Chapter 12
Situational Influences
Situational influences are temporary environment conditions that exist at a certain time and place.
Marketers need to understand how buying situations can affect a consumer’s behaviour.
There are three types of situational influences, including message, purchase and usage situations. Message
situations include how the consumer receives communication; purchase situations are factors in the
purchase environment that can make a consumer change their mind or finalise their purchase decision; and
usage situations refer to the context of the actual consumption.
Antecedent states are temporary factors in a buying situation that can affect a consumer’s mood and
shopping experience. A retailer can’t control a consumer’s emotions, but they can try to provide a positive
Online shopping is also affected by situational influences but in different ways. The human element of the
shopping experience has been removed.
Marketers need to use their knowledge of environmental influences such as these to manipulate stimuli in
the shopping environment. However, it is important to note that brand loyalty reduces the impact of
situational influences.
After reading this chapter, students should be able to:
 Describe the types of situational influences that affect consumer behaviour
 Explain the nature of situational influences on consumer behaviour
 Discuss aspects of online buying situations and their influence on consumption behaviour
 Describe the impact of situational influences on marketing strategy.
What is situational influence?
The nature of situational influence
Types of situations
 The message situation
 Case in point 12.1—Want to make your brand successful?
 The purchase situation
 Case in point 12.2—Use promotions to create connections
 The consumption or usage situation
The influence of situation on behaviour
 Case in point 12.3—Cascade’s winter beer
 Physical surroundings
 Music
 Colour
 Atmosphere
 Weather
 The social environment
 Decision time
 Importance of the decision
 Emotional influences
 Case in point 12.4—‘Dollars and scents’ How men view, choose and use fragrances
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Online buying situations
The impact of situational influences on marketing strategy
Encourage discussion to introduce subject. Ask students to imagine the following scenario:
You are shopping in a supermarket for your usual groceries. It is unseasonally warm outside, and you are
trying to get the job done to cover you for a fortnight. You have a shopping list but no brands clearly
specified because you usually buy the same ones anyway. You walk past the bread aisle and see a pack
special ‘buy 2 for $4’ on a different but similar brand to yours. Your favourite breakfast cereal is out of
stock, and one of your usual biscuit brands is no longer carried. In addition, the weather is warm and you
are just walking past the iceblock freezer. Even though it’s not on your list, do you indulge anyway? A
demo lady is sampling a new brand of smoky cheese, and you have dinner party organised for later in the
week. And what about the magazines at the cash register?
Welcome to the world of situational influences. The textbook (p. 353) presents another scenario to
imagine. Often our answer to these types of situations is ‘it depends’. And it does depend on many factors
which will be explored in this chapter.
What is situational influence?
Situational influences are temporary environmental conditions that exist at a specific time and place and
which influence consumer behaviour.
Marketers are interested in the types of situations that change consumer decisions at the time of
purchase—even though the consumer has travelled through the previous three steps in the decision process
of need recognition, information search and evaluation. Marketers need to understand how they can
influence decisions in their favour at the time of purchase, or alternatively ensure a consumer doesn’t
change their mind and switch brands in store.
The nature of situational influence
A ‘situation’ is the set of environmental factors to which a consumer responds. The context in which a
product or attribute is seen has a large influence over the way consumers evaluate the product. This is why
shelf position, display and packaging are important factors the marketer should consider in their marketing
Consumers often react similarly to the way they have learned to behave in a similar situation. This is part
of the learning processes discussed in Chapter 6.
To manipulate situational influences, marketers must understand:
Types of situations and how they influence consumers—e.g. special promotions or stockouts.
How different situations affect consumers—dependent on brand loyalty
How strong the situational influence is—and if the consumer is a brand loyal or favourable brand
switcher. If a consumer has negative attitudes towards a brand, little can be done to encourage
them to try the brand, regardless of the incentive.
If a consumer is brand loyal, it is less likely that situational influences will change their decision.
Different situations influence consumers in different ways because of the ways they perceive the stimuli.
For example, one consumer will love a price-off and will buy any brand on special. Another consumer may
perceive that the price-off is for a reason, and that it undervalues the brand, thus giving the consumer an
incentive NOT to buy.
The text gives an example of how merchandise sales at concerts will result in more sales of merchandise
than if the merchandise was in a shop, even though at the event the merchandise is usually over-priced
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Types of situations
There are a number of different situations that can impact on consumer behaviour. These are addressed in
detail below.
The message situation
‘The message situation involves both the setting in which the consumer receives the message and other
communication variables such as the message source and content.’ (text, p. 354)
The target market needs to be considered when determining the type of media and media vehicle
advertisers need to use. If an advertiser wants to promote their travel services on television, their target
market is probably attracted to shows like Getaway and The Great Outdoors. In addition, their mind will
be thinking about travel. It makes sense for such an advertiser to promote their product during these
particular TV shows. Effectiveness of the ad may be further enhanced if a TV presenter is used in the
Promotion goes beyond advertising—so brand image and perception can be enhanced through creative
options like sponsorship of sporting or community events.
Case in point 12.1—Want to make your brand successful?
Buyers need to think of your brand at the time of purchase. Brand image is a mixture of many variables
that sit in a consumer’s mind. This information is stored so consumers can use it when required, rather than
starting from scratch at every purchase.
Marketers need to understand the cues for what motivates consumers to think of certain brands in various
purchase situations. If your brand is only considered for a party, and not for everyday use, the
opportunities for increased market share are diminished.
A consumer must have a brand image in mind for the brand to enter the consumer’s evoked set. If the
brand can be considered across a number of different cues (or situations) this will increase the brand’s
salience. Buyers do try to short-cut their decisions and not spend too much time evaluating brands. Time
spent on the decision will of course depend on the importance of the decision to the consumer.
A key point raised here is that buyers buy their product and move on to the next thought or activity. Little
after-thought generally happens unless the product performs below expectations.
Marketers need to make sure consumers like their brands and think about them. This is heightened by a
likeable ad or use of a popular spokesperson.
Do students agree that they don’t consciously evaluate a brand every time they buy? When do they spend
time evaluating every option available? How do they make decisions on purchase? Studying brand
perception and being at the top of consumers’ minds seem to be worthwhile investments.
The purchase situation
The purchase situation is ‘the setting or the environment in which the consumer acquires the actual
product’ (text, p. 358).
Marketers need to understand how different stimuli attract consumers, because this is an important element
they can control. The marketer cannot control how the consumer responds to stimuli, but research can
guide decisions to best utilise the purchase situation.
Most research focuses on a physical purchase situation like a retail outlet. But the Internet is
increasing in importance as a retail option.
Researchers have confirmed that the atmosphere plays a role in affecting shopping behaviour.
Results have shown that Christmas carols and music can actually increase a consumer’s
propensity to buy!
There is a positive correlation with actual purchase and time spent in a retail store.
Positive relationships also exist with the shopper’s mood and their perception. A shopper’s mood
can be enhanced by the use of music, especially in clothing stores.
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In supermarkets, research has shown that a majority of grocery shoppers actually look for
specials; and that in-store displays are more successful than discounts, because of the perception
that the item is discounted anyway! In contrast, research also shows consumers are brand loyal
(when they perceive a difference in brands) so special promotions reward existing customers
rather than encouraging other consumers to switch brands.
So why do people shop? There are different motives that guide our shopping behaviour, including:
Financial or economic motives—looking for the best possible deal
Shopping for pleasure
Shopping is a chore and many want to get it over with as soon as possible
Store-loyal shoppers who only shop at one store, because of exceptional service or good value.
The type of shopping being done can change the motives behind shopping. After all, who actually enjoys
grocery shopping!?
Case in point 12.2—Use promotions to create connections
Sales promotion is increasingly being used to attract attention at the time of purchase. Sales promotion
needs to be used in conjunction with other promotional tools like advertising to create a more powerful
motivation to buy.
Brand experiences are more memorable during consumption, instead of hearsay from a friend’s
recommendation. Sales promotion such as competitions, give-aways and special price-offs can seal a
consumer’s decision at the point of purchase.
The case study looks at the success of the Dove promotion in the UK. But it is important to remember that
for every successful promotion, there are many companies that don’t get it right. Continual promotions can
also undervalue a brand.
Ask students if they have ever changed their mind at point of purchase because of a particular sales
The consumption or usage situation
The usage or consumption situation is ‘the setting in which the product is consumed or used’ (text, p. 361).
Marketers often show products in a usage situation. This not only demonstrates how the product can be
used, but can also create emotional ties with the brand when the consumer is next in that situation.
Also, consumers often buy products for different situations or uses. Ask students to consider if they switch
to a different brand of wine when entertaining guests or taking wine to a friend’s house.
The influence of situation on behaviour
Marketers can use different stimuli to affect behaviour in the purchasing environment. These stimuli are
used intentionally to influence perception and behaviour.
Case in point 12.3—Cascade’s winter beer
Cascade has introduced a new variety of beer aimed at giving beer drinkers a different taste sensation. The
flavours of their ‘Four Seasons’ beers have proven to be very popular. While many beer drinkers may see
the varieties advertised and want to take advantage of the new flavours in their limited ‘season’, many
buyers make their purchase decision in store when given the opportunity to try something new at a special
Physical surroundings
This includes music, colour, merchandising, store layout and ambience (or atmosphere). The online
environment cannot take advantage of the physical atmosphere of a retail store. Consider examples that
might affect a shopper’s experience. An airconditioned shop to escape the heat of the day can entice a
shopper to browse for longer and purchase an item they never intended to.
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Music has a proven influence over behaviour. Fast music can put consumers in a happier mood, but makes
them move faster through the store. Christmas carols can put shoppers in a festive mood and encourage
them to spend more. Music featured in advertisements can help the consumer link the advertisement with
the brand (of product or store). A popular song may encourage the consumers to hang about longer. It is
important that the music is not too loud or repetitive. Clearly an annoyance factor will drive the consumers
Colour influences behaviour in different situations. The influence of colour was discussed in Chapter 5 as
part of ‘Perception’. Warm colours attract attention while cooler colours reflect calming and soothing
tones. Encourage examples to reinforce this concept.
Service, lighting and music create different atmospheres. The intended usage of the environment also
affects atmosphere. Compare a take-away restaurant to a more exclusive dining experience. Or a discount
store to a department store.
Weather can influence buyer behaviour. This is obvious when we think of the type of products and
services consumed. Swimming pools and ice-cream are far more popular on a hot day. A bout of rainy
weather often brings out displays for umbrellas. Special promotions of winter sports and heating are more
prevalent when the weather is cold. However, certain weather can also encourage more people to visit
shopping centres to escape the heat or cold, or for something to do. Encourage personal examples from
The social environment
People act differently among friends and family. This phenomenon was addressed in Chapter 11. The
presence of others can have a situational influence on behaviour. When we are with others we tend to
comply with group norms and expectations. We also tend to buy certain brands for certain social groups,
but worry less for family who usually don’t need to be impressed. Encourage examples of personal
experiences where different brands are bought because of the particular social setting.
Decision time
The time we have to make a decision can affect our behaviour. If we are in a rush, criteria such as quickest
to purchase, cheapest, easiest to prepare, etc. may come into play. Placement in the store plays a big role
Importance of the decision
The influence of situational factors varies depending on the importance of the decision and the
involvement of the consumer. For habitual purchases like grocery items, situational influences in the actual
purchase environment will play a bigger role. For more high involvement decisions, message factors and
usage factors may be more prevalent. Price specials can affect any decision, but only if the criteria being
used in the decision process are based partly on the price of the good.
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Emotional influences
Mood can influence buying behaviour. If a consumer is happy they are more likely to attribute the
shopping experience favourably. That is why many retailers play up-beat music and have lighting that
conveys a sense of cleanliness and brightness.
The influences discussed here are called antecedent states. This means they exist and can influence
behaviour at a particular time and situation, but not necessarily across all situations.
Case in point 12.4—‘Dollars and scents’ How men view, choose and use their fragrances
A research study was undertaken on the men’s fragrance market. It addressed usage of fragrance, why men
buy and use fragrance, and how this information could be used to increase profitability.
Surprisingly, 9 out of 10 men are users of fragrance, with more than half using fragrance regularly every
week, but there is low brand loyalty. It was first believed that women were the primary purchasers of
men’s fragrances. But the research indicated otherwise, with nearly 75 per cent of men surveyed buying
fragrance, 66 per cent buying it for their own use. However, women were a critical factor driving the
men’s purchase and usage of cologne.
The conclusions drawn from the study indicate that promotional efforts for men’s fragrance should be
direct toward both men and women. Also, it is apparent that fragrances need to be positioned based on
level of usage. Situational influences come into play in terms of usage situation. Workplace fragrances
differ to those worn on a ‘hot date’.
Do students believe that other situational influences might be relevant for a retailer of men’s fragrance?
Online buying situations
Key characteristics of the Internet include interactivity and customisation. These elements are particularly
relevant for choosing products, payment options and searching for additional information. The key
differences between the online environment and a retail store are as follows:
Online environment
A greater range of products available
Retail store
Limited shelf space and stock available
Often cheaper (because sales staff do not need to
be paid)
More expensive in general
Access to a lot of information
Limited instore information except for sales staff
No sales staff to directly interact with
Can be difficult to find what you want
Two-way communication with sales staff
Two-way communication available through direct
links via e-mail
Immediate two-way communication
Quick links to competitive information
Must travel to other stores for competitor
Usually a range of payment options, but lower
perceived risk
Range of payment options but perceived risks with
The impact of situational influences on marketing strategy
If marketers can determine how a particular antecedent state or situation might affect a consumer, they
may be able to take action to encourage consumers to actually buy.
A marketer clearly cannot make a cranky consumer happy. But on the reverse side, it is possible to make a
happy customer cranky!
Earlier we considered antecedent states that can be affected by music, colour, atmosphere and the like. A
marketer needs to ensure the shopping experience is enjoyable as possible, and encourage the customers to
browse in their store.
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Marketers can use information on when consumers use particular types of products to segment the market.
For example, the research described in Case in point 12.4 revealed that different fragrances are used for
work and social occasions. A marketer can then promote their product accordingly, e.g. by providing trial
samples of a work-suited fragrance to men in suits in working hours.
Marketers can also use information about how consumers make decisions in store to attract attention to
their brand and have it selected. It is also important to be present in a consumer’s evoked set, so billboard
advertising on the way to the store should reflect the packaging and displays in store. Of course, situational
influences have a lesser effect if the consumer is brand loyal.
Situational influences are relevant for all marketers—not just retail store managers.
What is situational influence?
At this point of the lecture, it is worthwhile asking students to differentiate between high and low
involvement situations. Ask each student to discuss in a small group how they have changed their mind (or
nearly changed their mind) at the point of purchase for both high involvement and low involvement
products. High involvement will be any product that is important to the consumer (especially if the
situation is changed). Low involvement is generally an easy switch to another brand with little afterthought.
The nature of situational influence
To manipulate situational influences, marketers must understand:
Types of situations and how they influence consumers
How different situations affect consumers
How strong the situational influence is.
Encourage examples so students can understand when and where situational influences will play a part and
when they will not. Many of these concepts will be addressed later in the chapter, but will be remembered
easily if there is correct recall now.
One interesting example worth noting is in the cooking appliance industry. Miele is the same price
everywhere, and cannot be discounted by retailers (because it is seen as a high-quality brand that can’t be
negotiated). Once the consumer decides they will buy Miele, their only remaining decision is from which
store to buy. Situational influences will only serve to change the consumer to a ‘lesser’ brand or reinforce
their decision to buy Miele when quality of the product is compared.
Types of situations
Break students into groups. Ask each group to determine how each different situation type could influence
a consumer’s purchase. What actions could a marketer take to have a consumer switch to their brand?
The different types of situations to be addressed include:
The message situation
The purchase situation
The consumption or usage situation.
Product ideas to be addressed by each group include:
Can of soft drink
Washing machine
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The influence of situation on behaviour
Break students into groups. Each group should consider a different product or service. Weigh up which of
the following stimuli can affect consumer behaviour in a particular situation in a positive way:
Physical surroundings
The social environment
Decision time
Importance of the decision
Emotional influences.
Online buying situations
Determine the types of products and services students think are best suited to the online environment. How
do they think this will change over the next 10 years?
The impact of situational influences on marketing strategy
Break students into groups. Ask each group to determine how knowledge of situational influences will
affect their marketing strategy for the following products and services:
Salvation Army
b) Gourmet ice-cream
Frozen peas
d) Four-wheel drive
Freedom furnishings
Interview five people who have recently purchased some of the following products and services.
Determine whether situational influences played a role in their final purchase decision.
The different types of situations to be addressed include the message situation, the purchase
situation and the consumption or usage situation.
Hairdresser—many consumers are less prone to switch with a service. However, a
consumer may have to make a decision if the hairdresser is booked out, has moved to a
different location or is on holidays (purchase situation). There may be a special promotion
in the local area advertised in the local newspaper which entices the consumer to try a
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different hairdresser (message). A different hairdresser might be used if the consumer is
part of a wedding party or they are getting something different done and they have no
confidence in their usual hairdresser (usage).
Restaurant—Restaurants in a shopping strip will benefit more from situational influences,
especially in terms of special deals (message) to encourage new patrons or the aromas that
filter out into the street to whet the appetite of the passers-by (purchase). Usage may be a
result of the reason someone visits a restaurant (e.g. group function).
Milk—typically purchase situation will be prevalent here. Stock availability or price will be
key determinants.
Shoes—Special promotions in the store window might encourage the consumer to stop
(message); special displays, groovy music or friendly service in store might seal the sale
(purchase); or the product may be purchased because a new outfit has just been bought
Flowers—A billboard may prompt someone to buy flowers (communication); a stall on the
pavement makes it easier to buy (purchase); or someone has had a fight or wants to show
their appreciation (usage).
Factors in the retail environment can have a big impact on a consumer deciding to buy. How can
antecedent states influence other purchasing environments such as direct mail, online or vending
The purchase situation refers to more than just the place of retail. When a company determines their
marketing strategy, ‘place’ is not simply where the product is available. Creative ways need to be
developed to keep the customer interested and in ‘the store’ for as long as possible.
For direct mail the antecedent states to make a retail situation more favorable include having a
‘freepost’ pre-addressed envelope, pre-printed order forms, a range of payment and contact
options available, access to a letterbox.
For the Internet, the URL (web address) needs to be easy to remember and key in, the site needs
to be easy to navigate, commonly asked questions need to be addressed, a range of payment
options available, extra value provided through interaction, quick to download (not too many
photographs or audio requirements), consumer feels secure with online payment.
For vending machines, the right product range needs to be available, spare change needs to be
available, other retail stores might be nearby.
How could situational influences affect the sale of groceries for an online environment?
The situational influences include message, purchase situation and usage situation.
Message—the time taken to download details such as product picture, sizes available, where
product is made, ingredients, nutrition facts etc. needs to be speedy. One of the major problems
with shopping online is the time taken to download information, especially for dial-up. Some of
this information, such as nutrition for each product, may not be available. Consumers are better
off knowing what they want to buy and all the facts BEFORE going online for groceries.
Purchase—A product may be out of stock, or competing products may be on special. First time
set-up of a shopping list will take substantial time. Delivery times need to be suitable, as does the
delivery fee. The way products are transported and delivered to the door, friendliness of driver,
service of staff if problems or wrong orders are received, and speed at which problem is rectified
all come into play here.
Usage—would relate to the consumer being unable to carry heavy loads of groceries or unable
to transport groceries home; they may work full-time and have no time for grocery shopping.
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Based on the discussions on types of situational influences (message, purchase and usage),
develop an advertisement for the following products. Also specify the media type(s) you would
use for your ad. What other situational influences should be considered at place of purchase?
a) Cutlery as a wedding gift
b) Cutlery for every day use
Students need to show how the message, purchase and usage situations would differ in each ad.
An example of the wedding gift was presented as open commentary in the text to guide students
(p. 353). Message will reflect communication that will turn the tide for both situations; purchase
situations will be different as well. For a wedding gift, a well-presented box will be required.
Everyday use may not require a box. Usage situation has been specified—but will the wedding
cutlery be for everyday use or special occasions? Antecedent factors should not be ignored
here—such as bright lighting, helpful staff etc.
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