Understanding the Consumer Decision-Making Process: A Marketing Must

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  • 0:10 Consumer Behavior
  • 0:59 The Five Steps
  • 2:51 Need Recognition
  • 4:13 Information Search
  • 8:03 Cognitive Dissonance
  • 8:29 Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Jennifer Lombardo
Expert Contributor
Joseph Shinn

Joe has a PhD in Economics from Temple University and has been teaching college-level courses for 10 years.

In this lesson, you'll see how a consumer moves through a decision making process in order to purchase a product or service. Learn what methods marketers use to take advantage of this process.

Consumer Behavior

What influences you in a purchase situation? Why did you purchase the specific laptop or tablet computer? Was it for price or quality? Did you ask friends or family for help in your decision? Did an ad catch your eye? Consumers are constantly evolving in their buying behavior based on their life situations. Consumer behavior is the process consumers go through when they make purchases and it involves factors that influence their decision and usage. The consumer decision-making process involves five steps that consumers move through when buying a good or service. A marketer has to understand these steps in order to properly move the consumer to the product and close the sale.

Consumer Decision-Making Process

The consumer decision-making process consists of five steps, which are need recognition, information search, evaluations of alternatives, purchase and post-purchase behavior. These steps can be a guide for marketers to understand and communicate effectively to consumers. One note is that consumers do not always move in the exact order through the process; it can depend on the type of product, the buying stage of the consumer and even financial status.

Need Recognition

The very first step in the process is when consumers realize that they have a need for something. Marketers want to create an imbalance in consumers between their present status and their preferred status. This imbalance will create a need and make a consumers search out and buy a product or service. Need recognition occurs when a consumer is faced with a difference between an actual and a desired state. A need can occur immediately and can be a very basic impulse that you experience, such as when the ninja develops hunger pains. This is called an internal stimulus. Or it can be a change in the ninja's lifestyle, such as when he finds out that he is going to be expecting a baby ninja.

An external stimulus is when you are affected by outside influences, such as when a friend tells you about a fantastic movie, restaurant or an ad for a car. The key weapon of a marketer to create an imbalance/consumer need is to use advertising and sales components. When consumers recognize an unfulfilled need and that a product will satisfy it, they have created a want. The marketer can then tailor new products and current products to reach the consumers and create a successful purchase situation.

There are three ways that consumers recognize unfulfilled wants. The first way is when a consumer becomes frustrated with the fact that a product he or she has is not performing properly. Perhaps the car that the consumer owns is now requiring time in the shop for repairs, or the jeans he owns have developed holes. The consumer now has developed a want and need for a new car and new jeans. Marketers will even act fast and use advertising and sales to further move the consumer to a new purchase. Car brochures, test drives, sales, promotions and rebates are all ways for the consumer to be drawn further into the need recognition process.

Another way that a consumer recognizes an unfulfilled want is when the consumer runs out of the product. This can be as simple as an empty shampoo bottle or a need for more bread. Marketers can tempt consumers to purchase their products through coupons, deals, contests and promotions.

The last way consumers can recognize an unfulfilled need is if they become aware of a product that is better than their current product. Marketers love to create newer versions of their product in order to tempt consumers to upgrade their old versions, such as technology and automobile companies, which consistently upgrade to newer models.

Information Search

After the consumer has developed a want or a need, he or she needs to start an information search about the different alternative selections that they can purchase to satisfy their need. Our ninja has decided he needs a new ninja hideout. He will look both internally and externally for his information to help him make a decision. An internal information search consists of utilizing information from memory, such as past experiences with the product.

An external information search is the process of seeking information in the outside environment. The ninja will start by asking personal ninja friends and family about their experiences with acquiring a new ninja hideout. They can also research public sources, such as consumer reports for ninja hideouts with the best ratings.

Another external information source for the ninja would be marketing-controlled sources, such as radio, television ads, brochures, etc. The amount of time dedicated to this step usually depends on the consumer's past experience with buying the product, the risk involved and the level of interest. The new ninja hideout would be of high interest and have a large risk due to the fact the ninja wants to be well protected. Once the ninja has created a set of alternative ninja hideouts to choose from, he has created an evoked set. This set consists of the ninja's most preferred alternatives. Once the evoked set has been decided upon, the ninja will then conduct final research to further shrink his choices.

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Additional Activities

Additional Questions

For each of the examples below, determine which of the give steps in a consumer's decision-making process (need recognition, information search, evaluations of alternatives, purchase, post-purchase behavior) is being described. In addition to including a discussion about why you believe this is the correct step, you should also describe the selected step.

  1. You decide you want to switch from cable television to a streaming service (i.e. Hulu, Netflix, Playstation Vue). Before making the switch, however, you compile a list of all of the options and their main attributes and prices.
  2. You are in the fruit section of the supermarket. After narrowing down your fruit selection to apples, oranges, and grapes, you are considering which option will bring you the most enjoyment from consumption.
  3. You decide that you want to go on vacation this summer with your family, but realize that you need to figure out where you want to visit.
  4. After purchasing a new car, you are driving it around town and are having buyers remorse. That is, you think that you might have bought the wrong car and should have gone with the alternative.
  5. After looking at all of your options for a new T.V. you decide to buy the new Samsung 60 inch 4K television.

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