Consumer Decision Making Process

30/05/2020 2 By indiafreenotes

Consumer buying behavior is the study of an individual or a household that purchases products for personal consumption. The process of buying behavior is shown in the following figure:

Consumer decision-making is a complex process influenced by various factors. Understanding this process is crucial for marketers to develop effective strategies that align with consumers’ needs and preferences.

Problem Recognition:

Problem recognition is the first step in the consumer decision-making process. It occurs when consumers perceive a discrepancy between their current state and a desired state. This recognition can be triggered by internal factors like physiological needs (e.g., hunger) or psychological needs (e.g., the desire for status). External factors, such as marketing stimuli or environmental changes, can also play a role. For instance, a consumer may realize the need for a new laptop because their current one is slow and outdated.

Triggers of Problem Recognition:

  • Internal Stimuli: Internal factors such as physiological needs, psychological desires, or changes in personal circumstances can trigger problem recognition. For example, hunger may lead to the recognition of a need for food.
  • External Stimuli: External influences, including marketing efforts, societal trends, or environmental changes, can play a significant role. Advertising, for instance, can create awareness of a product or service, sparking the recognition of a need.

Significance of Problem Recognition:

  • Initiating the Decision-Making Process: Problem recognition is the catalyst for the entire decision-making process. Without recognizing a need, consumers would have no reason to embark on the journey of considering, evaluating, and ultimately making a purchase.
  • Setting Priorities: It helps consumers prioritize their needs and allocate resources accordingly. The perceived urgency and importance of the need influence the subsequent steps in the decision-making process.
  • Opportunity for Marketers: For marketers, understanding the triggers of problem recognition provides an opportunity to position their products or services as solutions to consumers’ needs. Effective advertising and marketing campaigns can stimulate problem recognition and create demand.

Example Scenario:

Consider a consumer who experiences a malfunction in their laptop, hindering their ability to work efficiently. The internal stimulus here is the inconvenience caused by the malfunction. Simultaneously, external stimuli like online advertisements for the latest laptops with enhanced features may contribute to the recognition of a need for a new, more advanced laptop.

Marketing Implications:

  • Creating Awareness: Marketers can use various channels to create awareness of their products, emphasizing how these products address specific needs or desires.
  • Highlighting Solutions: Advertising should not only create awareness but also highlight how a product or service solves the consumer’s problem, making their life better or more convenient.
  • Timing of Marketing Messages: Understanding the timing of problem recognition is crucial. Marketers can tailor their messages to coincide with when consumers are most likely to recognize a need, such as during certain life events or seasonal changes.

Challenges in Problem Recognition:

  • Unconscious Needs: Some needs may be subconscious or latent, requiring marketers to delve deeper into understanding consumer motivations and desires.
  • Competing Influences: External stimuli can be numerous and competing, making it challenging for marketers to ensure their product stands out as a solution.

Methods of Problem-Solving:

  • Routine Decision-Making:

In routine decision-making, consumers make low-involvement, habitual choices. This often involves purchasing familiar products without extensive consideration. For example, buying a preferred brand of toothpaste.


  • Low Involvement: Consumers do not engage in extensive information search or evaluation.
  • Habitual Choices: Consumers rely on habits, past experiences, and brand loyalty.
  • Frequent Purchases: Products like daily groceries or personal care items often fall into this category.


  • Limited Decision-Making:

Limited decision-making occurs when consumers have some prior experience with a product but still seek additional information before making a decision. This may involve reading product reviews or comparing prices before purchasing.


  • Moderate Involvement: Consumers invest some effort in information search and evaluation.
  • Prior Experience: Consumers may have some familiarity with the product category.
  • Limited Information Search: Consumers gather information but may not extensively compare all available options.

Example Scenario:

Choosing a new smartphone by considering features, reading a few online reviews, and comparing prices before making a purchase.


  • Extensive Decision-Making:

Extensive decision-making is reserved for significant, high-involvement purchases. Consumers engage in extensive research, considering multiple options, and evaluating various features and benefits. Examples include buying a car or choosing a university.


  • High Involvement: Consumers invest considerable time and effort in information search and evaluation.
  • Significant Purchases: Products like a car, house, or higher education often involve extensive decision-making.
  • Comprehensive Information Search: Consumers explore a wide range of sources, seeking detailed information and comparing alternatives.

Example Scenario:

Selecting a university for higher education involves researching multiple institutions, comparing programs, considering faculty, and weighing factors like location and reputation.

Implications for Marketers:

Understanding the methods of problem-solving is essential for marketers as it helps them tailor their strategies based on the level of consumer involvement and decision complexity.

  • Routine Decision-Making: Marketers focus on brand loyalty, advertising frequency, and creating positive habits associated with the product.
  • Limited Decision-Making: Providing easily accessible information, highlighting key features, and addressing common concerns can influence consumer decisions.
  • Extensive Decision-Making: Marketers should emphasize detailed product information, offer comparative tools, and provide extensive support to guide consumers through the decision-making process.

Pre-purchase Search Influences:

Personal Factors:

Personal factors play a significant role in influencing the pre-purchase search process. These factors are intrinsic to the individual consumer and include:

  • Individual Needs: The specific needs and requirements of the consumer drive the search. For example, a person in need of a new laptop for work purposes may focus on specifications such as processing power and storage capacity.
  • Lifestyle: Consumer lifestyles influence the types of products or services they seek. An active, health-conscious lifestyle may lead to searches for fitness equipment or nutritious food options.
  • Values and Beliefs: Personal values and beliefs shape the criteria consumers use in their search. For instance, an environmentally conscious consumer may prioritize products with eco-friendly certifications.

Psychological Factors:

Psychological influences impact how consumers perceive and process information during the pre-purchase search. Key psychological factors include:

  • Perception: How consumers perceive products or brands can significantly influence their search behavior. Positive past experiences or brand associations may lead to biased information searches.
  • Motivation: Consumer motivation drives the intensity of the search. Higher motivation may lead to more extensive research efforts, especially for products or services with significant personal or financial implications.
  • Learning: Past experiences and learning play a role in shaping consumer preferences. Positive experiences with a brand may lead to brand loyalty, while negative experiences can prompt consumers to explore alternatives.

Social Factors:

Social influences have a substantial impact on the pre-purchase search process. Consumers often seek information and opinions from their social circles, including:

  • Word of Mouth: Recommendations from friends, family, or colleagues can greatly influence the search process. Positive reviews or testimonials may prompt consumers to consider a particular product or brand.
  • Social Media: Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter serve as sources of information and reviews. Social media influencers can also sway consumer opinions and choices.
  • Cultural and Societal Trends: Larger cultural and societal trends may influence what products or services consumers search for. For example, an increasing focus on sustainability may lead consumers to seek eco-friendly products.

Economic Factors:

Economic considerations, including the financial situation of the consumer, can impact the pre-purchase search:

  • Budget Constraints: Consumers often search for products within a certain budget range. Price comparison websites and reviews related to product value become crucial in this context.
  • Promotions and Discounts: Special promotions, discounts, or limited-time offers may stimulate pre-purchase searches. Consumers may actively seek information on the best deals available.

Technological Factors:

The advent of technology, particularly the internet, has transformed the pre-purchase search process:

  • Online Reviews and Ratings: Consumer reviews on e-commerce websites, forums, and review platforms heavily influence pre-purchase decisions. Positive reviews can build trust and confidence in a product or service.
  • Comparison Websites: Consumers frequently use comparison websites to evaluate different products or services based on features, prices, and user reviews.
  • E-commerce Platforms: The convenience of online shopping has led to increased pre-purchase searches on e-commerce platforms. Consumers can easily compare products, read reviews, and make informed decisions.

Implications for Marketers:

Understanding the influences on pre-purchase search is crucial for marketers aiming to connect with consumers during this information-seeking stage:

  • Content Marketing: Creating informative and engaging content that addresses consumer needs and concerns can attract attention during the pre-purchase search.
  • Social Media Engagement: Maintaining an active and positive presence on social media platforms allows brands to participate in conversations and respond to consumer inquiries and feedback.
  • Online Reputation Management: Managing online reviews and actively addressing customer concerns contributes to a positive brand image and influences the pre-purchase search process.
  • Digital Marketing Strategies: Leveraging digital marketing channels, including search engine optimization (SEO), targeted advertising, and influencer partnerships, enhances a brand’s visibility during the pre-purchase search.

Information Search:

Consumers seek information through various sources:

1. Internal Sources:

Internal sources involve using information stored in memory based on past experiences, knowledge, and attitudes. Consumers rely on their own thoughts and past interactions with products or services.

  • Personal Experience: Memories of past experiences with a product or service can shape preferences and influence decision-making.
  • Prior Knowledge: Existing knowledge about a product category gained through education, research, or personal interest can guide the information search.
  • Attitudes and Beliefs: Personal beliefs and attitudes towards certain brands or features can serve as internal sources of information.

2. External Sources:

External sources encompass information obtained from outside oneself. Consumers seek information from various external sources to gain a broader perspective and make more informed decisions.

  • Personal Contacts: Recommendations and advice from friends, family, colleagues, or acquaintances can be powerful influencers. Word of mouth plays a significant role in shaping perceptions.
  • Commercial Sources: Information provided by businesses through advertising, promotional materials, and sales representatives. Marketers use various channels, such as TV, radio, print, and online platforms, to disseminate information.
  • Public Sources: Information from public sources such as consumer reports, product reviews, and expert opinions. Consumers often turn to these sources for unbiased assessments.
  • Experiential Sources: Consumers may engage in hands-on experiences or product trials to gather information. Testimonials, demonstrations, and samples fall into this category.

3. Online Sources:

With the rise of the internet, online sources have become increasingly important in the information search process.

  • Search Engines: Consumers use search engines like Google to find information about products, reviews, and specifications.
  • Social Media: Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram play a crucial role in influencing opinions. Consumers may seek recommendations and read comments and reviews.
  • Review Websites: Dedicated review websites and forums allow consumers to share their experiences and read reviews from others.
  • E-commerce Platforms: Online shopping websites provide detailed product information, customer reviews, and the ability to compare products.

4. Experiential Sources:

Experiential sources involve firsthand interaction with a product or service. Consumers may engage in various activities to gain direct experience, including:

  • Product Testing: Trying out a product before making a purchase decision, commonly seen in industries like electronics or cosmetics.
  • In-Store Displays: Physical retail stores provide opportunities for consumers to interact with products on display.
  • Product Samples: Offering free samples or trial versions allows consumers to experience a product’s features and benefits.

Implications for Marketers:

Understanding the sources of information consumers rely on during the information search stage is crucial for marketers to tailor their strategies effectively:

  • Content Marketing: Creating informative and engaging content that addresses consumer needs and concerns can attract attention during the information search.
  • Online Presence: Maintaining an active and positive presence on online platforms is essential. This includes social media, e-commerce websites, and review platforms.
  • SEO Strategies: Optimizing online content for search engines enhances visibility, making it easier for consumers to find relevant information.
  • Consumer Education: Providing easily accessible and accurate information helps consumers make informed decisions. Educational content can establish a brand as a trusted source of information.
  • Influencer Collaborations: Partnering with influencers or experts in the industry can amplify a brand’s message and provide additional credibility.

Alternative Evaluation and Selection:

After conducting an information search, consumers move on to the stage of alternative evaluation and selection. This phase involves comparing and contrasting different alternatives to make a decision about which product or service to purchase. Various factors influence this stage, ranging from individual preferences to external influences.

1. Perceived Value:

Perceived value is a crucial factor in the evaluation of alternatives. Consumers assess the benefits they expect to receive from a product or service against the cost, both monetary and non-monetary. This assessment contributes to the perceived value of each alternative.

  • Features and Benefits: Consumers evaluate the features and benefits offered by each alternative. Products that align closely with their needs and preferences are perceived as having higher value.
  • Price: The cost of the product or service relative to its perceived benefits influences the perceived value. Consumers often seek a balance between quality and affordability.

2. Brand Reputation:

Brand reputation plays a significant role in the evaluation process. Consumers may have preconceived notions about a brand based on past experiences, advertising, or word-of-mouth.

  • Trust and Credibility: Established brands with a history of delivering quality products build trust. Positive reviews and testimonials contribute to the credibility of a brand.
  • Brand Loyalty: Consumers may prefer brands they have used before and had positive experiences with, leading to a higher likelihood of selecting products from those brands.

3. Personal Preferences:

Individual preferences and tastes greatly influence the evaluation of alternatives. Consumers are drawn to products that align with their lifestyle, values, and aesthetic preferences.

  • Aesthetic Appeal: The visual appeal of a product, including design, colors, and packaging, can influence the decision-making process.
  • Personal Values: Consumers may prioritize products that align with their values, such as environmental sustainability or ethical production practices.

4. Decision Heuristics:

Decision heuristics are mental shortcuts or rules of thumb that consumers use to simplify the decision-making process. Common heuristics include:

  • Brand Loyalty: Preferring a familiar brand without extensive consideration of alternatives.
  • Price as an Indicator: Assuming that higher-priced products are of higher quality.
  • Country of Origin: Associating certain countries with quality or specific attributes.

5. Social Influences:

Social factors continue to influence the evaluation and selection of alternatives. Peer opinions, recommendations, and societal trends can impact consumer choices.

  • Word of Mouth: Recommendations from friends, family, or colleagues carry significant weight. Positive word of mouth can sway consumer decisions.
  • Social Trends: Following trends and conforming to societal norms may influence the evaluation of alternatives. Products that align with popular trends may be more appealing.

6. Online Reviews and Ratings:

Online reviews and ratings, often accessed during the information search stage, continue to be influential during the evaluation of alternatives.

  • User-generated Content: Consumers trust the opinions of fellow consumers. Positive reviews and high ratings contribute positively to the evaluation of a product.
  • Critical Reviews: Negative reviews and critical feedback can also impact the evaluation. Brands that respond to criticism and address concerns demonstrate responsiveness.

7. Decision Rules:

Decision rules are criteria or standards that consumers use to guide their choices. These rules can be conjunctive (setting minimum standards for each attribute), disjunctive (looking for one attribute that stands out), or lexicographic (prioritizing attributes in order of importance).

  • Conjunctive Rules: Consumers might set minimum standards for essential attributes. A product must meet these standards to be considered.
  • Disjunctive Rules: Consumers may focus on a single attribute that stands out, such as an outstanding feature or a particularly low price.
  • Lexicographic Rules: Consumers prioritize attributes and select the alternative that performs best on the most important attribute.

Implications for Marketers:

Understanding the factors that influence alternative evaluation and selection is vital for marketers seeking to position their products favorably in the minds of consumers:

  • Value Proposition: Clearly communicate the value proposition of the product, emphasizing features, benefits, and how it addresses consumer needs.
  • Brand Building: Invest in building a positive brand image through quality products, transparent communication, and positive customer experiences.
  • Understanding Preferences: Tailor marketing messages and product offerings to align with the preferences and values of the target audience.
  • Social Proof: Encourage positive reviews and testimonials. Engage with consumers on social media and leverage user-generated content to build trust.
  • Competitive Pricing: Consider pricing strategies that align with the perceived value of the product, offering a competitive advantage in the market.
  • Innovative Design: Pay attention to product aesthetics and design, as these factors can significantly influence consumer preferences.

Outlet Selection:

After consumers evaluate and select a preferred product or service, the next step in the consumer decision-making process is outlet selection. This stage involves choosing where to make the purchase. Various factors influence outlet selection, ranging from convenience to the overall shopping experience.

1. Convenience:

Convenience is a major factor in outlet selection. Consumers often choose outlets that are easily accessible and fit into their daily routines.

  • Location: The proximity of the outlet to the consumer’s home, workplace, or frequently visited areas influences the convenience of making a purchase.
  • Operating Hours: Consumers prefer outlets with extended operating hours, allowing flexibility in when they can make their purchases.

2. Assortment of Products:

Consumers may choose outlets based on the variety and availability of products. Larger stores or online platforms with a diverse range of products may be preferred.

  • Product Availability: Consumers prefer outlets where they can find the specific product they are looking for without having to visit multiple locations.
  • Product Quality: Outlets known for offering high-quality products may attract consumers seeking assurance in their purchases.

3. Pricing and Discounts:

Pricing plays a crucial role in outlet selection. Consumers often seek the best deals and discounts.

  • Competitive Pricing: Outlets offering competitive prices compared to other options in the market may attract cost-conscious consumers.
  • Promotions and Discounts: Special promotions, discounts, or loyalty programs can influence outlet selection, encouraging repeat business.

4. Brand Reputation:

The reputation of the outlet or retailer can impact consumer choices. Established and reputable outlets may be perceived as more trustworthy.

  • Brand Recognition: Outlets associated with well-known and trusted brands may be favored by consumers.
  • Customer Reviews: Positive reviews and feedback from other consumers contribute to the overall perception of an outlet.

5. Customer Service:

The level of customer service provided by an outlet can significantly influence consumer satisfaction and loyalty.

  • Friendly Staff: Courteous and helpful staff contribute to a positive shopping experience.
  • Return Policies: Consumer-friendly return and exchange policies can instill confidence in the outlet.

6. Online vs. Offline:

With the growth of e-commerce, consumers must decide between purchasing from physical stores or online platforms.

  • Online Platforms: Convenience, ease of comparison, and the ability to shop from anywhere contribute to the popularity of online outlets.
  • Physical Stores: Some consumers prefer the in-person experience, being able to touch and feel products before making a purchase.

7. Atmosphere and Ambiance:

For physical stores, the atmosphere and ambiance can impact outlet selection.

  • Store Layout: An organized and visually appealing store layout can enhance the overall shopping experience.
  • Cleanliness and Comfort: A clean and comfortable environment contributes to a positive impression.

8. Social and Cultural Factors:

Social and cultural influences can also play a role in outlet selection.

  • Peer Recommendations: Recommendations from friends or family members may sway outlet choices.
  • Cultural Relevance: Outlets that align with cultural values or trends may be more appealing to certain consumer segments.

Implications for Marketers:

Understanding the factors influencing outlet selection allows marketers to tailor strategies to meet consumer preferences:

  • Strategic Location: Consider the location of physical stores to maximize convenience for the target audience.
  • Competitive Pricing Strategies: Employ pricing strategies that offer value to consumers, whether through competitive pricing or attractive promotions.
  • Online Presence: Invest in user-friendly online platforms, emphasizing convenience and security in the online shopping experience.
  • Customer Service Excellence: Prioritize customer service training for staff to enhance the overall shopping experience.
  • Branding and Reputation Management: Build and maintain a positive brand image through effective branding and reputation management efforts.
  • Adaptation to Cultural Trends: Stay attuned to cultural trends and preferences, adjusting marketing strategies accordingly.

Purchase Decision:

The purchase decision is the final stage in the consumer decision-making process, where consumers commit to buying the chosen product or service from a specific outlet. This stage involves the culmination of the preceding steps, including problem recognition, information search, alternative evaluation, and outlet selection. Several factors influence the purchase decision, and understanding these factors is crucial for marketers.

1. External Influences:

External factors continue to play a role in the purchase decision, even at the final stage. These external influences can include:

  • Promotions and Discounts: Special promotions, discounts, or limited-time offers can serve as catalysts for making the purchase decision.
  • Peer Recommendations: Positive word-of-mouth from friends, family, or colleagues can affirm the consumer’s choice and contribute to the decision to make a purchase.
  • Social Proof: Positive online reviews, ratings, and testimonials can provide additional reassurance and influence the final decision.

2. Marketing Communications:

Marketing efforts and communications can impact the purchase decision:

  • Advertising: Consistent and persuasive advertising messages can reinforce the consumer’s choice and create a sense of urgency.
  • Branding: Strong and positive brand associations can influence the perceived value of the product or service, contributing to the purchase decision.
  • Point-of-Sale Displays: In-store or online displays can capture the consumer’s attention at the critical moment of decision-making.

3. Perceived Risk:

Consumers often assess the perceived risk associated with the purchase. This risk can be financial, performance-related, or related to psychological factors.

  • Financial Risk: Concerns about whether the product is worth the price paid.
  • Performance Risk: Worries about the product’s functionality and whether it will meet expectations.
  • Psychological Risk: Fear of making the wrong decision or concerns about how the purchase reflects on the consumer.

4. Post-Purchase Evaluation:

While technically occurring after the purchase decision, post-purchase evaluation can influence future decisions and brand loyalty:

  • Satisfaction: The level of satisfaction with the purchase directly impacts the likelihood of repeat business and positive word-of-mouth.
  • Cognitive Dissonance: Consumers may experience cognitive dissonance, a feeling of discomfort or doubt after a significant purchase. Marketers can address this through post-purchase communication and support.

5. Ease of Purchase:

The ease and convenience of the purchase process can impact the decision to buy:

  • Checkout Process: For online purchases, a streamlined and user-friendly checkout process can reduce friction and encourage completion.
  • Payment Options: Providing a variety of payment options can cater to different consumer preferences.

6. Emotional Factors:

Emotional factors can heavily influence the purchase decision:

  • Brand Loyalty: Positive emotions associated with a brand or product can lead to repeat purchases.
  • Impulse Buying: Emotional triggers, such as excitement or desire, can lead to impulse buying decisions.

7. Environmental Factors:

The physical environment or context in which the purchase decision occurs can also play a role:

  • In-Store Atmosphere: For physical retail locations, factors like store layout, lighting, and ambiance can impact the purchase decision.
  • Online Shopping Experience: The user interface, website design, and overall online shopping experience contribute to the purchase decision for e-commerce.

Implications for Marketers:

Understanding the dynamics of the purchase decision stage allows marketers to optimize their strategies for greater success:

  • Last-Minute Incentives: Consider offering last-minute incentives, such as exclusive discounts or limited-time promotions, to encourage immediate purchase decisions.
  • Post-Purchase Engagement: Implement post-purchase communication strategies to address potential concerns, gather feedback, and build a positive post-purchase experience.
  • Emotional Connection: Strengthen emotional connections with consumers through branding, storytelling, and marketing messages that resonate with their values and aspirations.
  • Optimized Checkout Process: Streamline the online purchasing process, reducing friction points to enhance ease and convenience.
  • Customer Support: Provide accessible and responsive customer support to address any post-purchase concerns promptly.