Consumer psychology helps us build corporate strategies and solve consumer problems

Professor Yoko Sugitani from the Faculty of Economics studies consumers’ mental processes when purchasing and consuming products and services, using social psychological methodology. Her research not only provides insights into companies but can also help to protect consumers from bad business practices such as scams. She talks about how interesting these research activities are.

My research area is consumer psychology and marketing. I have been trying to give scientific explanation to consumer behavior, such as what kinds of products and services consumers tend to prefer under a given situation and what types of decision-making processes effectively predict purchasing behavior.

Basically, I adopt psychological experiments as my research method. For example, in an experiment that I have conducted before, the participants were asked to read fictitious online reviews about a product and report their evaluation of it. In another one, the participants evaluated a fictitious product before and after actually using it.

When evaluating the product, the participants completed psychological scales to quantify their attitude or reported their product choice. Thus, we measured the degree of “change” in consumers’ evaluation of a product before and after reading reviews or usage experience.

Bad reviews do not always damage product reputation

One of my research projects showed that consumers’ evaluation of a product, service, or brand can be split into two types: “self-based evaluation” that comes from an individual’s personal experiences and emotions, and “public-based evaluation” reflecting the public reputation of them in a given society or people close to individuals.

In recent years, many companies have worried that their sales might be damaged by bad publicity spreading on social networking sites. My research demonstrated that products or brands which have well established self-based evaluation were less likely to be damaged and could maintain the popularity even under such negative situations.

How do consumers have such a strong and resistant attitude toward products? How do companies build such strong brand? One possible strategy is to make consumers keep using the product and develop their personal feelings for it rather than building public reputation by big advertising.

For example, student discounts can be an effective strategy for enhancing usage experiences starting from a young age, and consequently it will contribute to fostering self-based evaluation.

Of course, companies themselves also conduct marketing research to find effective strategies to increase their sales, but their surveys only focus on their own products and services.

In contrast, our goal (I mean, academicians’ goal) is to generate a grand theory to explain consumer behavior. By creating consumer behavior theories, we can suggest marketing strategies that are not limited to a certain sector or product, but can apply to corporate strategies in general.

Why are consumers vulnerable to scams using messaging apps?

Consumer psychological research can also suggest possible strategies to address consumer issues. For example, in recent years, fraudulent commercial practices online using messaging apps have become a major problem.

From a psychological perspective, there are some points that make it easy for consumers to be tricked online. One is that, compared to face-to-face interaction, online communication tends to put a lower psychological-pressure on consumers, which makes consumers less suspicious.

Second, because consumers use messaging apps, such as LINE, almost 24 hours a day, app-based scams effectively exploit consumers’ desire to be connected with people and their society. Recently, I have received many requests from relevant organizations to give talks on how to solve consumer problems.

I find research activities so intriguing because we can give answers to naive questions that we have in daily lives by using our own ideas and methods. I feel excited when my hypotheses are supported by experimental data, and when my research results become useful in society through lectures and consultancy work. I would like to work towards the goal of conducting research that is more useful to society and reaching novel and original discoveries.

As to my research topics for the future, I’m now interested in encouraging sustainability in consumer behavior. For example, how could consumers choose environmentally friendly products more than others? In fact, some consumers feel that environmentally friendly products are inferior in quality or are skeptical that these products are nothing more than greenwashing by companies.

I would like to suggest how companies could effectively promote sustainable products and how consumers can accept these products more positively and not inferior in quality.

The book I recommend

“Ryoma ga Yuku”(Ryoma! The Life of Sakamoto Ryoma)
by Ryotaro Shiba, Bunshun Bunko

I read many of Ryotaro Shiba’s works, including this book, during my high school years. I strongly felt that in past history, economic power was important for running a country, which led me to study at university and has helped me in my current research. I still read them from time to time and feel energized.

Yoko Sugitani

  • Professor
    Department of Management
    Faculty of Economics

Yoko Sugitani completed her Ph.D. in Social Science at Hitotsubashi University. She was an assistant professor and associate professor at the Department of Management, Faculty of Economics, Sophia University before taking the current position. She specializes in consumer psychology and marketing.

Department of Management

Interviewed: August 2023

Sophia University

For Others, With Others