Consumer behaviour in the digital age – a BFH-W study with 100 Citizen Scientists

Even for an online purchase, consumers need the personal exchange with family and friends to decide on a product. Researchers at the BFH Wirtschaft have found thatamong other things in a study funded by the SNSF found out. They analysed more than 100 digital diaries. A conversation with BFH-W researcher Lilian Laub. In the study, you focused on the changing purchasing behaviour of consumers in the age of digitalisation. How did you investigate this? Lilian Laub: We studied the behaviour of a total of around 100 test persons. They kept a digital diary for a month. We asked the test persons to buy two products within four weeks and they had to record this buying process in a digital diary. For one product, they were allowed to get information everywhere and for the other only offline. The products included coffee machines, bicycles, tents, air conditioners, scooters and cross trainers, two of which we assigned to each person. The test persons also reflected on their purchasing decisions at the end. In total, we analysed 7,500 individual codes in these more than 100 diaries and looked for exciting anomalies in the data. We also collected quantitative data with the help of a questionnaire to get a deeper insight into the personalities of the test persons. What did you find out? For example, the test persons perceive the research effort before a purchase as greater in a non-digital context, although this is not necessarily the case. The perceived more efficient information gathering with digital methods seems to lead to a higher satisfaction with the decision-making process. Although the decision-making process changes as a result of digitalisation, the basic personal approach remains the same. This means that those who like to gather intensive information before making a purchase decision do so with and without digital tools, and those who are fundamentally more inclined to gather less information do not completely change their behaviour when more information sources are available. We have discovered other exciting aspects that we are now analysing thoroughly. Which ones, for example? We have looked at whether there are differences in the online and offline setting and what they are. We are not only interested in differences in the process but also in the feelings of the test persons. For example, it seems that non-digital purchase decisions are perceived as more emotional. In relation to the purchase process, we investigated how the test persons dealt with excessive demands and which sources were important to them when searching for information about a product online and offline. Here again, a feeling plays an important role: Which information sources and providers do the test persons trust? And what else did the data from the diaries show you? We found that the influence of family and friends is quite high in the entire buying process. In both cases – i.e. in both the online and offline settings – the test persons often informed themselves in conversations with relatives and friends and reassured themselves whether they were on the right track with their purchase. Of course, we found out several more interesting aspects. We are currently still analysing the data. We will present these and other results at the symposium “Rethinking Decision Making in the Digital Society” on 1 April 2020, in which our test persons will also participate. You also call your test persons Citizen Scientists – why? The test persons depicted their own purchase process in an emotion curve after the four weeks and at the same time reflected on the differences between the digital and non-digital purchase decision. There was everything from total overwhelm to anticipation. The test persons themselves became researchers, citizen scientists, during this task. They questioned their behaviour and thus provided us with further thoughts.


About the project

The “Digital Lives” project is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. It has been running since the end of 2018 and will continue until May 2020.


Results at the specialist event

The Institute Innovation & Strategic Entrepreneurship will present the results of the SNSF-funded study at a virtual event on 8 September. The event will also feature attractive international key notes on the topic of consumer decision making. Last but not least, you will have the opportunity to participate in small group discussions. Click here to register

AUTOR/AUTORIN: Anne-Careen Stoltze

Anne-Careen Stoltze is Editor in Chief of the science magazine SocietyByte. She works in communications at BFH Business School, she is a journalist and geologist.

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