The Role of Self Concept in Contemporary Consumption

The changing business environment has greatly affected consumer behavior; therefore, businesses are striving to understand consumer trends. Consumer behavior is the “totality of consumers’ decisions with respect to the acquisition, consumption, and disposition of goods” (Hardesty, & Bearden, 2009, 239-244). These are behaviors that consumers exhibit while searching for a commodity, buying it, consuming, evaluating, or even disposing of the product (Solomon, M. R.1983, 319-321). Businesses and marketers are researching processes to understand the factors shaping the modern consumer economies for successful marketing. The research has led to the role of the self-concept in contemporary consumption. Self-image highly influences product preference and purchase intention. According to Onkvisit and Shaw (1987), self-concept is a critical part of consumer behavior because buying decisions of an individual is influenced by their self-image. The self-concept is now the center of marketing and advertising.

The self-concept is a broad topic which has been defined and studied by numerous theories. Self-concept generally refers to how an individual thinks about, perceives, and evaluates himself/herself. It is simply self awareness. Baumeister (1999) defined self concept as the “individual’s belief about himself/herself, including the individual’s attributes and who and what the self is.”  Rosenburg’s (1979) definition, which is the most accepted theory, states that self concept is “the totality of the individual’s thoughts and feelings having reference to himself as an object.”  Furthermore, symbolic interactionism suggests that self-concept is influenced by perceptions and other people’s opinions. Individuals imagine how they appear to others and how others judge them and in the process develop a self-image accordingly. Self-concept is a multi-dimensional topic in the literature of consumer behavior. The following are components of self-concept.

Actual Self– The actual self is how an individual perceives himself/herself

Ideal Self– How an individual would like to perceive himself/herself

Social Self– How an individual believes others perceive him/her

Ideal Social Self- How an individual prefers others to perceive him/her

(Hogg et al. 2001, 641).

Looking Glass Self is another theory explaining self-concept. This concept reflects how individuals imagine they appear to others and how others will judge them as well as the development of a self-image accordingly (Yeung & Martin, 2003). These four dimensions of the self-concept have been used to research consumer behavior. The most referred theoretical approach of the self concept and contemporary consumer behavior is the self-image congruence hypothesis (Sirgy, 1982. 287-300). This theory explains that products have personalities and consumers prefer products whose image is similar to theirs. Research on consumer behavior featuring the nature of product being consumed reveals that different aspects of the self-concept influence buying decisions. The role of actual self and ideal self in purchase intentions and brand preference has been extensively covered in research. Individuals can define, sustain, and enhance their self-image through the purchase and consumption of products. (Yeung, & Martin, 2003, 649-679). Consumer behavior can well be understood by first analyzing the connection between products (Possessions) and the self. “A man’s self is the sum total of all that he can call his, not only his body and his psychic powers, but his clothes, his house, his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and his works, his lands and his yacht, and his bank account” (James, 1890, 291-192). For instance, people get upset whenever they lose an item because it is a self loss.

The relationship between self-concept and product consumption reveals that products are not just for their functionality but also as social stimuli. Solomon’s (1982) Symbolic interactionism model explains that consumption of products is not only tied to their utilitarian value but also for their social meaning. Consuming a product as a social stimulus is referred to as symbolic purchasing behavior (Leigh, & Terrance, 1992. 27-38). Symbolic purchasing behavior theory explains that symbolic meaning of products communicates information about the consumer including career or lifestyle.

The Self-Concept in Fashion Retailing

Clothing theorists, fashion marketers, and consumer psychologists rely on the self-concept in studying consumer behavior in the fashion industry. Clothing theorists have conducted numerous researches on consumer behavior with an extensive approach to attitudes and values of fashion innovators. They use data on the self-image of fashion innovators to improve the marketing strategies of their products/brands (Goldsmith Ronald et al., 2012, 7). Fashion marketers play an important role in the clothing market. Being always the first buyers of fashion products, their reviews highly influence the purchase decisions of other buyers. Apparel marketers use mass media to reach to fashion innovators who, in turn, pass the image to other buyers (their followers).

For instance, the modern fashion world is dominated by superior brands like Gucci, Versace, Victoria’s Secret, Adidas, and Chanel among many others. Victoria’s Secret, for example, uses models as its fashion innovators to advertise their products, which are highly coveted. Celebrities have been spotted on red carpets wearing these brands while others have given positive reviews on their social media pages. This highly influences other followers to use the brands. This is because the behavior of other people also influences the self-concept. Consumers also use these famous products as a social indicator of status. Consumption of these fashion brands portrays one as belonging to a particular social group and the associations with these groups (Hogg et al., 2000).


The changing business environment has greatly influenced consumer behavior. Marketers have shifted their strategies towards understanding the underlying influences of consumption. The study of consumer behavior features the role of the self-concept in consumer behavior. The self-concept is how one perceives, evaluates, and thinks about him/herself. The self-concept is studied in four levels namely; the actual self, ideal self, social self, and ideal social self. People use products to define and enhance their self-image. Marketers use this knowledge to study contemporary consumptions where it is believed that consumers buy products that are similar to their self-image. This applies to the fashion industry where marketers study the attitudes and behaviors of fashion innovators to improve their brands. The self-concept is the center of modern consumer economies.



Reference List

Sirgy, M. J., 1982. Self-concept in consumer behavior: A critical review. Journal of consumer        research, 9(3), pp.287-300.

Yeung, K.T. & Martin, J.L., 2003. “The Looking Glass Self: An Empirical Test and            Elaboration”, Social Forces, March, 81(1), pp.843-879.

Rosenberg, M. 1979, Conceiving the Self. New York: Basic Books.

Fine, G.A.,1993. “The Sad Demise, Mysterious Disappearance, and Glorious Triumph of Symbolic Interactionism.”, Annual Review of Sociology, 19, pp.61-87.

Hardesty, D. & Bearden, W., 2009. Consumer Behavior & Retailing. Journal of Retailing, 85(3), 239-244.

Hogg, M. K., Cox, A. J., & Keeling, K., 2000. “The impact of self-monitoring on image    congruence and product/brand evaluation”. European Journal of Marketing, 34(5), 641.

Leigh, J. & Terrance, G. (1992). Symbolic Interactionism: Its effects on consumer behavior and    implications for marketing strategy. The Journal of Consumer Marketing, 9, 27-38

Solomon, M. R. (1983). The role of products as social stimuli: A Symbolic Interactionism Perspective. Journal of Consumer Research, 10(3), 319-329.

Leigh, J. & Terrance, G. (1992). “A scale to measure self-concepts, person concepts, and product concepts”, Journal of Marketing Research, 18 ( 4) pp. 456-64.