Stages of Buying Process

The buying process is divided into various stages – Need recognition, Information search, Evaluation of alternatives, Purchase and Post-purchase evaluation of decisions.

Below are various stages of buying process:

Problem Recognition

The decision making process begins with the recognition that a problem exists.

  • The problem may be functional like a slow computer or a small house. The marketer will have to communicate the new level of function or benefit of the product in an exaggerated way so that the customer feels at a disadvantage owning the current product. The marketer will also have to emphasize the importance of the function so that the customer feels uncomfortable not possessing the new product which can perform the function.
  • The recognition of the problem may take place over a period of time. For instance, the need for a larger house may be realized by a family over many years.
  • The problem recognition may occur as a result of routine depletion, for instance, petrol for the car, or other such regular requirements in a household.
  • Unpredictable problems, for instance, breakdown of car.
  • The problem recognition may be initiated by emotional or psychological needs, for instance, status.

An individual may have several problems or needs at the same time. But he may not get around to solving all these needs at once. Consumers tend to prioritize needs. The degree to which the consumer intends to resolve the problem depends on several factors – for instance, the magnitude of discrepancy between desired and present situation, and the relative importance of the problem.

The magnitude of discrepancy between desired and present situation is important. A problem may be perceived, but if the difference between the current and desired situation is small, the consumer may not be motivated to seek a solution for the problem. An innovative product with decisive advantage over the existing ones will have to be provided to make such a customer uncomfortable with his existing state and make him adopt a better method of satisfying his need.

Relative importance of the problem is important. A large discrepancy between the current and the desired situation may be perceived, but the relative importance of the problem may be small and the consumer will not proceed to seek a solution for the problem.The provider of the new solution will have to communicate the importance of the function itself. The customer has to be told that he is missing something important.

There may be need inhibitors which the consumer will have to overcome before he buys the product. A consumer may have realized the need for a car but he may be postponing the purchase because he does not know driving. The marketer will have to identify such inhibitors and try to eliminate them.

Marketers must be aware of the needs of customers and the problems that they face. If needs are known accurately, competitive advantage can be created by designing solutions that serve those needs accurately. This may be accomplished through marketing research, but increasingly marketers have to see and study the context of use of the product and be able to identify the latent needs of the customer.

Marketers should know that needs may arise because of stimulation. Advertisements and salespeople selling product benefits may act as cues for the arousal of needs. The advertisement should create awareness of large discrepancy and also stress on importance of owning the latest products.

Information Search

The consumer, after recognizing the need for a product, searches for alternatives that may fulfill his needs, and evaluates these alternatives on the basis of various choice criteria.

  • The consumer first conducts an internal search. Internal search involves retrieving relevant information from his memory. Internal search involves retrieving information about similar purchase decisions made earlier by the consumer, or information about the product received from personal or non-personal sources that was stored in the memory for future usage. Such information includes decisions about choice criteria, brands included in the consideration set, information received from reference groups or advertisements related to the product, etc.
  • In case the internal search for information is found to be insufficient, the consumer goes in for external search. External sources involve information collection from personal sources such as family, friends, and non-personal or commercial sources such as advertisements, retailers and other media sources.
  • Third party reports may provide unbiased information to consumers about a company and its offerings. Retailers and media reports by independent agencies are therefore particularly credible sources of information for consumers.
  • Personal experience with the product is often unsubstitutable for evaluating the product. Consumers may seek limited trials of the product before buying, or may ask for demonstrations.
  • The objective of information search is to build up an awareness set, which is an array of brands that may provide a solution to the problem.
  • An advertisement may not only stimulate search for more unbiased information regarding the advertised product but also may stimulate external information search about rival brands.

Evaluation of Alternatives and Purchase

  • The awareness set has to be reduced to a smaller set of brands for serious consideration through screening. This smaller set is called the evolved set or the consideration set.
  • The screening process to narrow down the choice to a few brands may use different choice criteria from those used when making the final choice. Consumers use various types of rules while arriving at the set of possible brands that can be considered for purchase.
  • Involvement is the degree of perceived relevance and personal importance accompanying a particular purchase decision. In high involvement decisions, the consumer carries out extensive evaluations of the brands. High involvement purchases typically incur high expenditure or personal risks. The consumer spends more time and effort in arriving at the ‘right’ decision. The evaluation of choices is more stringent and the consumer uses many choice criteria on which to evaluate various brands.
  • Low involvement products incur less expenditure and personal risk, and hence, the consumer spends less time and effort in such decisions. In such purchases, simple and lesser evaluative criteria are used. Consumers use simple choice tactics to reduce time and effort in buying the product rather than maximize consequences of the purchase.
  • In high involvement products, consumers evaluate the consequences of the purchase and what others will think about it. The attributes that are weighed heavily will influence the decision more strongly.
  • Low involvement products are characterized by awareness, trial and repeat purchases. The limited importance of the product does not warrant reasoned evaluation of alternatives. Awareness precedes trial, which if satisfactory, leads to repeat purchase.This behavior becomes habitual with little conscious thought or formation of attitudes preceding purchase behavior. Awareness precedes behavior and behavior precedes attitude. Any of the brands of the evoked set may be considered adequate. Decision does not involve the consumer much, and he is likely to be satisfied with the product without much conscious deliberation about it.
  • In high involvement situations, marketers should provide a good deal of information as the customer will need such information to evaluate the brands that he is considering. High levels of repetition of communication may not be needed. Print media allows detailed and repeated scrutiny of information which is helpful when a customer is comparing brands. Communication should be able to focus on how the customers view the influence of important others on the brand choice. Salespeople should ensure that the customer is aware of the important attributes of the product and also ensure that he correctly evaluates their consequences.
  • In a low involvement purchase, attempting to gain top-of-the-mind awareness through advertising and providing positive reinforcement like sales promotions to gain trial may be more important than providing information. The customer is not actively seeking information but is a passive receiver. So advertising messages should be short with small number of key points but with high repetition to enhance learning/ TV may be the best medium since it allows passive reception of messages

Purchase and Post Purchase Evaluation of Decision

Once the customer has zeroed in on the right choice, he purchases the product. The product can be purchased from retail stores, online, ordered by telephone or purchased directly from the company. The purchase process itself involves several more decisions. It involves decisions about the place and mode of purchase, payment terms and conditions, delivery of the product, installment, training for usage of the product etc.

Marketers can study each of these processes to discover sources of competitive advantage. Marketers can either conduct these activities themselves, or they may employ intermediaries to perform these tasks. For instance, the goods may be delivered by the retailer while engineers of the company may install the products and train the customer. In case of high involvement products, the purchase process may itself take a long time. It may stretch from a few days to a few months or longer. The marketer has to take particular care of the customer during this crucial period in their relationship.

Consumers experience some post purchase concerns called cognitive dissonance, which arise due to uncertainly of making the right decision. This is because the choice of one product often means rejection of attractive features of the alternatives. Dissonance increases with expense of tile purchase, difficulty of decision (many alternatives, many choice criteria and each alternative offering benefits not available with others), other risks involved in the purchase (functional, psychological or social risk) and when decision is irrevocable shortly after purchase.

Car buyers will look at ads and brochures of their models and seek reassurance from owners of the some model. Car dealers can reduce buyer remorse by contacting recent purchasers by letters to reinforce the wisdom of their decision and to confirm the quality of their after sales service.

Sonia Kukreja

I am a mother of a lovely kid, and an avid fan technology, computing and management related topics. I hold a degree in MBA from well known management college in India. After completing my post graduation I thought to start a website where I can share management related concepts with rest of the people.
Sonia Kukreja