Consumer Decision-Making Process

After a company has made a clear vision of who your target audience is, you will then have to understand the decision-making process before they make the purchase. There are five steps in the process, that you will need to consider:

  • Problem Recognition
  • Product Information Research
  • Product Evaluation and Alternatives
  • Product Choice and Purchase
  • Purchase Use and Evaluation

The purchase is only the visible part of a much more complex process, which happens before and after the sale. Here we will examine in detail the buyer decision-making process and the stages that lead a consumer to buy a new product.

Problem Recognition

This part of the decision-making process is when the consumer realises that they have a need or a want that is not satisfied at the moment, there is a gap between the consumers’ current state and their desired state. This gap can be a basic need, let’s say for example your football boots are too old and ripped and you need new ones, or more often it can be provoked by marketing communication, e.g. you see a new commercial of Cristiano Ronaldo’s new CR7 Nikes and even though your current boots are in a perfect condition, you have to buy the Nike CR7 because a need was triggered, that you did not had before you have seen the advertising. The advertising promised you that you will be a better footballer.

Product Information Research

Once the need is recognised the next step a consumer takes is to make a research on the product. This process takes the longest, it is dependent on the involvement (high, e.g. buying a car and low, e.g. buying fast-moving consumer goods) and it is split in two; an internal search and an external search.

Internal search is when the consumer tries to search in his memory, if they had any past experience with the product or brand and whether they were previously happy with the company’s products or services.

Let’s say, Lionel wants to switch from Adidas to Nike for his Sunday league games, he admires Ronaldo and wants to be more like him and of course, the commercial says that all you need is a new pair of boots, like Cristiano’s, and you will magically become a much more skilful player. What he will do is try and remember the last time he played football with Nike. He will then think if he was happy with the shoes if they were comfortable and durable.

In Lionel’s case, the internal information is not enough to trigger a purchase, as for the past few years he was only playing with Adidas and he is not sure if Nike would be as comfortable.

This is where the external part of the research comes in. The external research could be anything from watching reviews on YouTube and online research to talking to friends who play with Nike. Any information that Lionel collects to better understand the product is considered external.

Fortunately for all producers, the internet has made that process broader and easy to access. There are the companies’ websites, their social media pages and blog and vlog pages, where consumers can get quick access to any product information they could possibly need.

The bad side for the companies (and good for consumers) here, is that the companies have no control over the social media and the reviews customers leave after they have experienced their products or services.

Product Evaluation and Alternatives

After the customer (Lionel), have found all the necessary information about the product, he will then need to evaluate the alternatives he discovered during the research.

The Internet is full of product comparisons and during his research on the new CR7 Nike, Lionel found a video that is putting them in a comparison with Zlatan Ibrahimović’s “205 Million Names” Nike. So now Lionel knows about other Nike football shoes and needs to make a decision if he wants to stay with his original idea or will move to something else.

This process takes into consideration different factors that the different products can offer. Things like quality, price, design, colour, durability, popularity, available feedback from other existing customers and availability will be compared between the different alternatives. (More about Product Evaluation)

Product Choice and Purchase

Let us say, Lionel, have made his decision and he decides to go with Zlatan’s model because they look slightly better and part of the money goes for charity to children in need and just because he likes Ibrahimović better. This, however, is not the end of the decision-making process, because there are a few more factors that need to be considered, which are taking place in the purchasing stage. These factors are availability, previous shopping experience from the shop (or online store), return policies and ongoing promotions.

Lionel goes to the nearest sports store and unfortunately, there are no available shoes from the model he looks for. However, a helpful employ checks for availability in some of their other stores in the country and also in their online shop and finds a pair of the size Lionel is looking for. The employee tells him that they can deliver the shoes, by next Tuesday. Lionel is not really happy because he had his heart set on playing this Sunday with his new boots, so he decides to ask if they have the new CR7 Nike. Not only they have it in-store, but they are also on promotion this week and are 20% off. Lionel goes with the CR7 with a mix feeling about the purchase. It is almost as if someone else made the choice of purchase for him.

Purchase Use and Evaluation

Even though the purchase has been made, the process does not end here. The post-purchase evaluation will influence the consumers’ future relationship with the product and brand.

Lionel had a great game the following Sunday and felt like a superstar while playing. The football boots were very comfortable and light and gave him more freedom to use his skills on the football pitch. The next time he needs a new pair of boots he will consider buying Nike’s CR7 as he was once satisfied with the brand. If it was the other way around and the boots did not meet his needs, Lionel is going to go back to the brand he likes or explore others and exclude CR7 Nike from his “evoked set”.

Post-purchase behaviour is important because that is the stage where brand loyalty is created. When a consumer is loyal to a brand, he/she will also recommend the product to other people, a tendency which a marketer cannot afford to overlook. If the product has brought satisfaction to the consumer, he/she will then minimize stages of information search and alternative evaluation for his next purchases in order to buy the same brand.



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