Five stages comprise the consumer buying decision process: problem recognition, information search, alternative evaluation, purchase decision and post-purchase behavior. Each of these stages can be a deliberate action such as researching product options or a subconscious thought like recognizing the juice in the refrigerator has almost run out. A merchant or business must understand the steps a customer goes through to make a purchase. A merchant can influence a customer's purchase by providing targeted information, advertisements or guidance.
Consumers recognize a problem based on physical cues, stimulus response or a need. For example, a customer could smell fresh bread and realize she is hungry or she could have a broken pair of glasses and know she needs a new pair. Visual clues trigger problem recognition. For example, a beverage in a clear container shows when it is getting low, or a sticker in a car window reminds customers when it is time for an oil change.
Customers in the information search stage of the buying process look for solutions to their problems or needs. They remember what types of purchases solved a similar problem in the past. Customers also discuss their needs with friends and relatives to see what solutions they may suggest. For more expensive purchases, customers may read reviews, look through newspapers or research the product online.
Consumers evaluate their purchase options based on product attributes, such as technical specifications, through subjective factors, such as brands, and through personal experience, such as sampling or testing products. Consumer and company reviews can influence a consumer's product evaluation.
A consumer's decision to purchase something includes where to buy, when to buy and whether to buy. For routine goods such as groceries, consumers may simply go to their favorite grocery store, but for electronic purchases, they may browse multiple stores. They will evaluate each merchant based on prior experience with the store, special offers and whether they can return the product easily. A store that's visually appealing, has helpful sales associates and offers specials and discounts influences a buyer.
After making a purchase, a consumer mentally ranks her purchase satisfaction. She will evaluate if she liked the store, if she enjoys the product and the quality of the product. This evaluation determines whether the customer will purchase the product or brand again and whether it would be from the same store. Customers who are happy with their purchases and feel they received a quality product at a good price, will become repeat customers and will tell others about their experience.