Most consumers go through a buying process in making their purchases. Starting with problem recognition, the consumer passes through the stages of information search, evaluation of alternatives, purchase decision, and finally post purchase behavior.
Stage 1: Problem Recognition
The buying process starts when a consumer recognizes a problem or need to buy a product/service. The need can arise as a result of an actual necessity or peer pressure (friends/relatives consuming the product/service) or as a result of watching an advertisement.
Stage 2: Information Search
Consumers search for more information for the needs which turn into a drive to purchase. Consumer information sources include personal sources (family, friends, neighbors), commercial sources (advertising, websites, salespersons, retailers, packaging), public sources (social media, blogs), or experiential sources (handling, examining the product at a brand experience center).
Stage 3: Evaluation of Alternatives
For all purchases, most consumers have some attributes of interest and they evaluate different brands (derived from information search) based on those attributes. Depending on the importance of attributes and how a brand faired on same, some brands remain in the consideration set while others take an exit.
A comparative advertising between Verizon Wireless and AT&T published in the U.S.
Stage 4: Purchase Decision
In the evaluation stage, the consumer forms preferences among the brands in the choice set and then takes a decision. If all brands stand at par, then a decision is usually taken based on other factors like attitude/opinion of others towards the brand (users & non users), a lucrative offer, impactful advertising or influence of salesman/retailer.
Stage 5: Post-Purchase Behavior
Marketers must monitor post purchase satisfaction & actions of consumers. If the consumer is satisfied with the product’s performance, it will result in positive word of mouth and the consumer might post wonderful words on social networking sites as well. While brands can use it as a positive influencer for new consumers, a negative review can also result in a drastic deterioration of image. All brands must handle such situations with utmost care.
All products DO NOT necessarily go through the above buying process. The level of involvement of the consumer defines the buying journey which depends on 3 factors:
- Consumer mindset: Treating a product/service as a need or want
- Product price: High vs mid vs low cost purchases
- Consumer Knowledge: Existing awareness & understanding about the product/service category
Based on these 3 factors, the purchase decisions can be either low, high or limited involvement.
Low involvement decisions are typically routine purchases or repeat purchases. These are usually products that are relatively inexpensive and pose a low risk to the buyer if they make a mistake by purchasing them. These decisions are taken based on limited information or information they have gathered in the past. Impulse buying also falls into the domain of low-involvement as consumers do not put planning or much thought into such purchases.
By contrast, high-involvement decisions carry a higher risk to buyers if they fail, are complex, and/or have high price tags. A house, car, etc. are extremely high-involvement purchases. Even if the consumers have knowledge about these products, they engage in extended problem solving, where they spend a lot of time comparing different aspects/features about the product. High-involvement decisions can cause buyers a great deal of postpurchase anxiety if they are unsure about their purchases or if they had a difficult time deciding between two alternatives. Companies of high-involvement products needs to provide a lot of hand-holding even after purchase by way of maintaining a communication about superiority of the products and providing convenient service during the lifetime of their ownership.
Limited problem solving falls somewhere between low (routine) and high (extended problem solving) involvement decisions. Consumers engage in limited problem solving when they already have knowledge about a product or service but continue to search for a little more information. For eg, A consumer who uses a particular type of face crème (Acne-control/anti-ageing etc.) might look at similar type of crèmes or might consider his/her regular retailer’s recommendation.
However, when the consumer wants to go for an altogether new type/variant of face crème, then it becomes a high-involvement purchase decision as the subject involved is consumer’s skin/beauty. Hence, whether a decision is low, high or limited, involvement varies by consumer and not by product cost which is why Buyer Context/situation has a huge influence on consumer involvement.
Marketers must identify their target consumer, their most critical aspect of decision making, competition activity and accordingly design influential communication around the different stages of buying process.