Step 3: Evaluate Options
Consumers’ search efforts may result in a set of options from which a choice can be made. It should be noted that there may be two levels to this stage. At level one the consumer may create a set of possible solutions to their needs (i.e., different product types) while at level two the consumer may be evaluating particular products (i.e., different individual brands) within each solution. For example, when someone moves to a new apartment and wants a service that will offer live television programs, he/she will likely have a few solutions to choose from, including subscribing to cable or using a live streaming service. Marketers need to understand how consumers evaluate product options and why some products are included in a consumer’s evaluation while others are not. Most importantly, marketers must determine which criteria consumers are using in their selection of possible options and how each criterion is evaluated. Returning to the live television example, marketing tactics will be most effective when the marketer can tailor their efforts by knowing: 1) what benefits are most relevant to consumers (e.g., picture quality, brand name, reliability, price, etc.), and 2) determining the order of importance of each benefit.
Step 4: Purchase
In many cases, the solution chosen by the consumer is the same as the product whose evaluation is the highest. However, this may change when it is actually time to make the purchase. The “intended” purchase may be altered at the time of purchase for many reasons such as: the product is out-of-stock; a competitor offers an incentive at the point-of-purchase (e.g., store salesperson mentions a competitor’s offer); the customer lacks the necessary funds (e.g., credit card not working); or members of the consumer’s reference group take a negative view of the purchase (e.g., friend is critical of the intended purchase). Marketers whose product is most desirable to the consumer must make sure the transaction goes smoothly. For example, internet retailers have worked hard to prevent consumers from abandoning online purchase (i.e., online shopping carts) by streamlining the checkout process. For marketers whose product is not the consumer’s selected product, last chance marketing efforts may be worth exploring, such as offering incentives to store personnel to “talk up” their product at the checkout line.
Step 5: After-Purchase Evaluation
Once the consumer has made the purchase they are faced with an evaluation of the decision. If the product performs below the consumer’s expectation then he/she will re-evaluate satisfaction with the decision. At the extreme, this may result in the consumer returning the product while in less extreme situations the consumer will retain the purchased item but may take a negative view of the product. Such evaluations are more likely to occur in cases of expensive or highly important purchases. To help ease the concerns consumers have with their purchase evaluation, marketers need to be receptive and even encourage consumer contact. Customer service centers and follow-up market research are useful tools in helping to address purchasers’ concerns.
As we’ve seen, consumer purchasing is quite complex. In our next tutorial, Business Buying Behavior, we will see that marketers must also have a thorough understanding of how business purchase decisions are made.