What is the Consumer Buying Process?
Tuesday October 19th, 2021
Whether they are old school bricks-and-mortar establishments or ecommerce websites, retail establishments can only stay in business if people buy their stuff. Persuading people to open their wallets is central to their survival, making this process too important to be left to random chance.
Psychologists and retail professionals have closely studied the stages through which consumers typically go in order to make a decision about whether to buy. This has been dubbed the ‘consumer buying process’.
Consumer buying process definition
What is the consumer buying process? Decades of retail research has established that, for the average consumer, buying is a multi-stage process in which they seek a solution to a perceived problem or lack.
Typically, six steps are involved.
Stages of the consumer buying process
1. Identifying a problem
The very first step is the consumer buying process is the customer-to-be recognising that they have a need or problem that a purchase could address. This might be straightforward: their vacuum cleaner is broken so they need to buy a new one, for example. But it could also be something less solid and well-defined: a desire to change their lives, to improve their wardrobe or learn something new, for example.
2. Searching for information
This is the search for a solution to this need once it has been identified.
3. Identifying solutions
At this stage the consumer has identified a number of products that might address their need. They then begin to assess and research these in an attempt to reach a purchasing decision. If the product is inexpensive or they have an especially urgent need (that carpet won’t clean itself), the customer may not spend long on this evaluation stage. But for more expensive items, a lengthy period of research and evaluation is routine.
4. Deciding to buy
By this stage, the consumer has explored the different product and pricing options, completed their research and chosen the product that best suits their needs. They now need to decide whether or not to get out their credit card and actually go ahead with the purchase.
5. The purchase
The big day has arrived: the consumer has decided to buy and thereby become at least a one-time customer. Retailers call this point in the process ‘conversion’. But customers may never come back and make another if they have a bad experience.
6. Evaluating the purchase
The final stage in the consumer buying process is how they actually experience the product after they have invested. The process of evaluation naturally continues. If the customer’s experience is primarily a positive one, there is a good chance the seller will achieve every retailer’s dream and earn themselves a loyal repeat customer.
But if not, the buyer may ask to return the product. It is important for the retailer to respond to such requests positively and to be as accommodating as possible (unless there are good reasons not to). A prompt refund or a satisfactory exchange may still create a positive impression on the customer and increase the chances they will return at some point in the future.
Factors influencing consumer buying decision
The number one factor influencing the consumer buying decision is clear information about the product: the more of this he or she has access to, the more confident they will be that the product is likely to meet their needs and improve their lives.
How can retailers use the consumer buying process?
Of course, the consumer buying process is not a self-contained process from which retailers are excluded. There is plenty they can do to influence the customer, encourage conversions and build customer loyalty for the future. For example:
- Carefully calibrated product marketing: share the benefits of your product, with supporting material like customer testimonials. This may help to create a sense in a potential customer’s mind that they need your product, thereby kickstarting the consumer buying process.
- Look after your brand: position yourselves as experts in your field – as market leaders. Highlight any authoritative sponsors or sponsorships your company may hold.
- Look after your SEO and online advertising: make sure information about your business and/or stores is quickly and easily accessible on Google and similar search engines.
- Consider adding comparison information to your site: if you can persuade the customer to stay on your site during the comparison and evaluation stages, when he or she is investigating your rivals’ offers, you will have a much better chance of persuading them to opt for you. Comparison data will give your site and brand a sense of authority and trustworthiness.
- Send regular marketing reminders: if the potential customer does not immediately proceed with a purchase, they may simply need more time to consider. Send them regular reminders via email: this will keep your brand and product in their minds. But don’t do this too often: email bombardments quickly annoy would-be consumers: you don’t want to encourage them to click on that pesky unsubscribe link.
- Optimise your buying process: if you are an online retailer (and almost everybody is these days), test the purchase process regularly to ensure it is as simple and straightforward as possible on both desktop and mobile devices.
- Ask for feedback after a purchase: this will encourage customers to express any dissatisfaction they may feel and allow you to remedy the situation.
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