Author: Jim Riley Last updated: Sunday 23 September, 2012
Buyer behaviour - The decision-making process
How do customers buy?
Research suggests that customers go through a five-stage
decision-making process in any purchase. This is summarised in the diagram
This model is important for anyone making marketing decisions.
It forces the marketer to consider the whole buying process rather than just
the purchase decision (when it may be too late for a business to influence
The model implies that customers pass through all stages
in every purchase. However, in more routine purchases, customers often skip
or reverse some of the stages.
For example, a student buying a favourite hamburger would
recognise the need (hunger) and go right to the purchase decision, skipping
information search and evaluation. However, the model is very useful when
it comes to understanding any purchase that requires some thought and deliberation.
The buying process starts with need recognition. At this
stage, the buyer recognises a problem or need (e.g. I am hungry, we need a
new sofa, I have a headache) or responds to a marketing stimulus (e.g. you
pass Starbucks and are attracted by the aroma of coffee and chocolate muffins).
An “aroused” customer then needs to decide how
much information (if any) is required. If the need is strong and there is
a product or service that meets the need close to hand, then a purchase decision
is likely to be made there and then. If not, then the process of information
A customer can obtain information from several sources:
• Personal sources: family, friends, neighbours etc
• Commercial sources: advertising; salespeople; retailers; dealers;
packaging; point-of-sale displays
• Public sources: newspapers, radio, television, consumer organisations;
• Experiential sources: handling, examining, using the product
The usefulness and influence of these sources of information
will vary by product and by customer. Research suggests that customers value
and respect personal sources more than commercial sources (the influence of
“word of mouth”). The challenge for the marketing team is to identify
which information sources are most influential in their target markets.
In the evaluation stage, the customer must choose between
the alternative brands, products and services.
How does the customer use the information obtained?
An important determinant of the extent of evaluation is whether the customer
feels “involved” in the product. By involvement, we mean the degree
of perceived relevance and personal importance that accompanies the choice.
Where a purchase is “highly involving”, the customer is likely
to carry out extensive evaluation.
High-involvement purchases include those involving high
expenditure or personal risk – for example buying a house, a car or
Low involvement purchases (e.g. buying a soft drink, choosing
some breakfast cereals in the supermarket) have very simple evaluation processes.
Why should a marketer need to understand the customer evaluation
The answer lies in the kind of information that the marketing team needs
to provide customers in different buying situations.
In high-involvement decisions, the marketer needs to provide a good deal
of information about the positive consequences of buying. The sales force
may need to stress the important attributes of the product, the advantages
compared with the competition; and maybe even encourage “trial”
or “sampling” of the product in the hope of securing the sale.
Post-purchase evaluation - Cognitive Dissonance
The final stage is the post-purchase evaluation of the decision. It is common
for customers to experience concerns after making a purchase decision. This
arises from a concept that is known as “cognitive dissonance”.
The customer, having bought a product, may feel that an alternative would
have been preferable. In these circumstances that customer will not repurchase
immediately, but is likely to switch brands next time.
To manage the post-purchase stage, it is the job of the marketing team to
persuade the potential customer that the product will satisfy his or her needs.
Then after having made a purchase, the customer should be encouraged that
he or she has made the right decision.