‘Consumer’ vs. ‘customer’ in English

by Jakub Marian

Tip: See my list of the Most Common Mistakes in English. It will teach you how to avoid mis­takes with com­mas, pre­pos­i­tions, ir­reg­u­lar verbs, and much more (PDF Version).

English learners sometimes confuse the words “consumer” and “customer”. Although they look similar and the distinction is not important sometimes, they refer to different concepts:

customer = a client or a buyer, i.e. someone who buys goods or uses a service
consumer = the final user of services and goods

For example, when you go to a supermarket and buy groceries, you are a customer. When you later come home and eat the food you bought, you assume the role of a consumer.

Hence we have terms like customer service, i.e. the department that takes care of your shopping experience and helps you solve possible problems, and consumer electronics, which refers to devices intended for sale to their final users, e.g. laptops or cameras, as opposed to electronics sold as parts for assembly or to businesses, such as microchips or cash registers.

Just remember: If you speak about the process of buying something or paying for something, use the word “customer”, and if you speak about consumption or use, the appropriate word is “consumer”.

By the way, if you haven’t read my guide on how to avoid the most common mistakes in English, make sure to check it out; it deals with similar topics.

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