The 5 Stages of the Consumer Buying Process
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Before a consumer buys anything, they will go through a series of steps. If marketers and business owners can understand these steps and what the consumer is thinking during each one, they can tailor their marketing to influence a consumer's purchasing decision and promote customer retention.
To help you understand better, this post will look at the 5 steps in the consumer decision-making process and why, as a business, it's essential to understand them.
For more info about customer behavior, read our Beginner's Guide to Customer Behavioral Analysis.
The 5 Stages of Consumer Buying/Decision Making Process
Decision-making is a cognitive process that results in the selection of a course of action among several alternatives. It involves the consideration of risks and rewards associated with each possible choice. Ultimately, the decision-making process is influenced by one's goals, values, and beliefs.
When a consumer is faced with a purchase decision, they typically go through five stages:
- Recognition of needs and wants
- Information search
- Evaluation of alternatives
- Post-purchase evaluation
For even greater insight into the decision-making process, a deep dive into the customer journey is a great place to start. To learn more, see our guide on customer journey analysis.
1. Recognition of Needs and Wants
Ultimately, a sale occurs when the customer finds an opportunity to solve a problem they are experiencing with a product or service. Customers rarely purchase products and services just for the sake of buying them; they purchase things because it solves a problem and helps them reach what they want to achieve.
Perception Is Everything
Make consumers aware that there is a problem worth solving, then present your company and its services as an “ideal solution.”
Essentially, a potential customer will conduct their very own problem identification analysis. For example, if a person feels like he or she needs a new car, that person may be recognizing a need for transportation or adventure. If the desire or requirement for transportation or adventure is strong enough, a consumer will venture into the next stage of the decision-making process—information search.
2. Information Search
Once a customer recognizes their problem, the search for a suitable solution begins. They know there is an issue and are looking for someone or something to help them fix it. To reach them at this stage, focus on creating valuable information that the potential customer can use to make an informed decision about the products or services you offer. Let customers know you offer services they haven’t considered before and appeal to people who may search independently.
As a marketer or business owner, this is your best opportunity to establish your brand as an industry leader or expert in the field. To understand how this can be accomplished, learn more about customer behavior in our post on checkout behavior analysis on Google Analytics.
As an example of the information search stage, a consumer can search for information by researching different options, talking to friends or family members, or reading reviews online. This stage allows the individual to make a more informed decision about the next stage.
3. Evaluation of Alternatives
At the end of this stage of the consumer decision process, the consumer will probably know which product will solve their problem, but before making a commitment, they’ll compare their potential product or service of choice against alternatives. This is normally done by evaluating it against alternatives based on quality, price, popularity, and reviews.
For example, the consumer will consider factors such as the costs and benefits of each option as well as how each option aligns with their personal values and goals. This stage is important because it allows the decision-maker to make an informed choice about the next stage.
The fourth stage of the decision-making process is the purchasing stage. This is when the consumer decides which product or service to buy. Specifically, the factors that affect the purchasing stage include:
- Need for the product
- Perceived benefits of the product
- Perceived risks of the product
- Ability to pay for the product
- Any social influences that may affect the consumer’s decision
If all goes to plan and your marketing efforts pay off, the consumer makes their final decision and purchases the product or service.
5. Post-Purchase Evaluation
The last stage of the consumer buying cycle is the post-purchase evaluation. After purchasing the product, the customer weighs up their purchase and compares it to their overall expectations. This either leads to satisfaction or dissatisfaction.
When a customer is satisfied with a purchase, their actions typically reflect this satisfaction. They may:
- Choose to return to the business for future transactions
- Recommend the company to friends or family
- Provide positive feedback
Conversely, when a customer is dissatisfied, they may take the following actions:
- Voicing their complaints to the company
- Sharing their frustrations with others
- Refusing to do business with the company in the future
- Write negative reviews or spread rumors about the company