Extensive research shows that the first stage in the consumer decision-making process is problem recognition, which occurs when the consumer perceives a need and becomes motivated to solve the problem. The problem recognition stage initiates the subsequent decision processes.
Problem recognition is caused by difference between the consumer’s ideal state and actual state. A discrepancy exists between what the consumer wants the situation to be like and what the situation is really like. Marketers should find out what sparks of needs through research.
Sources of Problem Recognition
The causes of problem recognition may be very simple or very complex and may result from changes in the consumer’s current and/or desired state. These causes may be influenced by both internal and external factors.
Out of Stock
Problem recognition occurs when consumers use their existing supply of a product and must replenish their stock.
Problem recognition is created by the consumer’s dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs and/or the product or service being used.
Changes in consumers’ lives often result in new needs and wants. For example, changes in one’s financial situation, employment status, or lifestyle may create new needs and trigger problem recognition.
Problem recognition can also be stimulated by the purchase of a product, For example, the purchase of a new mobile handset may lead to the recognition of a need for accessories, such as additional battery or a carrying case.
Marketer-Induced Problem Recognition
Another source of problem recognition is marketers’ actions that encouraged consumers not to be content with their current state or situation. Advertisements for personal hygiene products such as mouthwash, deodorant, and foot sprays may be designed to create insecurities that consumers can resolve through the use of these products.
Problem recognition can also occur when innovative products are introduced and brought to the attention of consumers. Marketers are constantly introducing new products and services and telling consumers about the types of problems they solve.
The second stage in the consumer decision-making process is information search. Once consumers perceive a problem or need that can be satisfied by the purchase of a product or service, they begin to search for information needed to make a purchase decision. The initial search effort often consists of an attempt to scan information stored in memory to recall past experiences and/or knowledge regarding various purchase alternatives. This information retrieval is referred to as internal search.
For many routine, repetitive purchases, previously acquired information that is stored in memory (such as past performance or outcomes from using a brand) is sufficient for comparing alternatives and making a choice.
If the internal search does not yield enough information, the consumer will seek additional information by engaging in external search.
External sources of information include:
- Personal sources, such as friends, relatives, or co-workers.
- Marketer-controlled (commercial) displays and the Internet.
- Public sources, including articles in magazines or newspapers and reports on television.
- Personal experience, such as actually handling, examining, or testing the product.
The volume and sources of external information to use is determined by several factors, which include the importance of the purchase decision, the effort needed to acquire information, the amount of past experience relevant, the degree of perceived risk associated with the purchase, and the time available.
Alternative Evaluation Stage
After acquiring information during the information search stage of the decision process, the consumer moves to alternative evaluation. In this stage, the consumer compares the various brands or products and services he or she has identified as being capable of solving the consumption problem and satisfying the needs or motives that initiated the decision process. The various brands identified as purchase options to be considered during the alternative evaluation process are referred to as the consumer’s evoked set.
All the identified alternatives they must be evaluated against some established criteria. The buyer of a car may have a single criterion (fuel efficiency) or multiple criteria (fuel efficiency, price, performance, speed, safety and warranty). These criteria might be based on past experiences, advertisement, feelings towards various brands and the opinions of family members and friends.
Purchase Decision Stage
At some point in the buying process, the consumer must stop searching for and evaluating information about alternative brands in the evoked set and make a purchase decision. As an outcome of the alternative evaluation stage, the consumer may develop a purchase intention or predisposition to buy a certain brand. Purchase intentions are generally based on a matching of purchase motives with attributes’ or characteristics of brand sunder consideration.
A purchase decision is not the same as an actual purchase. Once a consumer chooses which brand to buy, he or she must still implement the decision and make the actual purchase. Additional decisions may be needed, such .as when to buy, where to buy, and how much money to spend. Often, there is a time delay between the formation of a purchase intention or decision and the actual purchase, particularly for highly involved and complex purchases such as automobiles, personal computers, and consumer durables. .
Post-Purchase Evaluation Stage
The consumer decision process does not end with the purchase. After using the product or service, the consumer compares the level of performance with expectations and Is either satisfied or dissatisfied. Satisfaction occurs when the consumer’s expectations are either met or exceeded; dissatisfaction results when performance is below expectations.
The post-purchase evaluation process is important because the feedback acquired from actual use of a product will influence the likelihood of future purchases. Positive performance means the brand is retained in the evoked set and increases the likelihood it will be purchased again. Unfavourable outcomes may lead the consumer to form negative attitudes towards the brand, lessening the likelihood it will be purchased again or even eliminating it from the consumer’s evoked set.
Another possible outcome of purchase is cognitive dissonance, a feeling of psychological tension or post-purchase doubt that a consumer experiences after making a difficult purchase choice. Dissonance is more likely to occur in important decisions where the consumer must choose among close alternatives (especially if the unchosen alternative has unique or desirable features that the selected alternative does not have).
Consumers experiencing cognitive dissonance may use a number of strategies to attempt to reduce it. They may seek out reassurance and opinions from others to conform the wisdom of their purchase decision, lower their attitudes or opinions of the unchosen alternative deny or distort any information that does not support the choice they made, or look for information that does support their choice. An important source of supportive information in advertising, consumers tend to be more attentive to advertising for the brand they have chosen. Thus, it may be important for companies to advertise to reinforce consumer decisions to purchase their brands.
Marketers must recognize the importance of the post-purchase evaluation stage.
Dissatisfied consumers who experience dissonance not only are unlikely to repurchase the marketer’s product but may also spread negative word-of-mouth information that deters others’ from purchasing the product or service. The best guarantee of favourable post-purchase evaluations is to provide consumers with a quality product or service that always meets their expectations. Marketers must be sure their advertising and other forms of promotion do not create unreasonable expectations their products cannot meet.
Marketers have come to realize that post-purchase communication is also important. Some companies send follow-up letters and brochures to reassure buyers and reinforce the wisdom of their decision. Many companies have set up toll-free members or e-mail addresses for consumers to call if they need information or have a question or complaint regarding a product. Marketers also offer liberalized return and refund polices and extended warranties and guarantees to ensure customer satisfaction.