Classification of Consumer Goods

The category of consumer goods is too broad for a marketing manager to use as a basis for a marketing mix. A more useful (though arbitrary) product classification system is based on the way OBSs buy products. One such classification system based on consumer behavior has three major categories: (1) convenience goods, (2) shopping goods, and (3) specialty goods. A fourth category is unsought goods.

Convenience goods. These are goods from which the probable gain from making price and quality comparisons is thought to be small relative to the value of the customer`s time and effort. Grocery items such as potatoes, milk, bread, or peaches are examples; others are cigarettes, toothpaste, and gasoline. These types of items are usually not worth shopping for on the basis of price or quality and the consumer is willing to substitute one brand for another rather than go to a second store. Convenience goods are often broken down into three subcategories of (1) impulse items, or those bought on sight, (2) staples or goods offered in many convenient locations, and (3) emergency goods such as umbrellas.

Shopping goods. Shopping goods are those products that are important enough to consumers to make it worthwhile to make comparisons on the basis of quality, price, style, and suitability. A consumer will weigh the quality versus the price, consider the stylishness of the item and, given that particular individual`s behavioral system, evaluate the overall suitability as it relates ego-maintenance needs. Items in the shopping-good group would include furniture, fashion dresses, jewelry, and real estate.

This type of product is usually higher in price than convenience goods, and the consumer may lack the knowledge of pertinent features before looking.

Specialty goods. Specialty goods have real, or believed, characteristics or brand identification. Consumers will make special efforts to obtain a given item and be unwilling to accept substitutes. Manufacturers would like, through promotion and the use of economic and emotional buying appeals, to convince the public to make their product a specialty good. Product differentiation and market segmentation aim at creating specialty status. Examples of specialty goods would be a product with a designer label, certain gourmet foods, or a foreign sports car.

Unsought goods. Unsought goods are those that consumers do not yet want, or do not realize they want. Consequently, consumers are not actively seeking such goods. This includes totally new products of which the potential customer is not aware and also existing products and services, such as encyclopedias, cemetery lots, and life insurance. Selling unsought goods requires special emphasis on promotion.

Overlapping classifications. The same product might be viewed as different goods by different target markets at the same time. What is a specialty good for some consumers (an automobile), might be a shopping good for others. Furthermore, a product`s stay in a specialty goods category may be very short due to a proliferation of new products in the marketplace.

Also, a further word of caution is in order. The classification of goods into the convenience, shopping, and specialty categories should not be taken too literally. They are arbitrary designations and some critics say that what they classify is not products but buying patterns. Critics further point out that no such rigid borderlines between products exist. However, the classification is workable and convenient and is justifiable on the basis of its helpfulness in providing a framework for analysis.

Convenience, shopping, and specialty goods have both similar and different characteristics and marketing considerations.

Moving from the way organized behavioral systems buy products, as convenience, shopping, or specialty goods, we perceive that products also have certain characteristics related to consumer psychology that influence buying behavior. Products can be categorized according to psychological factors in a number of ways.

Prestige products. These types of products are symbols of wealth and are associated with the upper class. A Rolls Royce, art objects, mansions, and some foods and magazines are typical examples. Commercials often use a prestige-good background to imply prestigious attributes to a common product`s users.

Status products. A cut below prestige goods are status goods. These are goods that attempt to imply belonging or association with a particular socioeconomic class. Particular status brands may suggest success, strength, intelligence, social standing, or some desired leadership or identification.

Maturity products. Reaching legal drinking age, being allowed a choice of tea or coffee over milk, a young girl`s first brassiere, a cane and rocking chair - all reflect the notion of how consumers buy products from a maturity viewpoint. Initial and/or continued use of certain products labels them maturity products.

Hedonic products. Sensuality is the key to hedonic product classification. Appeals to taste, smell, touch (texture of goods, smoothness, etc.), or style features such as design or color cause a sensual reaction in consumer`s behavior. Often consumer responses are evoked, or immediate, and result in an impulse purchase.

Anxiety products. Many of our most heavily advertised products fall into this group. Mouthwashes, deodorants, and soaps are prime examples. Where prestige, status, and maturity products enhance ego, anxiety products provide ego-defense. When not only a best friend, but just anyone might tell you about your bad breath, then it is time to defend the ego at all costs.

In referring back to Warner`s social classes, we can visualize how the same product could play many roles, depending on which social level was viewing the product. A watch might be a prestige symbol for a lower-lower individual while it would progressively lose social identification value for each subsequent level in the upward ranking of social classes.

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