The steps in the process
Most descriptions of the purchase process include five steps:
- 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.
- Information gathering. The consumer collects information about products, including such things as price, availability, options, and features.
- 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.
- Purchase decision. The consumer commits to the purchase.
- 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.
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.