Consumer vs. Customer

As layman the terms ‘consumer’ and ‘customer’ are mostly used interchangeably. Mostly people do not find any difference between the two. But technically speaking these words do not convey the same meaning. Let’s see what experts say about this. Tyagi and Kumar have explained ‘customer’ as one who regularly purchases goods and services from a particular store or shop; while a ‘consumer’ according to them is anyone who is engaged in “activities of evaluating, acquiring, using or disposing of goods and services.” They have further added, “Consumers include not only these who are purchasers of economic goods and services, but also who are potential adopters of free services, ideas or philosophies.”(Tyagi and Kumar, 2004, p.1)

Another explanation provided by Gerber and Bothma reveals that the difference between these two terms ‘consumer’ and ‘customer’ can be understood in 2 ways: as people use them in daily language and as experts use these words. In everyday language, the simplest differentiation between the two terms is that a ‘customer’ purchases goods and a ‘consumer’ uses them. This differentiation also provides that consumer is the final consumer or the ultimate consumer. When purchase is made, the person making purchases is called customer and when these goods are consumed after purchase, the same person becomes the consumer. (Gerber and Bothma, 2008, p.72)

From the point of view of experts, a customer is “any person who buys or sells products and services. It doesn’t matter who they are, what they buy and sell, where they buy it or why they buy and sell it.” On the other hand, the term ‘consumer’ refers to “only the end-user in the buying process. Consumers are a particular group of customers- they use the products or services themselves.” (Gerber and Bothma, 2008, p.73)

  • Tyagi, C.L. and Kumar, A. Consumer Behavior. 2004. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers and Distributors.
  • Gerber, K. and Bothma, N. FCS Consumer Behaviour: Level 3. 2008. Pearson Education South Africa (Pty) Ltd.
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