Every time that the customer has to buy a mobile phone or every time the customer has to buy a television or sometimes that they have to buy an air conditioner, it is a very easy thing for consumers to make their choice and it is something that automatically happens in the consumer's mind.
But no, in psychology, in marketing and in consumer behavior, we try to break this process down into different stages.
So we'll talk about a five-stage process that consumers generally use to make a purchase decision. Now, these five stages that you can see are need recognition, search for information, evaluation of alternatives, product purchase and post-purchase behavior.
Five Stage Process That Consumers Use To Make a Purchase Decision
Now I'll come into each of them in detail and we'll discuss how the customer moves from one stage to the other and how he comes to the purchase decision and why is it so relevant to us. Because we try to make sure that the customer can seamlessly move from one stage to the other and at the end of the day, the customer can come and procure our products.
1. Need Recognition
Now, the first and most important stage here is need recognition or identification of a certain need.
In the previous article ‘what is marketing,’ we had discussed that a need is basically a basic human requirement that the customer has. Say, for example, hunger, thirst, air, etc. are basic needs.
Now the customer needs to understand that there is certain need that exists. In many cases, the customers feel and understand these needs on their own.
Say, for example, you have your mobile phone, your mobile phone breaks one fine day. You have a need for a new mobile phone because you want to communicate with others. You have an understanding that your mobile phone doesn't work as well as it was expected to work because it has become very old, so now you have a need for replacing this and getting a new mobile phone.
So in many cases, the customer will identify the need in himself or herself.
In many other cases, the customer doesn't necessarily know the need, so hence there are ways in which we provide stimuli and we help the customer understand these needs.
2. Search for Information
Now, once a customer has understood that there is a specific need, the next thing the customer does is to search for information, search for ways in which he can fulfill that need, and this thirst for information is one of the critical ways wherein we try to make ourselves relevant to the customer.
The search for information in most cases starts from your immediate reference group like we discussed earlier in the article - what are the different factors that influence the consumer?
You will go about to ask your friends. You'll see what kind of products you're friends are consuming. You will see a lot of advertisements out there and in today's day because the information is so easily accessible, almost two-thirds of consumers who are making a purchase decision start from the internet.
They go to a search engine like Google or Yahoo or Bing or any of these places. They start searching for information there.
You see which products exist. You see which companies are offering these products. You see what are the prices of these products? What are the different features that are available? You have options to compare all of these products. That is where we talk about the second stage, which is the search for information.
3. Evaluation of Alternatives
Once the customer has searched for a lot of information, the third stage basically is to evaluate the available alternatives.
Say consider the example that the customer is now buying a mobile phone or let's take the example of any of you is buying a mobile phone, a very easy decision.
Now, the answer to this question in many cases is no, because the number of options that you have, the number of brands that are available, the closeness of all of these brands, all the brands look the same. The specifications are the same.
It is very difficult for you to identify which of these brands to buy, so it becomes very difficult for customers to now evaluate the available alternatives.
Many times the customer looks for key features in each of these products. The customer looks for features that are relevant to the customer.
Some customers might find that the battery life of the product is the most important feature for me, so I will go for the product that has the highest battery life.
Some other customers feel that the style of the product is more important to me, so I'll go for the product that has the best style.
Some other customers think that I'm a brand conscious person, so I should buy a product that is the best-known brand, so customers will go for the product that is the best-known brand.
So irrespective of whichever customer you are, the customer identifies a set of parameters or a set of attributes in the product and based on these attributes, the customer starts evaluating all of these different products.
4. Product Purchase
Once you have evaluated all the alternatives, think back at the case of you buying a mobile phone.
It's not a very easy decision to make, but once you have arrived at a product to buy; this particular brand, this particular model, this particular price point that I have to buy, now you get into the fourth stage which is the actual purchase decision or actual purchasing of the product.
There are different options that you have. You can think about buying the product from the online space. You can go to one of the e-commerce portals and buy the product there. You can think about buying the product from the offline space wherein you can go to the electronic store nearby to your house and buy the product from there.
There are different reasons why you choose one over the other. We know that in general if you consider online versus offline shopping scenarios, online shopping scenarios, you'll have products which are a little cheaper.
There are different reasons why online companies are able to provide new products at a cheaper rate, but you'll find that there are price advantages you have when you buy it from the online space, but it takes time for the product to be delivered to you.
If you are looking for a product immediately, you want the possession of the product immediately, then you cannot wait for the product to be delivered to your house probably three days, four days or a week later, so hence you might go to a retail store nearby and buy the product from the retail store nearby wherein you'll be able to get the product immediately, but it will, of course, be at a higher price.
Now, that is a trade-off that the customers generally mix. So purchasing is the fourth stage of the purchase process or the decision making a journey of the customer, and the next important element here is about the post-purchase behavior.
5. Post Purchase Behavior
After you have purchased the product, there are certain behaviors that the customer, a customer generally shows. One of them is the evaluation of whether the product was worthy or not. You would have, all heard about this concept of satisfaction.
Now satisfaction essentially is the difference between how the product or service performed versus how you expected it to perform.
Say, for example, you identified that you wanted a new product, searched for all the information that was available and evaluated different mobile phone options out there. The most important parameter for you was battery life. You expected that brand A is going to give you a battery life of three days.
You buy this product, bring it back home. Remember, your expectation was that the battery life is going to be three days.
Once you have come home, you start using this product and in eight hours the battery has gone dead. You started off with a full charge, but the battery died in eight hours.
Now the performance of the product was eight hours, whereas your expectation was three days. Now the performance was not able to meet your expectations, the outcome is going to be dissatisfaction.
When the performance of the product is exceeding expectations, say, for example, you expected the product to be working for three days, but the product actually works for a whole week. Now performance is actually exceeding the expectations and that is where we say that the customer is extremely satisfied.
Now, what happens when you're satisfied, you generally have a good feeling about the product. You have a reason why you will go about talking good about the product. You will also write a lot of good reviews on eCommerce platforms, on social media.
If you are unhappy with the product, you will do all the things on the contrary. You will go about talking bad things about the product. You will tell your friends and family members never to buy the product.
So how the customer behaves towards the end of the purchase process and after the purchase of the product is extremely important because many times, this is where genuine feedback is collected from the customer.
Whether the customer liked the product? If the customer liked the product, then he is going to share a lot of positive word of mouth. If the customer didn't like the product, there is going to be a lot of negative word of mouth that will happen.
If the customer extremely like the product, there is going to be a concept where the customer will come back and buy the same product. This is what we call loyalty.
If the customer doesn't like your brand, then the customer is never going to come back and buy the product from you. So this is where we say that you have lost a customer.
So these are the five stages and each of these five stages is critical because every customer or let's say in most cases, the customer goes through all of these stages one after the other. These stages, once again are need recognition, information search, evaluation of alternatives, purchase and post-purchase decision making.