Insights from the Buying Process Model

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Most market research focuses on understanding customers — their wants and needs, their likes and dislikes. A relatively new tool takes a different approach. Instead of focusing on customers themselves, the buying process model studies the steps that customers go through in making a purchase. Buying process research attempts to identify steps in the process where problems occur, so that marketers can create strategies to overcome roadblocks.

The steps in the process
Most descriptions of the purchase process include five steps:
  1. Problem recognition. The consumer identifies a problem that could be addressed by making a purchase. The problem could be anything from “My feet are killing me” to “I don’t have anything to wear.” In fact, the “problem” might not be a problem at all, just a response to a marketing stimulus, such as a billboard or a television ad.
  2. Information gathering. The consumer collects information about products, including such things as price, availability, options, and features.
  3. Evaluation of alternatives. The consumer weighs the pros and cons of each alternative. Decisions at this stage of the process may be affected by budgets, personal likes or dislikes, and recommendations from family or friends.

  4. Purchase decision. The consumer commits to the purchase.
  5. Post-purchase behavior. The consumer takes some action related to the product. A satisfied customer might tell friends about the product. A dissatisfied customer might experience buyer’s remorse and return the product.

Not every purchase will proceed through all five steps. For example, impulse buys might move directly from problem recognition (“I need that candy bar”) to purchase decision.
Some consumers might decide to drop out of the process at one of the steps. These are the decisions that are especially important for marketers to understand.

Identifying roadblocks
A well-designed survey can identify potential roadblocks at each step in the buying process. Consider this example: You operate a web-based business that sells engineering software. You want to understand the process that customers go through in deciding to purchase your products. You could create a survey with questions like these:

  • What kinds of engineering projects do you typically undertake? (problem recognition)
  • Where do you get most of your information about engineering software? (information gathering)
  • Rank the following features in order of importance to you. (evaluation of alternatives)
  • How would you rate the convenience of purchasing products through our website? (purchase decision)
  • Would you recommend our products to other people in your field? (post-purchase behavior)

By studying the responses to these and other similar questions, you can discover where the “sticking points” are in the buying process, and make the necessary corrections.
As an alternative, if you suspected that most of the roadblocks to purchasing were concentrated in one step, you might focus most of your questions on that step.

Why focus on the process?
The main reason to use the buying process model, as opposed to more traditional types of consumer research, is that it provides a more sophisticated understanding of consumer behavior. The model gives marketers a new way of thinking about the strengths and weaknesses of their campaigns so that they can keep doing what’s working well and change what isn’t. In this respect, it helps provide a greater return on a company’s marketing investment.

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Restaurants Find Recipes for the Recession

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When people look for ways to trim their expenses in tough economic times, they turn first to discretionary spending, and at the top of the list for many people is money spent eating out. Most restaurants have taken a big hit in the current economic slowdown, but many are holding their own and a few are actually prospering. For example, in the fourth quarter of 2008, McDonald’s reported that its sales increased 5 percent in the U.S. and 7.2 percent globally. Why are some restaurants doing well while most are struggling? One of the answers is effective market research.

Focusing on value
It should be no surprise that customers are paying more attention to value in these challenging times. When people spend less on non-essentials, they want to be sure the money they do spend buys something worthwhile. But what does value mean to restaurant patrons? Is it primarily the quality of the food or the quality of the service or is it something else that might be a little harder to define? Restaurant research provides some interesting answers to these questions.
At its most basic level, value means meeting expectations. People have definite expectations for different types of restaurants — fast food, casual dining and fine dining. In these tough times, some restaurant managers might feel tempted to cut back in some areas, especially staff expenses. But if a restaurant fails to live up to customer expectations for service because it has cut staff, it will have a hard time keeping customers.

Creating a satisfying experience
Restaurant surveys that attempt to measure customer perceptions of value often focus on some obvious things. Was the food hot? Was it served promptly? How long did you wait to be served? These are important questions, but they represent only part of what is involved in restaurant satisfaction.

Most people go to a restaurant because they are looking for a certain type of experience. They might be looking for fun or elegance or just the pleasure of enjoying certain sights, smells, and tastes. Even patrons of fast food restaurants are looking for more than food. The kids’ menu at McDonald’s features “Happy Meals,” but adults want to have happy meals too. An effective customer survey attempts to evaluate all the factors that go into creating restaurant satisfaction.

Building customer loyalty
Customer loyalty is important for any type of business at any point in the business cycle, but it is especially important for the restaurant business when times are tough. Restaurant research has shown that customers who have a “highly satisfactory” dining experience are twice as likely to return to a restaurant than customers who say their experience was just “satisfactory.” They are also three times as likely to recommend the restaurant to their friends.

Highly satisfied customers also spend more, especially on items such as appetizers and deserts. This suggests that they may be enjoying their dining experience so much that they want to prolong it. Highly satisfied customers also tend to tip more, which in turn leads to highly satisfied wait staff.

So how can a restaurant determine if it is creating a highly satisfying experience for its customers? Some restaurants hire “mystery diners,” while others use comment cards or questionnaires. Another highly effective alternative is to conduct an online survey of recent diners. Online surveys provide a convenient way to ask about a variety of factors that affect customer satisfaction. Survey results can easily be analyzed to determine which combination of factors is most likely to create highly satisfied customers. See this restaurant satisfaction survey example to help you get started: http://restaurantsatisfaction.nisurvey.com.

Long-term restaurant trends
In times like these, it is understandable that restaurant managers are focused primarily on short-term results. It’s still important, though, to pay attention to long-term restaurant trends. In recent years, restaurant customers have shown a growing interest in two things: greater convenience and healthier menu choices. These trends are likely to continue.
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