Stages of the Consumer Decision-Making Process
The consumer buying process is made up of various phases, and it is by studying and analyzing these phases that the managers of the companies' marketing sector shape their communication strategies towards potential buyers. Over the years, marketing experts have traced all stages of the consumer buying process, which are also called touchpoints in technical jargon. Whoever studies and exploits the main phases of the user's purchase process, has as objective to oversee all possible touchpoints to ensure that in the fundamental phase of interaction, i.e., that of the purchase, the user has clear in mind towards which brand or product to direct its own purchase choice.
Today, marketing is the most difficult challenge both for very high competition in every sector and for the disenchanted consumer, who loves to inquire and analyze the various offers on the market before making purchases. The consumer buying process should not be analyzed and exploited only to sell a product in the first instance. But, this analysis is very important to push the consumer to buy back and keep the level of loyalty high. The most useful but even more difficult part of the sales job is precisely this of the repurchase. After having had almost virtual contact points with the company, the consumer after the first purchase can perceive its real value, remaining more or less satisfied after having touched the product that has arrived at home; and concretely evaluated every detail of the shipment.
Stages of the Consumer Decision-Making Process
The purchasing process is identified as the customer journey, or all the steps that the consumer from the arising of need or desire to the moment of purchase. Here are all the stages of this consumer "journey."
The decision-making process for purchasing on the web consists of five stages: the perception of need, the search for information; the evaluation of alternatives; the purchase decision, and post-purchase behavior. According to current theory (Kotler, 2007), the model assumes that consumers go through the five stages of the process for each purchase made:
Need or problem
The birth of a need, the appearance of a problem to be solved by buying a product, is the beginning of the process, which foresees the emergence of a need or a problem in the consumer's mind. It can be a primary need, such as eating and drinking, for example, or coming from the external environment. In past years, advertising focused heavily on this first phase of the purchasing process, or on the attempt to stimulate the need or desire in the consumer by leveraging latent needs.
Search for solutions
Based on business objectives, many companies choose to start interacting with the end-user mind right from this stage. Because at this stage of the process, the consumer is much more sensitive and attentive to the messages that come to him precisely. Because he is looking for the right solution for the satisfaction of a need, he already feels. It is at this moment that communication must capture what the consumer is looking for; it is very important to send the message to the appropriate targets. At this stage, the consumer inquires and looks for useful elements for the choice, both online and offline.
An interested consumer does not necessarily look for information online. If the stimulus is strong and the product or service is immediately available, he is likely to purchase at the same time. Otherwise, the consumer may feel the need to search for more information on the web. The quantity of information sought by the consumer depends on the size of the stimulus, on the quantity of the starting information, and on the simplicity of searching for it. The consumer can obtain information from different sources: the starting point is generally a search engine, but also sites or portals to which he is accustomed to contacting.
In this third phase, the consumer begins to select the solutions identified and tries to make a skimming, excluding those that do not help him solve the problem or do not give full satisfaction to his need/desire.
The consumer uses the information collected to narrow his choice among a limited number of alternatives. There are many evaluation processes: each consumer considers the product or service as a set of attributes, and these have different priorities for each. The consumer assigns different degrees of importance to each attribute according to their needs and desires. This phase is supported by comparison services on the web: these websites allow not only to compare the price of the alternatives but also to compare the services and the quality of the same.
Time of purchase
This is the most important phase when consumption makes the final purchase choice; that is, it chooses one product over another, one brand over another. At this time of the purchase decision, communication can no longer influence the consumer who has already made the sorting and selection of the solutions suitable for him. At this delicate moment, however, the external opinions of colleagues, the distance of the Store, the absence of a payment method can influence the final choice. All these phases can be completely canceled if it is a small purchase, which the user often makes automatically as an impulse purchase. The consumer will purchase the absolute preferred alternative, but between the intention and the purchase decision. Two factors can intervene: the attitude of the others gives the first; furthermore, the purchase intention is influenced by exogenous situations not foreseen a priori.
After making a good or service purchase, the user will once again activate the evaluation process of the purchased product. In this evaluation, the consumer will decide whether the product fully, partially, or not fully meets his expectations. If the outcome is positive for brands and companies, it will be a return of far-reaching image given the word of mouth generation and the loyalty of the consumer who will repeat the purchase and recommend it to acquaintances. On the other hand, if the outcome is negative, the assessments will become image damage for the company. There is precisely one branch of marketing, Customer Relationship Management that takes care of the post-sales phase to detect customer opinions and possibly provide assistance.
Following the purchase, the consumer will be satisfied or not. If the product or service meets its expectations, the consumer will be satisfied; otherwise, it will remain unsatisfied. Modern consumers can put in place several online and offline measures to communicate their dissatisfaction. The online reviews sites are tools in the hands of consumers and use them to express their feedback on the structure or destination visited.
Author: Vicki Lezama