Consumer Behaviour: the decision making process

When consumers show an interest in buying a certain product, many of them will follow a decision making process which follows the next steps: problem recognition (unsatisfied need), information search, evaluation of expected outcome,  purchase, post-purchase behaviour.  This process is a guideline for studying the way consumers make decisions, but it is important to remember that they can abandon the whole idea at any stage, and they do not necessarily continue with this decision making process up to a purchase.


The first stage in the buying decision is problem recognition.  Problem recognition occurs when a consumer is faced with an unsatisfied need (the need for a holiday) and desires a fulfilled outcome that satisfies this need.  Problem recognition is triggered by either external stimuli (advertisements) or internal stimuli (hunger or thirst).  Consumers can recognise unfulfilled wants in several ways, for example when an old product is not performing as well as it should, or when consumers are made aware of a new technology that will enhance their current product experience (new HD televisions).  The core of a marketer’s goal is to make consumers aware of possible unsatisfied needs, and to show the consumer how the product or service will fulfil that need.


The second stage in the buying decision is the search for information and the organization of this information within the individual’s frame of reference.  The information search involves exposure to different  sources, such as promotional material and displays of the product, actively researching the product, or relying on historic information in the consumer’s mind, such as preconceived ideas about a product or a previous experience (good or bad) with such a product.  Not all buying decisions rely this heavily on the gathering of information, and the extent to which a consumer conducts an information search depends largely on the perceived risk of the purchase.  Buying a tube of toothpaste is not perceived as a high risk purchase, and the extent to which a consumer will search for information will almost certainly not exceed the scope of his own previous experience.  However, a high risk purchase, such as buying a new car, might involve an extended search effort on the part of the consumer, because the trouble and time that is spend in finding the information are minimal compared to the risk of buying the wrong car.


The third stage of the decision making process, is the evaluation of expected outcome.  The consumer is now ready to make a decision based on all the information gathered, and those discarded.  The consumer has now developed a set of criteria against which he will base this decision, and will most likely be able to narrow his search down to only a few products.  The goal of the marketing manager is to determine which attributes of a product will convince a consumer to buy it.  Recent studies have shown that attributes which plays on emotions (such as perceived trustworthiness, perceived comfort, perceived excellence or perceived status) are the ones that weighs the heaviest in decision making processes.


This stage of the decision making process is critical, because many consumers are not able to make a rational decision by weighing up alternatives, and if they have reached this stage, the more emotional consumer has reached an uncritical blindness in which they become obsessed with buying the product.


The next step in the decision making process is to purchase the product.  The consumer has decided which product to buy, or not to buy anything at all.  If he decides to make a purchase, the next step in the process is an evaluation of the product after the purchase.


Post purchase behaviour – now that the consumer has made the purchase; he expects certain outcomes from his decision.  The level of satisfaction that the consumer will experience will depend largely on how many of his expectations were met.