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Understanding Inertia in an Industrial Context

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Looking at industrial marketing literature over the past two decades, it seems that it has always considered the theme of buying behaviour stability as an important research question. Convinced that organisations are more competitive and strong if they develop long-term relationships with their partners, a great number of researchers have tried to explain the antecedents and/or the consequences of customer loyalty. However, a few researches have recently put into evidence that repeat buying behaviour is not always a manifestation of customer loyalty (for example within the IMP papers: Bliemel and Eggert 1998; Bozzo 2001). According to these works, at least two other categories of customers develop long term buying patterns but having motivations to act clearly distinct from loyal customers:

- customers in a situation of captivity (or retention) for whom the behaviour is linked to a dependence towards the supplier because of the existence, or the feeling, of strong barriers to switch

- and customers in a situation of inertia for whom past buying behaviour seems to be the best explanation for future buying behaviour.

This third category of regular buyers has held our attention. Inertia is a well-known concept on consumer markets, and it has been studied for several years. It has been admitted that individual consumers can be involved in an inert buying pattern in order to reduce their cost of thinking or just because they show limited interest towards the alternative brands on the market. However, it seems to be more incongruous in a business-to-business context. In fact, industrial purchasing is supposed to be more rational and structured than consumer purchasing, and inertia does not fit with these characteristics... This paper will, then, focus upon one specific kind of long term buying behaviour: inertia. Our main objective is to explore the characteristics of this particular state of regular buyers within an industrial context, in order to develop our understanding of this uncommon kind of consumers. The literature review focuses on repeat buying behaviour for mature relationships. Looking closely at relationship marketing, industrial consumer behaviour and customer loyalty, we underline the fact that all regular buyers are not loyal. Different kinds of regular buyers exist, on industrial markets as well as on consumer markets. Given this, the literature review leads to the proposal of a conceptual description of inertia that is tested by a quantitative study. This study reveals the existence of three different kinds of inert customers (really inert, unconcerned and blinded) and allows us to make a description of these groups.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2002-09-01

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