Consumers’ preferences are constantly changing and it is therefore important that marketers understand how their consumers make their purchase decisions, what is likely to impact their choices and what the important criteria are in their decision making. Consumers follow a certain process when purchasing a product (Blackwell, D’Souza, Taghian, Miniard, and Engel, 2006). It is a process whereby consumers learn about new products, try them and adopt or reject them (Reynolds & Olson 2001). Buying decision can vary from complex or high involvement decision making to habitual or low involvement decision making. This article will compare the decision making process for purchase of a high involvement product and a low involvement product. It will also look at the strategies that a marketer should adopt in order to address all consumer decision making stages.
Customer involvement in decision making
Consumer decision making process may be complex or habitual. The complex decision making process involves buying a computer while the habitual decision making process involves the purchase of a lotion. The two consumer decision making processes are composed of behavioral constructs. Both methods involve the presence or lack of consumer evaluations of destination alternatives in their pre-purchase decision. In evaluating which alternative decision to take, consumers base their judgment on certain decision criteria (Reynolds & Olson 2001). The low involvement product is a body lotion while the high involvement product is a computer.
Low involvement product
Habitual or low involvement decision making involves no decision per se. In need recognition step, I decided to buy a lotion after the one I was using was over. Prior satisfaction with the lotion resulted to repeat purchases and eventually purchases based on habit. In this process, I understood the services on offer and I was also aware of the options available. As a result I needed limited information about the lotion searches and thus made my decisions quickly. I found little need to evaluate a product like lotion alternatives and search for additional information beyond what I had previously known. Recognizing a need or desire to buying lotion leads directly to internal information search and the eventual purchase or a repurchase. Purchasing through habit is a way of ensuring satisfaction based on past experiences with the lotion, and of simplifying decision making by reducing the need for information search and evaluating alternatives. In the purchasing stage I just required to go to the supermarket and pick the right lotion.
Low involvement decision is composed of two levels: loyal decisions and repeat purchase decisions. At one time I was heavily involved in selecting the best lotion to buy, using an extensive decision making process. Having selected the best lotion brand and having been satisfied by the purchase decision, I will repurchase the same experience without further consideration of other options in the market. This makes me loyal because of my high commitment to a certain brand of lotion. In contrast, one may believe that lotions are similar to the one he purchased. Having bought one lotion brand and finding it satisfactory, the consumer will repurchase the same without further consideration of other alternatives. This is a repeat customer who has no loyal commitment to the lotion brand in question.
High involvement product
An example of a high involvement product that I bought was a computer. In need recognition stage, I saw an advert on computers which resulted to the need for a computer. A computer is an expensive product which involves a lot of risks. Therefore, in information search step, I had to seek more information concerning computers and spend a lot of time comparing alternatives. More information is sort and more alternatives considered when purchasing a computer than in low involvement decision making. For example a search for the best computer involved a high involvement decision making. I actively searched for information and evaluated several alternatives for the several computers available in the market. Since a computer is assumed to be a very expensive product involving significant amount of a person’s discretionary time and income, it requires purchase to be made on symbolic communications alone (Reynolds & Olson 2001). After the purchase of the computer, the consumer will either be satisfied or dissatisfied. This will depend on whether the performance of the computer will reach his expectations or not. Cognitive dissonance may also be experienced after the purchase of the computer.
Differences between high involvement and low involvement products
Complex or high involvement decisions tend to result in the decision process being a lengthy one unlike in low involvement products. With these decisions, consumers also tend to spend considerable time, information and they often consider a range of options. In this type of decision making process, the entire decision process is followed, all the steps are included and consumers generally take their time with their decisions. In addition, consumers often experience considerable doubt about buying a product.
Complex decision making generally occurs when certain conditions are present. High involvement products involve a lot o perceived risk, they are complex and the differences between alternatives are hard for consumers to distinguish. Complex decision making process is involved due to lack of experience with the purchase or lack of knowledge about the product category. Finally purchasing of a computer is a high involvement decision making process because it involves durable or long lasting decisions to be made. On the other hand, low involvement decisions are generally characterized by: low levels of perceived risks, simple convenience products, products purchased regularly and often habitually and products that have a short life span.
Marketing implication for involvement
Marketing strategy varies according to the level of involvement associated with the product. For high involvement product purchases like a computer, marketing managers have several responsibilities. First, promotion to the target market should be extensive and informative. A good promotional strategy explaining the computer’s benefits and features will help the customers in their decision making process. For example, Phillips Magnavox, the leading manufacturer of high definition, flat screen computers, features a print advert that not only provides extensive product information such as size parameters and screen alternatives, but also appeals to consumers sense of style and their need to save space. Most importantly, the adverts tagline is aimed at both men and women as a couple.
For low involvement decision making like the purchase of a lotion, buyers make their decisions mostly when they go to a shop. Therefore, in-store promotion is an important tool when promoting low involvement products. Marketing managers focus on package design in order for the product to be eye catching and easily recognized on the shelf. In-store displays also stimulate sales of low involvement products. A good product exhibition will attract the customers to buy the product. For example, displays of health and beauty aid products in supermarkets have been known to increase sales many times above normal. Coupons, cents-off deals, and two-for-one offer, also effectively low involvement products. Linking a product to a higher involvement issue is another tactic that marketing managers can use to increase the sales of a low involvement product. For example, many product foods are no longer just nutritious but also low in carbohydrate, fat or cholesterol. Although packaged food may normally be a low involvement product, reference to health issues raises the involvement level.
Decision making process
Need recognition occurs in both high involvement and low involvement products. It occurs when consumers are faced with an imbalance between actual and desired states. After the lotion I was using got over, I realized that I required another lotion. Also, after I saw an advert on the benefits of a computer, I developed the need of owning a computer. A customer can realize that a need exist either internally or externally. Internal stimuli are occurrences that one experiences such as hunger or thirst. For example one may realize that his skin wants a certain type of a lotion for it to be smooth. External stimuli are influences from an outside source such as someone’s recommendation of a new type of computer, a brand name mentioned by a friend or an advertisement on television or radio.
A marketer should aim at helping the customer realize that certain need exist and should be fulfilled. Promotion will help a customer to identify the need especially for high involvement purchases. When marketers observe the customers behavior, they are able to understand what the customers want and thus make products to satisfy their needs. A want can be for a specific product or it can be for a certain attribute or feature of a product. Consumers recognize unfulfilled wants in various ways. The two most common occur when the consumer is about to run out of something that is generally kept on hand like the lotion. Consumers may also recognize unfulfilled wants if they become aware of a product that seems superior to the one they are currently using. Such wants are usually created by advertising and other promotional activities. For example, aware of the popularity of mp3s and the consumers’ desires to take their music with them, car stereo manufacturers such as sonic blue and Kenwood have added mp3 interfaces. Other companies including Apple, Microsoft and Creative technology are hoping to fulfill consumer desires for smaller audio and video players called portable media centers.
Marketers selling their products in global markets must carefully observe the needs and wants of consumers in various regions. For example, Unilever hit on unrecognized need of European consumers when it introduced Persil Tablets, pre-measured laundry detergent in tablet form. Though the tablets are relatively expensive than regular detergents, Unilever found that European consumers considered laundry a chore and wanted the process to be as simple and uncomplicated as possible. Unilever launched the tablets as a less messy and more convenient alternative. The laundry tablets were an immediate success in the United Kingdom and enabled Unilever Persil brand to beat out rival Procter & Gamble’s best selling Ariel powder detergent.
After recognizing a need or want, consumers search for information about the various alternatives available to satisfy it. Information search will be done for the involvement products like a computer because the customer is not aware of the different types of computers involved in the market. For the low involvement products like the lotion, no information search is required because the customer already knows the lotion he has been using. An information search can occur internally, externally or both. In internal information search, the customer tries to remember what he knows about a particular product through experience. This stored information stems largely from previous experience with a product. Information from outside sources can either be non-marketing controlled or marketing controlled. A non-marketing controlled information source is associated with marketers promoting a product. Examples of these sources include customers experience and organizational or public reports. For example if one is in the moods to go to the movies, one may search his memory for past experience at various cinemas when determining which one to go to.
In contrast, information from marketing controlled source comes from the organization’s attempt to make customers aware of their products through promotional strategies. Sources of this type of external information include the promotion mix that a company can employ to attract customers. Many consumers are however, wary of the information they receive from the marketing controlled sources, believing that most marketing campaigns stress the products attributes and ignore its faults. These sentiments tend to be stronger among better educated and high income earners.
Generally, as the perceived risk of the purchases increase, the consumer enlarges the search and considers more alternative brands of computer. A consumer’s knowledge about the product or service will also affect the extent of an external information search. A consumer who is knowledgably and well informed about a potential purchase is less likely to search for additional information. In addition the more knowledgeable consumers are, the efficient they will conduct the research process, thereby requiring less time to search.
The level of customer’s confidence influences his purchasing decision. A confident consumer not only has sufficient stored information about the product but also feels self assured about making the right decision. People lacking this confidence will continue an information search even when they know a great deal about computers. Consumers with prior experience in buying a certain product will have less perceived risk than inexperienced consumers. Therefore, they will spend less time searching and limit the number of products that they consider. Finally, the extent of the search is positively related to the amount of interest a consumer has in a product. A consumer who is more interested in a product will spend more time searching for information and alternatives.
When the customers conduct information concerning the computer, he will come up with set of the alternatives he liked. The customer will then continue to evaluate the set in order to come up with the right decision. Consumers do not consider all brands available in a product category, but they do seriously consider a much smaller set. For example, from the many brands of computers available, consumers are likely to consider only the alternatives that fit their price, range, location and taste preference (Reynolds & Olson 2001). Having too many choices can, in fact, confuse consumers and cause them to delay the decision to buy or, in some instances, cause them not to buy at all.
Evaluation of alternatives
This step is mostly carried out for the high involvement products like computers. On getting information and constructing an evoked set of alternative products, the consumer is ready to make a decision, a consumer will use the information stored in memory and obtain from outside sources to develop a set of criteria. These standards help the consumer to evaluate and compare alternatives. Evaluating of alternatives mostly occurs in high involvement products. For example the consumer will take time in evaluating the different brands of computers found in the market. When buying a lotion the consumers just require going to a supermarket and picking it. One of the methods that a customer can use in evaluation process is selecting those computers with the desired set of attributes and then doing away with those that do not have. Cutoffs can also be used by the customers to in choosing the best product from the many products available. A final way to narrow the choices is to rank the attributes under consideration in order of importance and evaluate the products based on how well each performs on the most important attribute.
A marketer should try to understand the customers buying behavior in order to know the features that the customers are considering in choosing the computer to buy. For example, if one is buying a laptop computer, one need first to determine which computers are in ones price range. However, in making a final decision one may also consider weight, screen size, soft ware included among other attributes. A brand name can also have a significant impact on consumer’s ultimate decision. For example, an online survey found that Johnson & Johnson has the best corporate reputation among American companies, benefiting from its heritage as the premier maker of baby powder and shampoo. Respondents uniformly cited the familiarity and comfort they feel in using the product on their children. When faced with dozens of products on the drug store shelf, consumers naturally gravitate toward Johnson & Johnson products. By providing consumers with a certain set of promises, brands in essence simplify the consumer decision making process. Thus consumers do not have to rethink their options every time they need something.
Purchasing process is done for both high and low involvement products. Once an alternative is selected, the purchase can take place. This is at the heart of the consumer behavior, since it is the exchange that interests both the consumer and the supplier. After the consumer has evaluated each alternative in the evoked set, he forms an intension to purchase a particular computer brand. However, a purchase intension and the actual act of buying are distinct concepts. A consumer may have every intention of purchasing a new computer, but several factors may prevent the actual purchase from taking place. The consumer may postpone the purchase due to unforeseen circumstances such as an illness of loss of job. The sales person or the sales manager may anger the consumer, leading him to walk away from the deal. The buyer may not be able to obtain financing for his purchase due to mistake in his credit file, or the buyer may simply change his mind. Marketers can often reduce or eliminate these problems by reducing the risk of purchase through warranties or guarantees, making the purchase stage as easy as possible, or finding creative solutions to unexpected problems.
The key issues for marketers in this stage are product availability and possession utility. Product availability is critical and without it, buyers will not purchase from the seller but from someone else who can deliver the product. The key to availability is convenience. The goal is to put the product within the customers reach wherever that customer happens to be.
After purchasing, consumers look for quick and simple disposal of products and packaging. Consumers generally want to be responsible about the environment and recycle, which do not take much of their time. Common examples are recyclable aluminum cans and plastic bottles. Marketers can develop competitive advantages by reducing the amount of material that needs to be disposed off or by making disposal or recycling easier.
Post purchase behavior
After buying a product, the customer hopes that the product will satisfy his need satisfactory. A customer can either be satisfied or dissatisfied by the product. For example if a person bids on a used computer, he may have fairly low expectations regarding performance. If the computer’s performance turns out to be of superior quality, then the person’s satisfaction will be high because his expectations were exceeded. Conversely, if the person bid on a new computer expecting superior quality and performance, but the computer breaks within one month, he would be very dissatisfied because his expectations were not met. The price of a product determines whether the customer will be satisfied or dissatisfied by the products performance.
For the marketer, an important element of any post purchase evaluation is reducing any lingering doubts that the decision was sound because most customers complain of poor product performance after purchasing it (Reynolds & Olson 2001). If the customers doubt that the computer would fail to meet their expectations, they feel that they made a wrong purchasing decision and thus they experience cognitive dissonance. The customer who buys a lotion expects it to meet his expectation in order for him to be satisfied. In order for customers to avoid this doubtful feeling after purchasing a product, they try to gather more information that will justify their purchasing decision. The marketers should help the customers to reduce this feeling after they buy the computer in order for them to appreciate and go back for a repeat purchase and more so, preach to others about the good performance of the computer and the lotion. For example, a customer service manager can slip a note inside the package congratulating the buyer on making a wise decision. Post purchase letters sent by manufacturers and dissonance reducing statements in instruction booklets may help customer feel at ease with their purchase. The marketers can also achieve this by making the customers aware that the product is the best among the available competing brands in the market.
After the purchase, consumers use the product and evaluate its effectiveness in fulfilling their needs against their expectations, which can affect their beliefs about a particular brand. The consumer will try to evaluate the performance of the computer in terms of speed and memory capacity. There are two outcomes of a purchase: satisfaction or dissatisfaction. This information is stored in consumers’ memory, which affects future purchasing behavior and their desire to disseminate information about the brand to influence others.
Determinants that affect consumer decision making process
The purchase process of a computer will be influenced by many individual factors compared to the purchase process of a lotion. The stages in the buying process depict a range of possible activities that may occur as consumers make purchase decisions. Consumers may spend relatively more or less time in certain stages, they may follow the stages in or out of sequence or they may even skip some stages entirely. For high involvement product like a computer, more time is spent in decision making while in the purchase of a lotion less time is spent. This variation in the buying process occurs because consumers are different, the products that they buy are different and the situations in which the consumers make purchase decisions are different. Several factors affect the decision making process.
Decision making complexity is one of the factors that influence consumer decision making process. In such instances, consumers will spend a great deal, effort and even money to help ensure that they make the right decision when buying a computer. In contrast purchase tasks that are low in complexity like a lotion are relatively non-involving for most consumers. For example, many consumers buy groceries by selecting familiar items from the shelf and placing them in their carts without considering alternative products. For marketers, managing the decision making complexity is an important consideration. Marketers of highly complex products like computers must recognize that consumers are quite risk adverse and need a great deal of information to help them make the right decision. In these situations, access to high quality and useful information should be an important consideration in the firms marketing program (Reynolds & Olson 2001). Firms that sell less complex products like lotions do not have to provide as much information, but they do face the challenges of creating a brand image and ensuring that their products are easily recognizable. For these marketers, issues like branding, packaging, advertising and point of purchase displays are key considerations in the marketing program
Individual influences also affect the decision making process. The range of individual influences that can affect the buying process is extensive. Individual characteristics like the age of the customer, his social class and professional affect the decision making process when buying a computer or lotion. For the most part, these individual factors dictate preferences for certain type of products or brands. For example married consumers with three children will clearly have different needs and preferences than young, single consumer. Likewise more affluent consumers will have the same basic needs as less affluent consumers; however, their wants will be quite different. These individual factors are useful for marketers in target market selection, product development and promotional strategies (Blackwell, D’Souza, Taghian, Miniard, and Engel, 2006).
Other individual factors, such as perceptions, motives, interests, attitudes, opinions or lifestyle are very difficult to change (Reynolds & Olson 2001). Therefore, many marketers adapt their products and promotional messages to fit existing attitudes, interests or lifestyle. For example, Honda introduced the Fit subcompact car in the United States to appeal to a younger, non-conformist demographic that loves digital music, ring tones, video games and graphic movies. The Fits quirky style and flexible interior appeal to this target market. Hondas promotional strategy is non-conformist as well. The Fits television ads are just five seconds long and Honda placed the adverts on cable net works favored by the target market.
Other factors that influence the decision making process of a customer are family, groups and culture. From birth individuals become socialized with respect to knowledge and skills to be an effective consumer. As adults consumers typically exhibit the brand and product preferences of their parents. Customers seek product information from reference groups which they find to be very important in making their buying decisions. A consumer’s purchase decision tends to fall inline with the advice, beliefs and action of one or more reference groups. When consumers feel that they lack personal expertise, they seek the advice of opinion leaders, whom they view as being well informed in a particular field of knowledge. In some cases, marketers will seek out opinion leaders before trying to reach more mainstream consumers. For example, software manufacturers release better versions of their products to opinion leaders before a full scale launch. This practice not only makes people aware of the product but also starts a word of mouth buzz about the upcoming software release.
Strategies for introducing a new brand
Marketers should understand the consumers buying behavior when introducing a new product in the market. A marketer can help customers to recognize the need for the new product by carrying out promotional activities. When a company is introducing a new product in the market, understanding consumers’ needs and wants is an important consideration in market segmentation (Reynolds & Olson 2001). Some markets can be segmented on the basis of needs alone. It is critical for organization to develop marketing strategies to aid the problem recognition stage for both high and low decision making. Marketing strategy should attempt to influence the desired state by trying to alter perception of the existing state. Understanding how consumers comprehend and categorize information is important in recognizing and guarding against misleading advert and marketers should find out what impression an advert creates and whether these impressions are positive or negative.
Marketers should also influence consumers in information searching. Sales representatives should have all the information that the consumers require concerning the new brand. They should explain to the customers the benefits of the product compared to other products in the market. Understanding consumer decision making process will help a marketer to understand the new product from the customers point of view. This will help the marketer to list and identify the functionality features and benefits of the product (Reynolds & Olson 2001). The benefit of this consideration is that it will help organization to keep tabs on the pulse of the industry and competitors. When positioning the new product, the marketer should use these features, benefits and functionality extensively. This will influence the customer’s decision in evaluation stage.
By explaining the benefits of the new product to the consumer, a marketer will influence the consumer to buying the product. It is important for marketers to understand the consumers’ behavior in order to know the kind of products they are looking for. This knowledge can be used to create a product strategy that will enhance the chances of the new product being successful in the market. A marketer can achieve this because he has an understanding of what the consumer is looking for and what benefits and features will move them to purchase the product and not the competitors.
Marketers should also influence the customers post purchase behavior positively. They should adopt a good promotional strategy in order to make it easy for the customers to get the necessary information they require in evaluating the best product. Promotion will help the consumers to be aware of the new product in the market. It will also help in reducing the customers’ perceived risk especially for the high involvement decision making. It will also reduce the feeling of cognitive dissonance in the post purchase stage. With continuous provision of information through promotion even after the purchasing stage, a customer will get satisfied with the product and this will result to repeat purchase.
Consumer behavior helps marketers to come up with strategies to influence the buying decision of these customers. Customers choose course of action that seem most likely to achieve important outcomes. This paper has explained the different involvement levels in customer decision making, it has also given the different stages that a consumer follows in purchasing a product. The paper has given the implication of consumer behavior to a marketer, and recommendation of how a marketer can influence a consumers buying decision process.
Blackwell, R., D’Souza, C., Taghian, M., Miniard, P. and Engel, J. (2006) Consumer Behavior: An Asia Pacific Approach. Melbourne. Thomson Learning.
Reynolds, T., & Olson, J. (2001) Understanding consumer decision making: the means and approach to marketing and advertising strategy. New York. Routledge.