England.  Change location

Understanding customers

Qualification dates
Start End

Have you ever wondered why you sometimes emerge from the supermarket with a full trolley, having gone in for just a pint of milk? In this module you'll tackle questions like this to help you understand why customers buy. You'll learn how marketers influence customers, whether as individuals or professional buyers, and pick up some useful skills you can use yourself. You'll also study how social marketers ‘sell’ things like healthier lifestyles using the same tools as their commercial counterparts. This module is ideal if you're working in marketing, aiming to work in marketing, wanting to gain insights for your own business, or if you simply want to understand more about your own consumer behaviour.

What you will study

Here’s a brief guide to the content of the module, with each of the blocks lasting between four and six weeks.

Block 1: Introducing customer behaviour 
In this block, you'll follow the evolution of marketing to its current focus on ‘customer experience management’. You'll find out why marketers now treat customers as partners in value creation, making it more important than ever to understand their needs and motivations. As well as being introduced to the historical roots of everyday practices like shopping, you will learn about cutting-edge developments in how marketers approach customers, such as behavioural economics, consumer culture theory and neuromarketing. You'll also address basic ideas about how organisational customers behave differently from consumers who purchase on behalf of themselves and their households, and what this means for marketing. You’ll have the opportunity to reflect on how to develop valuable digital and marketing skills and how the module will support them. 

Block 2: The individual consumer 
This block addresses customers as individuals. You'll encounter classic psychological theories on decision making, involvement, learning, memory and perception, and discuss their continued relevance. You'll develop digital and collaborative skills through blogging about aspects of your own consumer behaviour related to what you are learning and comment on the blog posts of others. 

Block 3: Attitudes and motivational processes
You'll continue the exploration of attempts to explain customer behaviour through scientific methods. You'll discover how marketers have taken up models and approaches from social psychology and other disciplines to try and understand processes such as motivation, attitude formation, and how customers select and process persuasive messages. You’ll be encouraged to adopt a critical perspective on these theories and techniques, alongside recent theories on consumption and identity, and gendered aspects of consumption.

Block 4: Consumers in society
Your focus now widens to place buyers in their social and cultural settings. You'll learn to identify different groups (including families and other social formations) and their influence on consumption. You’ll also find out how to tap into opinion leadership and followership in social networks (including online), and how to interpret contemporary trends in consumer research. You'll participate in a peer review exercise that requires you to use presentation software to draft a poster on which you'll exchange feedback with other students on the module. This will hone your digital and collaborative skills, as well as give you invaluable insight into the assessment process, which you can take with you into future study. Please note, this exercise necessitates unmoveable deadlines (for submission of drafts and feedback) within the block, so careful advance planning on your part is essential. You will submit your poster in its final version, accompanied by a written reflection, at the end of the block.

Block 5: B2B buying behaviour 
The module concludes as you explore organisational buying (also known as business-to-business or ‘B2B’ buying) while revisiting your learning from preceding blocks by comparing business customers and individuals who purchase goods and services for personal or household use. You'll learn to use concepts and tools like buyer typology, the ‘buy grid’ framework, relationship marketing, and branding in an organisational context. What you'll learn in this block will increase your effectiveness at work by making you more aware of internal and external exchange relationships and how they relate to your role. 

Entry requirements

While there are no formal pre-requisites for the module, it would help if you started it with a basic understanding of marketing. This might come either from your existing work experience or from the OU level 1 module An introduction to business and management (B100).

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

What's included

You’ll have access to a module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • online module materials
  • audio and video content
  • assessment guide
  • online tutorial and forums.


Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You'll have an online tutor to help you with the study material and mark and comment on your tutor-marked assignment (TMA), and to ask for advice and guidance. To support your study, there will be a series of online learning events (one for each Block). These will take place in an online meeting room which is a synchronous online platform used to deliver tuition. They provide an opportunity for you to engage with members of the module tutoring team and fellow students on a series of activities that will help you to consolidate your learning and prepare for module assessments.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying B206 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Understanding customers starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2024. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2026.

Course work includes:

5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
No examination

Student Reviews

See what other students thought.