Consumers make complicated decisions daily, sometimes without even realizing it. The decision-making process begins with identifying the need for a specific product and extends to its purchase.
Simply put, the consumer decision-making process is the process that consumers go through before purchasing a product and after making a purchase. Marketers use this process to track the consumer journey from the start to the end. Through this tracking, marketers can create strategies to help them influence consumer behavior.
Although each consumer behaves somewhat differently because of individual needs, researchers agree that the consumer decision-making process consists of a set of defined stages across the board. Here, we discuss these different stages of the consumer decision-making process.
What Is the Traditional Consumer Decision-Making Process?
The traditional consumer decision-making process consists of five stages that consumers move through when purchasing a product. These five stages are;
- Need or problem recognition
- Information search
- Evaluation of alternatives
- Deciding to purchase and making the purchase
- Post-purchase evaluation
The following is a detailed explanation of these five stages and how marketers can influence consumers under each step.
Stage One: Need or Problem Recognition
The need or problem recognition stage is the first stage in the consumer decision-making process. Unless a consumer realizes that they need your product, they cannot purchase it. Need or problem recognition occurs when a consumer recognizes that they are unsatisfied with their current status.
The unsatisfied consumer status is what leads them to want a particular product to satisfy a specific need.
When a consumer experiences an impulse that makes them realize they have a need, their need is said to have been triggered by an internal stimulus. A typical example of an internal stimulus is hunger.
Conversely, when consumers realize their needs through outside influences, their realization is said to have been triggered by external stimuli. An example is when one friend tells the other about a car they recently bought, and they make them feel like they too need to buy it as well.
Regardless of the trigger, consumer needs always fall into two categories—psychological or functional needs.
- Psychological needs – These are cognitive needs that originate from emotional feelings.
- Functional needs – These are needs that result out of necessity.
Consumers recognize problems in one of three ways.
- Through feeling frustrated because a particular product is not performing as expected.
- When running out of a product.
- When becoming aware that there is a better product than the one they are currently using.
How Can Marketers Influence Consumer Behavior in the Problem Recognition Stage?
Marketers need to use various influence methods to regularly capture the attention of consumers. As a marketer, you must work towards getting promotions, discounts, and sales ads in front of consumers’ eyes so that you can call out their problems before they even realize them.
When a consumer comes across the discounts or promotions you offer on products they have already purchased that are not performing as expected, you as a marketer will be one step closer to convincing them to purchase your product instead.
To capture consumers’ attention, place your content in places where you know consumers are bound to see it. Apart from using discounts, sales, and promotions ads, you can also use a guest blog. Guest blogging involves writing content for other websites and having the content also published on your site.
Be sure to choose to write content for websites whose primary audience could benefit from the products you are offering. Such a tactic can help you introduce your product to consumers before they even realize they need it.
Lastly, when you create a new version of something that already exists, you can influence consumers to upgrade and purchase the latest version. The technology world is famous for using such a strategy. For example, creating new versions of phones yearly makes consumers develop the need to upgrade.
However, need recognition does not automatically mean that a consumer will act immediately.
For instance, an individual might realize that their laptop bag has a hole in it and that they need a new bag to avoid dropping their laptop once the tear becomes too large. However, even though they realize that the hole is a problem and they need a new bag, they might choose to delay their purchasing decision.
As much as the consumer knows that the tear could damage their laptop if they do not act fast, procrastination may cause them not to purchase another bag immediately. Consumers will often realize that they have a problem that needs fixing, but they will still choose not to buy a product instantly. And during that time period, they often seek others' opinions before they decide whether or not to buy a product.
Therefore, after a consumer identifies a need or a problem, the information they receive afterward about the product they want will determine which brand they decide to purchase. That is known as the second stage of the consumer decision-making process—the information search.
Stage Two: Information Search
Once a consumer identifies a need or a problem, the next step is to find the best solution. However, before settling for the best solution, a consumer will first hunt for information. At this stage of the decision-making process, a consumer can decide to search for information internally or externally.
The internal method of searching for information involves using things such as past experiences and memories.
For example, considering the example mentioned in stage 1, if the consumer has in the past owned laptop bags from different brands, they will think about what they liked about each of the bags and what they did not like. With enough past experiences and memories, some consumers may choose not to search for information from external sources.
Externally searching for information involves consumers approaching friends or family members and seeking their opinions about a product they consider purchasing it. For instance, if the consumer lacks past experiences with other bag brands, meaning that they lack enough information, they might choose to ask their friends or family about different brands.
But what happens in situations where a consumer has no experience or memory to rely on, and none of their friends or family members has experience using a particular product that the consumer thinks of purchasing? In such situations, consumers turn to public sources such as blogs, product reviews, or magazines.
Today, the number one platform people consult with when searching for information about products is the internet, specifically search engines like Google.
Different consumers will spend different amounts of time at this stage of the information search. For example, a consumer with no experience purchasing a particular product will spend more time searching for information, while someone with experience will spend less time searching for information.
The level of interest also plays a significant role in determining how much time a consumer dedicates to this second stage. The more interested in purchasing a product someone is, the more time they spend researching it.
The risk associated with a wrong purchase also plays a role in determining the amount of time an individual spends looking for information. For instance, suppose a consumer wants to buy a sensitive item such as a facial product. In that case, they might spend more time searching for information, whereas one looking for a less sensitive item like a shoe might spend less time searching for information.
How Can Marketers Influence Consumer Behavior When Searching for Information?
Consumers are turning to online tools to find the information they need on products. According to research, almost a third of consumers prefer to shop online due to the convenience it offers. Therefore, to attract customers in this second stage of the consumer decision-making process, you need to ensure that your brand remains visible at all times on various online platforms. To stay visible, you should always publish top content.
The content types you can publish include but are not limited to blog posts, guides, videos, and interactive content. One vital strategy to embrace is the use of word-of-mouth marketing in the form of consumer-generated content. One common and influential type of consumer-generated content is product reviews from other consumers.
The main reason consumers search for information before settling on which product to purchase is to avoid regrets. Risk management is of utmost importance to consumers. Therefore, individuals will note the different features they think they need during the information search stage. It is this information that they will use in the next step of the consumer decision-making process.
Stage Three: Evaluation of Alternatives
By the time a consumer reaches this third stage of the consumer decision-making process, they already have a criterion in mind of the product they want. At the evaluation stage, consumers use this criterion as well as other factors to compare products.
The amount of time consumers spend on evaluating alternatives depends on several factors. Some of these factors include:
- time and financial costs
- the information that a consumer has on different products
- the amount of risk a consumer feels a wrong selection might hold
Additionally, consumers who feel the need to compile a long list of alternatives and compare them end up spending more time in the evaluation stage. Conversely, some do not enjoy the evaluation stage and find it challenging. Such individuals maintain their number of alternatives at a minimum regardless of whether they have enough information about the few products being among the best.
Consumers' criteria for evaluating alternatives differ from person to person; in the same way, consumers' needs and methods for seeking information vary. For example, Consumer A might consider the quality of products more in the evaluation stage, whereas Consumer B might consider the price more.
Apart from quality and style, consumers might also consider other products as alternatives because of
- availability and
- additional benefits
The products that a consumer compares are known as the evoked set. Any marketer's goal is to ensure that their goods make it to a consumer’s evoked set.
Most people spend a considerable amount of time evaluating the products in their evoked set. During this time, the number one thing that most consumers will be looking for is a product that can meet both their psychological and functional needs.
For instance, with a laptop bag, a consumer might be looking to address their fear of damaging their laptop (psychological need). They might also be looking for a product that offers style, comfort, and enough storage space (functional requirements).
How Can Marketers Influence Consumer Behavior at The Evaluation of Alternatives Stage?
The best way for marketers to influence consumer behavior during the comparison stage is through changing consumer beliefs. For example, when a consumer is searching for a laptop bag, you can change their belief that the size and number of compartments are the most critical features on a laptop bag.
Since views are objective facts, marketers can influence such a consumer through advertisements that remind them that durability and strength are of utmost importance.
To change consumers' beliefs, use factual information to convince a consumer that your product features are crucial. You want to convince the individual that the product you offer boasts of equally or far more critical features than the product they are currently considering.
The fact that a consumer is evaluating options means that they are unsure of what product they should choose. Because of that, you can change their mind and convince them to consider the features of your products.
One of the tactics you can embrace as a marketer is the use of FAQ pages. A consumer looking for a laptop bag will most likely search for a phrase like “must-have features in a laptop bag.” Include a question on your FAQ page such as “What are the must-have features on a laptop bag?” and then optimize the FAQ page for a search.
Under the item, provide all the necessary information on why a consumer should consider strength and durability. Address the importance of features like durability and strength, if that is what the laptop bag you are selling promises consumers.
Stage Four: Deciding To Purchase and Actually Purchasing
Regardless of the amount of time consumers spend in the first three stages of the consumer decision-making process, they will always reach the point where they need to actually decide to purchase a product.
Different factors affect the decision to buy. Many times, the decision to purchase and the purchase itself do not always happen concurrently. Some of the factors that influence buying decisions include;
- Last-minute feedback received from users of a similar product. For instance, once the consumer in the laptop bag example decides to buy a particular brand of bag, they might choose to share the news with a colleague at work. If they receive negative feedback on their shared information, they might change their preference.
- An unanticipated occurrence, such as the loss of a salary, means that an individual no longer has the financial capability to make the purchase.
Additionally, during this fourth stage of the consumer decision-making process, a consumer needs to decide;
- The location where they will buy the product: Consumers can purchase items online or physically from a store, with many opting to do online shopping. A consumer's decision to buy a product from a particular vendor depends on various factors, such as sales and return policies.
- When they buy the product: This decision highly depends on factors such as sale and time constraints.
As a marketer, before you get too excited because you have influenced consumers through stages one to three, remember that many consumers decide to abandon their purchase decision at this fourth stage.
How Can Marketers Influence Consumer Behavior at the Purchase Stage?
Here are two tips:
Ensure that consumers can quickly locate the path to purchase a product. That means ensuring that when consumers are looking for online stores, they can easily spot yours. Using buyer keywords to optimize your online store is a brilliant way of ensuring that consumers easily find your site. These keywords include;
On the other hand, physical stores should provide consumers with clear instructions on locating their stores. Regardless of how you choose to provide potential buyers with this information, ensure that the location details are clear and easy to understand. If consumers cannot locate your store quickly, they might choose to go to the one they can quickly find.
Make your checkout process as straightforward as possible. This is vital because over two-thirds of online consumers abandon their carts while shopping online. Consumers do not appreciate a complicated checkout process, and most shoppers that abandon their carts never return to complete their purchases. As an online store, you must ensure that consumers can quickly enter their details, select delivery options, and make their payments.
For example, if the individual looking to buy a bag finds that your checkout process is complex, they might choose to abandon the purchase and try another site.
Once marketers successfully convince consumers to purchase their products, most assume that it should end there. However, you need to take this fifth—and final—stage of the consumer decision-making process seriously because it is at this stage that you can gain or lose the most from consumers.
Stage Five: Post-Purchase Evaluation
It is at this last stage that many marketers fail miserably. Marketers who understand that completed purchases are only the beginning of consumers’ value for products know that once consumers buy products, the next step is to build a lasting relationship with them.
Once the buyer has purchased their laptop bag, they will have various physical and emotional experiences with their new product. After the purchase, their experiences will determine whether they regret buying the product or whether they feel satisfied.
Experiences remain engraved in a person's mind. The next time a consumer begins the first stage of the decision-making process, they will factor in your product's memories and experiences.
For example, after purchasing the laptop bag, the individual might drop it in water. If the water destroys their laptop, the next time they want to buy a bag, they will not settle for one that is not waterproof, meaning that they might decide not to repurchase your brand.
However, you can salvage the situation by giving such a customer a gift or offering them a discount for their next purchase. Such acts can save you from losing a customer.
On the other hand, if, after purchasing the laptop bag, it exceeds the buyer’s expectations, they not only become a potential future buyer, but they can also serve as an effective brand ambassador.
How Can Marketers Influence Consumer Behavior at the Post-Purchase Evaluation Stage?
You can make the most of the influence of consumers by requesting them to leave reviews of your products. While you may choose to send these requests through emails, be sure to avoid sending too many concurrent requests since consumers find this annoying. Hopefully, the number of positive reviews will always be more than the number of negative ones so that you increase sales.
Just as consumers get the most value out of your product, so should you get the most value out of them.
Since you now understand the consumer decision-making process, it is time for you to strive to influence consumers throughout the five stages of the consumer decision-making process.
As a quick review:
- Call out consumer problems before they find them themselves.
- Leverage user-generated content so consumers see people like them using and discussing your product.
- Strive to change consumer beliefs by offering them vital information you know they should consider alongside their evaluation criteria.
- Maintain visibility by ensuring consumers can quickly locate your store, and ensure that you make the checkout process as straightforward as possible.
- Do not stop interacting with consumers after receiving their money in the purchase stage because you need them to help sell your product.
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