catalogue of criteria or attributes which allow to choose among the different brands marketing the same category of product can be reduced to no more than three only-one for durable goods. This idea parallels the fact that Spanish consumers tightly restrict their search for information in their buying decision processes interpersonal communication being the major source of information for a great number of goods.

External Variables

Demographic variables have shown some shifts in the last decades. First, a great change in the age structure is taking place giving way to two segments quantitatively important: youngs between 19 and 28 years old and elderlies above 65. These groups are a result of the population increase based on economic development, and of an increase in the life-expectancy rate. Other variables include a decrease in the birth and marriage rates, a generalized increase in the educational level, and the persistence of locational changes in the population (urban concentration and interregional migrations).

From the economic point of view, some data are needed to be pointed out: a decrease in the real income per capita, a fall in consumption, rates of inflation above the OECD average, a negative shift in the saving and credit patterns, a major increase in unemployment, and, finally, a structure of household expenses more in the line with the national income level.

Together with these characteristics, some external variables play an important role for Spanish consumers. Two of the most important socializing institutions in Spain -families and the educational system- have been greatly modified mainly due to the diminishing presence of the Catholic Church. On the other hand the fact that in 1976 Spain started a transition from a dictatorial regime toward another one in which the pretended dominating postulates are those characterizing a modern democracy, has produced the appearance of new cultural trends. Some of these trends are: the back-to-nature movement, an increasing awareness about sports, more tolerance about stimulants (alcohol, mild drugs), a more individualized concept of religion, a greater appreciation of leisure time, new social and cultural expressions, more liberal attitudes toward sex, and new forms of materialism.

A driving force in consumption is the adscription to a particular social class. In this sense, in Spain, the conscience of class is a clear determinant of social stratification. This adscription of individuals to a particular social class acts with other stronger determinants such as income level and economic power.

The existing data suggest a certain transformation in the Spanish social distribution. The intermediate status has become even more majoritarian with the integration of a significant number of individuals and households rising from the lower levels. This new distribution has clearly affected aspects such as the Spanish consumer attitudes relative to their criteria on the evaluation and consumption for both the products they buy and the outlets selected.

As it was pointed out previously, the family plays one of the strongest determinant roles over individuals in Spain. The Spanish family is increasingly more characterized by the following features: a more democratic interrelationship of its members, the previous subordination of women is weakening giving way to a greater participation of each member of the couple in tasks traditionally assigned to the other, and, finally, the most pervasive feature depicting the family in the years is the increase in the independence of its members.

Of course, the ideas which have been presented so far are just a general overview pretending to offer the global behaviour of the Spanish consumer. This generality may pose some important critiques. However, a much more detailed perspective is offered through the results obtained in a survey which is presented in the following section.



The data offered in this paper was gathered through a survey conducted in Madrid in February 1984. The research was centered in gathering information about the opinions that consumers held relative to their consumption activities.

The survey relied on personal interviews outside a sample of retail outlets selected on a random stratified basis. The stratification was double fold depending on outlet characterising and on the different districts considered. The questionnaire was based on the ones used for previous surveys conducted in the E.E.C. (Commission des Communites Europeennes, 1976) and in the Basque Country, a region in North Spain (Eroslki, 1982). Some modifications were made in order to adapt it to a personal interview. The final number of questionnaires selected after the editing process was 950. This sample size implies an allowable error slightly above 3% in proportions for a 95% confidence level .

However, any comparison to be made with the other two studies abovementioned must be taken cautiously. On one hand, the research performed in the Basque Country used in-home interviews. On other hand, since the E.E.C. survey was conducted in 1976, it is expected that some changes have been taking place during the time gap 1976-1984 that might affect the conclusions.


The results offered were grouped in five major categories so as to allow us to define a characterization and behavior of consumers in Madrid.

Consumers and Inflation.- Most of consumers (88.8% consider that inflation has diminished their real income. This feeling, that was equally shared by men and women, normally results in both qualitative and quantitative changes in consumption. The actions that consumers considered to face a drop in their real income were: reduction on leisure expenses (67.1%) , by promoted brands (64.9%), reduction on clothing expenses (64.0) reduction on food expenses (62.2%), reduction on vacation expenses (58.6), change of retail outlet (57.6%), give up with saving (44.8%) and search for a second job (40.3%). Other actions, like joining a consumer's association was only mentioned by the 24.8% of the respondents. This fact shows how little influence this type of consumer protection has on Spanish perceptions and behavior.

The results revealed some significant differences between men and women relative to their actions against inflation. In general, women showed to be more determined than men concerning those decisions generally taken by housewives: buy promoted products (67%) women, 58% men), reduction on clothing expenses (67% women, 54% men), to reduce food expenses (66% women, 61% men), and reduction on leisure expenses (69% women, 61% men).

Concerning age, the young were more reluctant toreduce their expenses in clothing, vacations, food, and leisure. On contrary, they were more determined to search for a second job.

When compared with the two other surveys, some differences arise. Basque consumers were more inclined to reduce clothing expenses (71%), to buy promoted products (67%), to reduce leisure expenses (64%), and to search for other retail outlets (62%). On the other hand, the less popular decisions were to give- up with saving (52%), and to find a second job (36%). Relative to the E.E.C. survey, European consumers were more inclined to search for cheaper retailers (86%), to buy promoted products (75%), to reduce expenses in clothing (64%), and to reduce leisure expenses (63%).

The major differences arising from this comparison are those relative to customer patronizing: loyalty to the retailer is much higher in Spain than in Europe.

Consumer Satisf action.- Consumers were asked if they felt being cheated in their shopping for the last months previous to the survey. The positive answers varied ranging form a 29.2% for consumers in Madrid (30.8% for Basque consumers), up to 41% for E.E.C. consumers on average. These differences probably indicate the less demanding character of Spanish consumers rather than a higher level of services and quality offered by Spanish retailers. When considering sex as a discriminant variable, no significant changes were found in satisfaction for Spanish consumers.

Consumer satisfaction in Madrid and in the Basque Country varied according to the type of shopping and the type of retailer. In Madrid, most of the consumers were deceived in their grocery shopping (60.9%), a lesser percentage in clothing (15.3%), and a small number in home electric equipment buying (6.9%). When considering the type of store, small and traditional outlets had much more unsatisfactory results than large stores (46.7% vs. 16.4%).

However, this feeling of being deceived not always results in a claiming action; 49.4% of Basque consumers disregarded any verbal or formal complaint when being cheated. This percentage drops to a 37.6% in Madrid, and to 33% in the E.E.C.. But it needs to be pointed out that although, on the average, E.E.C. consumers are more demanding of their rights, the percentage of consumers not complaining varied widely among the different countries (24% in France, 70% in Netherlands).

Several kinds of complaints were considered by consumers in Madrid when they felt cheated. However, most of them chose a direct verbal complaint to the retailer (84.9%). Others reported to a consumer protection association (2.3%) or sought direct legal action (3.5%), and, finally, a small percentage (1.2%) mailed claiming letters to be published in newspapers and magazines. This prevalence of oral complaint, characterizes the claiming behaviour of consumers also in the Basque region and in the E.E.C. countries.

Consumer and Advertising.- The attitude of consumers in Madrid towards advertising is highly negative. Only 33.3% of consumers find advertising useful, while 65.9% consider it of very little help. This attitude is not so negative in the E.E.C. where 50% of consumers found advertising even more than in Madrid since only 18.7% answered positively.

This rejection can be better illustrated if considering that 72.7% of consumers in Madrid thought that advertising forces people to buy non-needed products and that 84.9% considered advertising deceptive. These percentages were very similar to the ones in the Basque Country. Likewise, E.E.C. consumers don=t regard advertising much better since 77% think that it makes them buy unneeded products, and 76% consider it deceptive.

This negative attitude towards advertising among consumers in Madrid makes them consider (18.8%) that the highly advertised brands are of less quality than the others while only a 10.5% think the opposite. They also estimate that advertising efforts result in higher prices since a 71.1% think that advertised brands sell at higher prices. This last percentage is 62% both for the Basque Country and the E.E.C.

Consumer Protection.- Most of the consumers in Madrid (71.8%) have heard about consumer protection associations, but most them (50.4%) couldn't mention any particular one. In the Basque Country, these percentages dropped to 55,8% and 25% respectively. For the E.E.C. countries, in 1976, 44% had heard about these associations and only 23% could mention any particular one. This data may reveal the increasing popularity of consumer protection associations since the differences found in the comparison are probably due to the time lag (1976 E.E.C., 1982 Basque Country, and 1984, Madrid).

However, a greater interest was shown by Basque consumers when asked if they would pay a quota for becoming members of these associations (22% in Basque Country, 19.8% in Madrid, and 15% in the E.E.C.).

Among the different possible activities in the consumer protection area, consumers in Madrid considered to be the most important: (1) Demand product labels to offer greater information, (2) Control product quality, (3) Control prices, and (4) Report frauds.

Consumer Behaviour. First, we will present some of the actions that shape the behaviours of consumers in Madrid in their buying process. When doing their grocery shopping, consumers checked:


These results look much the same as the ones obtained in the Basque and E.E.C. surveys.

Finally, a factor analysis was carried out to define the typology of the Madrilian consumer. The results grouped consumers in three major categories: (1) Economics consumer, he/she is much aware about prices, promotions, and bills. This is the major group of consumers and is made up by median age men and women, married, and with de pendent children. (2) innovators, their features are that they buy new brands, are patronized by non-traditional stores, and that often they buy products they didn't think of. This group is, quantitatively, the second most important one and is made up basically by young, and singles. (3) Hedonists, shopping troubles them,-and they rather spend their income for better living than saving it.


This paper has presented a general model of behavior for consumers in Madrid, and the major variables playing a determinant role. Also, some data and information have been offered relative to their behavior and attitudes. This data might be of interest for all those researchers and professionals working on the Consumer Behaviour area. However, it needs to be pointed out that the comparisons made with surveys conducted in other regions and countries must be taken cautiously.


ALONSO, J. (1981): "Modelos Estocasticos de Eleccion de Marca: un Contraste de Utilidad para la Representacion del Comportamiento del Consumidor", ESIC-MARKET, 35 (May-August), 169-176.

ALONSO, J. (1984): "El Comportamiento del Consumidor: una aproximacion teorica con estudios empiricos". Instituto Nacional del Consumo, Madrid.

COMMISION DES COMMUNATES EUROPEENES (1976): "Le Consommateur Europeen".

ENGEL, J.F.; R.D. BLACKWELL, and D.T. KOLLAT (1978): "Consumer Behavior". 3rd. edition, The Dryden Press.

EROSKI (1982): "El consumidor Vasco, que piensa y como actua", Eroski, 3 (October).



J. Alonso, Universidad Autonoma De Madrid
I. Cruz, Universidad Autonoma De Madrid
J.M. Mugica, Universidad Autonoma De Madrid


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

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