5 Stages of Consumer Buying Behavior

Consumers go through a set of sequential steps while buying a product. An effective and engaging buying process has one goal: to make it as simple as possible for customers to purchase the items or services they require.

To get a clear idea of steps in customers' overall buying journey, experts suggest brands walk in customers' shoes! This will help them to understand the stages of customers' behavior and the experience they get in each moment.

This is exactly what Nicholas Zeisler, Fractional Chief Customer Officer at Zeisler Consulting, says in a 102 CX experts study that aimed to figure out major CX challenges in the industries, -

"Brands need to explore ways of understanding their Customers outside of just surveys. I recommend walking in your Customers' shoes and experiencing your brand from their perspective."

Let’s go over each stage of a consumer buying process: 

1. Identify the Problem

This is the first stage of the buying process. A consumer will not initiate a purchase without recognizing the needs or wants. When a consumer feels the need to buy a particular product, he will go for a purchase decision.  There is an unmet need or there is a problem that can be solved by buying a particular product.

Needs arise as there is a problem. For example, you broke the table that you were regularly ling using for your business. And due to this problem, you must buy a new table.

Wants arise either because you have need a product or just because you are influenced by external factors. For example, you see your friends using a laptop for their project work. You might also have seen numerous advertisements about how a laptop can help you in your project work. Due to this influence, you feel you want to upgrade to a laptop though you may already have a desktop. 

In this stage, the marketer should identify the needs of the consumers and offer the products based on their desire. 

2. Information search

At this stage, the consumer is aware of his need or want. He also knows that he wants to buy a product that can relieve his problem. Therefore, he wants to know more about the product that can relieve his problem. This leads to the information search stage. 

The consumer will try to determine the options available and the best solution for his problem. The buyer will look for information in internal and external business environments. A consumer may look into advertisements, print, videos, and online and even might ask his friends and family.

When consumers want to buy a laptop, they look for a laptop, its features, price, discounts, warranty, after-sales service, insurance, and a lot of other important features.

Here, a marketer must offer much information about the product through informative videos, demos, blogs, how-to-do videos, and celebrity interviews.

3. Evaluation of Alternatives

By now, the consumer has done enough research about the kind of product that can solve his problem. The next step is to evaluate alternative products that can solve his problem. Various points of information gathered from different sources are used in evaluating alternatives. 

Generally, consumers evaluate the alternatives based on a number of attributes of the product. Looks, durability, quality, price, service, popularity, brand, and social media reviews are some of the factors consumers consider. 

The market offers many products that can solve the problem of a consumer. Hence the consumer has to make a choice after evaluating the various alternatives available.

At the end of this stage, the consumer will rank his choices and pick a product that best matches his needs and wants.  

4. Purchase Decision/Purchase

At this point, customers have already explored multiple options. They are aware of the pricing and payment options available. Here, consumers decide whether to buy that product or not. Yes, even at this stage, they can still drop the purchase and walk away. 

Philip Kotler (2009) says the final purchase decision may be ‘interrupted’ by two factors. Customers may get negative feedback from friends or other customers who bought it. For example, a customer shortlisted a laptop, but his friend gave negative feedback. This will make him change his decision. Furthermore, the decision might also change. Sudden changes in business plans, financial crunch, unexpected higher prices, etc., might lead the consumer to drop the idea of buying the laptop. 

The Consumer chooses the product that he wants to buy, but many times, he may not actually buy it for various reasons. At this stage, a marketer should find out the various reasons why the consumer hesitates to buy. The reasons could be price, value, and change in the consumer's needs.

A marketer needs to step up the game.  Start by reminding the customers of the reason behind their decision to buy the product. Furthermore, give as much information regarding your brand as reiterating that you are the best product provider to fulfill his needs. 

Retargeting by simple email reminders can enforce the purchase decision.

5. Post-Purchase Evaluation

This is the last stage and is most often ignored by marketers.

After buying the product, customers compare products with their expectations. There can be two outcomes:  Either satisfaction or dissatisfaction.  Consumers will be happy after buying the product if it has satisfied their needs. But if the product is not up to his expectations, the consumer will be dissatisfied. A consumer can be lost even at this stage.

A dissatisfied customer might feel as though he made an incorrect decision. This will result in returns! Offering an exchange will be a straightforward action. However, even when a customer is satisfied, there is no guarantee that the customer might be a repeat customer. 

Customers, either satisfied or dissatisfied, can take action to distribute their experience in the form of customer reviews. This may be done through reviews on customer forums, websites, social media conversations, or word of mouth.

A marketer has to ensure that the consumer will be satisfied with the product so that his experience will lead to repeat customers. Brands need to be careful to create a positive post-purchase experience.

Wrapping up

Marketers need to take time to understand the five stages of the consumer buying process. Doing this establishes that your marketing strategy addresses each component of a consumer buying behavior.