Consumer Decision Making Process

Consumer Decision Making Process

Consumer Decision Making Process in Buying 

Consumer decision making process is a complex and complicated journey that people undertake when making purchase decisions. Understanding this process is important for businesses aiming to effectively engage with their target audience and influence their decisions.

Consumer decision making process is the process of selecting an appropriate option from two or more alternatives. A customer enjoys the freedom of choosing a particular product or brand when there is more than one product or brand to choose from. 

The buyer makes his buying decision, for some commodities immediately without much consideration such as items of daily use while for some other commodities mainly luxury or durable things, he thinks largely before taking a decision to purchase it.

Sometimes, consumers consult others. Generally, the purchaser passes through five distinct stages in making a decision to purchase a particular commodity.

Broadly, in making a purchase decision the consumer goes through the stages given below:

Consumer Decision Making Process

Consumer decision making process includes the following steps:

  • Problem Recognition 
  • Pre-purchase Information Search 
  • Evaluation of Alternatives
  • Purchase Decision 
  • Post-purchase Behaviour

1) Problem Recognition 

The consumer buying process begins with the identification of a problem or a need. This identification may come from internal stimuli (such as hunger, or desire to look good) or an external one (such as a TV advertisement, or a suggestion from a friend). When consumers recognise a need, the inner drive to fulfil the need is called motivation. Therefore, marketers must find out what inspires their customers so that they can appeal to those motives. In other words, marketers must have a fair knowledge of buying motives.

2) Pre-purchase Information Search 

Having recognised a problem or need, the next step a customer may take is the information search step, to find out what they feel is the best solution. This is the customer’s effort to search internal and external business environment, to identify and evaluate information sources related to the central buying decision. The customer may rely on visual, print,  online media or word of mouth marketing for obtaining information.

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At the next level, the person may enter active information search looking for reading material, phoning friends and visiting stores to learn about the product of key interest to the marketers, which are the major information sources to which the consumer will turn and the relative influence each will have on the subsequent purchase decision. Consumer information sources come into four groups.

i) Personal Sources: Family,  neighbours, friends, acquaintances.

ii) Commercial Sources: Advertising,  dealers, salespersons, packaging, displays.

iii) Public Sources: Mass media,  rating organisations, and consumers.

iv) Experiential Sources: Handling, using the product, examining, etc.

3) Evaluation of Alternatives

As one might expect, consumers will evaluate different products or brands at this stage based on alternative product attributes which can deliver the benefits the customer is seeking. A factor that heavily influences this stage is the customer’s attitude. Consumer involvement is another factor that influences the evaluation process. 

For example, if the customer’s attitude is positive and involvement is high, then they will evaluate several companies or brands, but if it is low, only one company or brand will be evaluated.

There is no single evaluation process used by a consumer in all buying situations. There are many decision evaluation processes the most current models of which see the process as cognitively oriented. That is, they see the consumer as framing judgment largely on a rational and conscious basis. 

The evaluation may be thought of as a system: 

i) Evaluative (Choice) Criteria: These are the dimensions used by consumers to evaluate or compare products and brands. In the car example, the relevant evaluative criteria may be fuel economy, purchase price and reliability.

ii) Beliefs: These are the degrees to which, in the consumer’s mind, a product possesses various features, e.g., roominess. 

iii) Attitudes: These are the degrees of like or dislike towards a product and are in turn dependent on the evaluative criteria used to judge the products and the beliefs about the product measured by those criteria.

iv) Intentions: This measures the probability that attitudes will be acted upon. The assumption is that favourable attitudes will increase purchase intentions, i.e., the probability that the customer will buy.

4) Purchase Decision 

Once the consumer has limited the possible alternatives to just a few, he may make a decision to purchase. The customer would decide whether to buy, and if so, then what, where, & when to buy. Consumers may also postpone or forgo purchase decisions if none of the short-listed alternatives meets their needs.

In the evaluation stage, the consumer forms a preference among the brands in the choice. The consumer may also form an intention to purchase the most preferred brand. However, two factors can intervene between the purchase decision and the purchase intention.

i) The first aspect is the attitudes of others. The extent to which another person’s attitude reduces, one’s  preferred alternative depends on two things:

 a) The intensity of the other person’s negative attitude towards the consumer’s favoured alternative.

 b) The consumer’s motivation to comply with the other individual’s wishes.

ii) The second factor is unexpected situation factors that may erupt to change the purchase intention. 

Preferences and even purchase intentions are not fully reliable predictors of purchase behaviour. 

A consumer’s decision to postpone, modify, or avoid a purchase decision is heavily influenced by perceived risk. The amount of perceived risk varies with the amount of money at stake the amount of attribute, uncertainty and the amount of consumer self-confidence.

5) Post-purchase Behaviour 

In brief, customers will compare products with their previous expectations and will be either satisfied or dissatisfied. Therefore, these stages are critical in retaining customers. This can greatly affect the decision process for similar purchases from the same organization in the future, having a knock-on effect at the information search stage and evaluation of alternatives stage. 

After purchasing the product, the customer will experience some level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction. The marketer’s job does not end when the product is purchased. Marketers must monitor post-purchase actions, post-purchase satisfaction and post-purchase product use.

i) Post-purchase Satisfaction: 

What determines whether the customer will be highly satisfied, somewhat satisfied or dissatisfied with a purchase? Customer satisfaction is a function of the closeness between the customer’s expectations and the product’s perceived performance. 

If performance falls short of expectations, the customer is disappointed; if it meets expectations the customer is satisfied; if it is beyond expectations the customer is delighted. These feelings signify a difference in whether the customer buys the product again and talks favourably or unfavourably about the product to others.

ii) Post-purchase Actions: 

The consumer’s satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the product will affect subsequent behaviour. If the consumer is satisfied he will show a higher probability of purchasing the product again. The dissatisfied consumer may dump or return the product. 

They may seek information that verifies its high value. They may take public action by going to a lawyer, complaining to the company, or complaining to other groups (such as business private or government agencies). 

Private action includes making a decision to stop purchasing the product (exit option) or, warning friends (voice option). In all these cases the seller has done a poor job of satisfying the customer.

iii) Post-purchase Use and Disposal: 

Marketers should also monitor how customers use and dispose of the product. If consumers store the product in a closet, the product is probably not very satisfying and word-of-mouth will be not strong. If they trade or sell the product new product sales will be depressed. The consumer may also find new uses for the product.

Consumer Decision: Process Approach

This looks at consumer behaviour as a method rather than just an act. It takes cognizance of what happens before & after the purchase act. It is mostly adopted.

There are five main stages of the decision-making process approach to consumer behaviour, namely problem recognition, information search, alternative evaluation, purchase or acquisition, and outcome or post-purchase behaviour.

The decision-process approach to the study of consumer behaviour focuses on how consuming units reach a purchase decision. The configuration of this decision process consists of five processes linked in a sequence:

1) Problem recognition,

2) Alternative evaluation-internal search,

3) Alternative evaluation search,

4) Purchase, and

5) Outcomes

This conceptualisation describes the behavioural process that is operative from the time the consumer recognises that some decision is necessary to the point at which there is some post-purchase evaluation of the particular purchase.

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