What inspires customers to buy a particular product or service? One of the ways merchants can explore this question is by identifying the distinct stages a customer goes through when making a purchase decision, starting with the recognition of a need.
Use the consumer decision-making framework to learn more about how customers make purchase decisions and how you can influence them toward sales conversions.
What is the consumer decision-making process?
The consumer decision-making process is a series of stages that customers go through when purchasing a product or service. The consumer decision-making process is also known as the buying decision process, the consumer decision process, the buying process, and the consumer purchase decision process.
The consumer decision-making process covers a customer’s entire buying journey, from identifying an initial need to evaluating a product, service, or experience, and then making a final purchase decision. Brands use intuitive tools and marketing strategies to streamline their company’s purchase process and influence consumer behavior.
5 stages of the purchase decision process
- Customer need recognition
- Initial information search
- Evaluation of alternatives
- Post-purchase appraisal
There are five stages of the consumer decision-making process, starting with a need and ending with an evaluation of a purchase:
1. Customer need recognition
The first step of the customer journey involves consumers identifying problems they need to solve. A customer’s need for a product or service arises from factors like physical needs and emotions, often influenced by advertisements and recommendations. For example, a customer might want to purchase healthy snacks because they’re hungry or because they started a workout routine that requires more nutrient-dense food on the go—or both.
Brands can influence consumer behavior during this stage by focusing marketing efforts on particular needs related to their offerings. One of the best ways that brands can engage with this stage is by learning as much as possible about their target audience’s needs. Surveys, customer interviews, focus groups, and market research are all ways that merchants can learn more about the needs of their loyal customer base.
2. Initial information search
The second stage of the consumer decision-making process involves customers searching for information about products or services related to their needs. Customers engage with this information search stage by making search engine queries, reading online reviews, engaging with informative ads, talking with friends, or visiting a store in person.
Some of the ways that brands influence the buying process at this stage include creating compelling social media content that offers information about their products or services, as well as developing an SEO strategy with content designed to rank highly on search engine results pages (SERPs).
3. Evaluation of alternatives
The evaluation of alternatives stage involves customers weighing which product, service, or brand to choose. Consumers use the information they gathered in the previous stage to compare options and make a choice based on a variety of factors, including availability, pricing, positive and negative reviews, and brand loyalty.
Brands can influence the evaluation process by generating quality social proof with positive customer testimonials and endorsements. Other marketing strategies that brands can use during this stage include product demonstrations, promotional discounts, and advertisements focused on how a particular product or service stands apart from its competitors.
The fourth stage of the consumer decision-making process is the actual purchase of the product or service. Once customers gather enough information and evaluate their options, they make a final decision about what to purchase.
Brands can interact with this purchase decision stage by optimizing the customer checkout experience. By improving this experience both in stores with an easy point-of-sale system and online using an intuitive ecommerce platform, brands can avoid shopping cart abandonment and earn more sales conversions.
5. Post-purchase appraisal
The post-purchase stage involves customers evaluating their experience with a brand’s product or service after purchasing it. During this post-purchase evaluation, customers reflect on how a particular product or service met their needs and whether they’d purchase it again or recommend it to others.
Brands can influence post-purchase behavior with strategies like customer loyalty programs, customer surveys, follow-up emails with discount codes for new products, and effective retargeting campaigns focused specifically on previous customers.
Tips for influencing purchase decisions
- Gather social proof
- Understand your target audience
- Build a valuable brand
- Optimize your ecommerce store
- Choose the right pricing model
Consumers make purchase decisions based on a variety of factors. Here are a few ways that brands can influence consumer behavior and help customers make a final purchase decision:
Gather social proof
Collect as much user-generated content from past customers as possible, including positive reviews, testimonials, and social media posts. This type of content acts as social proof, a psychological phenomenon where people rely on the opinions or actions of others to inform their decisions. Brands can use social proof to influence consumer choice by validating their products or services with positive feedback.
Understand your target audience
Optimizing your brand to influence customers toward making a purchase requires a comprehensive understanding of your target audience. Brands can learn about their target audience by analyzing the customer base of their competition and conducting market research through surveys or focus groups.
Build a valuable brand
Creating a brand image that customers recognize and respect takes time, money, and energy. However, if you create a positive customer experience throughout the decision-making process, you can inspire brand loyalty over time and earn repeat purchases from previous customers.
Create compelling brand assets and determine brand guidelines for your brand’s voice, tone, and visual style. By defining a clear brand identity that aligns with your target audience, you can increase your brand equity, or the perceived value of your brand.
Optimize your ecommerce store
Create a purchasing experience in your ecommerce store that makes it as easy as possible for potential customers to choose products or services and make a purchase. Use attractive product images, clear call-to-action buttons, and mobile-friendly designs. Ecommerce platforms like Shopify help merchants create online stores that bring customers seamlessly through the decision-making process with features like secure checkouts, customizable themes, and automated email sequences.
Choose the right pricing model
One of the best ways that brands can move potential buyers through the consumer decision-making process toward a sale is by choosing a pricing strategy that works for their products and services. Companies choose pricing strategies for a variety of reasons, including production costs, profit margins, market demand, competitor pricing, and revenue goals.
Whichever pricing strategy you choose, remember to keep pricing transparent upfront and include an estimate of taxes, shipping costs, and any other additional costs. Holding back on the full price of your products or services until the final purchase stage of the decision-making process can hurt your reputation and increase shopping cart abandonment.
Purchase decision FAQ
What is purchase intention?
What are the main factors that influence purchase decisions?
Some of the main factors that influence purchase decisions include customer needs, social proof for a product or service, pricing, and brand loyalty.
What is the most important stage of the purchase decision process?
All five stages of the consumer decision-making process are important, but the first stage is particularly important, as final purchase decisions start with customers recognizing they have a need to fulfill or a problem to solve.