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If you’ve ever picked up a marketing textbook, or attended a Marketing 101 lecture, you’ve definitely heard of the consumer decision-making process. In fact, the five step model that we’re all acquainted with today was introduced by psychologist John Dewey more than 100 years ago in 1910! 

A century later, customers today still experience these key steps of decision making when they make a purchase. Yet, the advent of modern digital trends means that the precise ways customers experience these steps today are radically different. 



The Consumer Decision-Making Process in Five Steps

The consumer decision-making process usually begins with some sort of problem. The consumer then develops a need or a want that they pursue until they satisfy it. Generally, the process follows these five steps, although longer decision-making processes (six or seven steps) sometimes occur.

An example of the simplified five-step process is below.

Step 1 - Problem or Need Recognition. The customer identifies a problem that needs a product or service to be solved.

Step 2 - Information Search. The customer uses various platforms to research available products or services.

Step 3 - Evaluation of Alternatives. The customer weighs choices against other comparable alternatives.

Step 4 - Purchase Decision. The customer finalizes the decision to buy the product.

Step 5 - Post-Purchase Evaluation. The customer reflects on the purchase he or she has made and their feelings associated with that purchase.

Let’s take a closer look at each step as it functions today as well as what strategies your company can employ to turn the tides in your favor.



Step 1: Problem Recognition

In this step, customers recognize that they have a problem that requires a product or service in order to be solved. Here, the key is to accurately pinpoint the exact need of your target customer segment. And, to ensure that your offering effectively addresses that need. 

1. Identify Customer Search Engine Trends

With an estimated 3.5 billion searches made on Google everyday, search engines are almost always the first place that your customers will turn to when they encounter a problem. This also creates a valuable opportunity for you to gain an intimate understanding of your customers through keyword research. 

For instance, imagine that you’re the owner of an electric scooter rental company, and you’re trying to expand into a new market. 

If your keyword research reveals that customers in this market frequently search for terms like “electric scooter safe?” and “how to not crash electric scooter,” it could be an indication that the safety of these services is a major concern for potential customers in this market. 

These customer search results help make key strategic decisions towards addressing your customer needs. Using this search information, your company might highlight your product’s safety features in marketing campaigns, for example.

We recommend using the following tools to collect customer search trends:

2. Ask Questions Directly To Customers

More direct forms of customer engagement are also available to gain consumer insights. Surveys and physical focus group discussions are the most common way to measure customer engagement. However, new tools like online focus groups allow quick access to qualitative insights and to large groups of consumers.

For instance, imagine you ran an online focus group on customer needs and preferences toward online scooter rentals. You would receive unique qualitative insights (and direct verbatim responses) like customer perception of helmet hygiene, and the importance of hygiene in purchasing.



Step 2: Information Search 

During an information search, the customer has determined they require a product to address a certain need. They’re also actively finding information on available options. 

Subsequently, the customer is also trying to ascertain which among these competing alternatives is the most appropriate option. Amazon has nearly automated this step by offering comparison shopping without leaving the platform. To that point, we argue that this step of the consumer decision-making process functions in tandem with the next step. That is, comparing the pros and cons of alternatives.



Step 3: Evaluation of Alternatives

Search engines are where most customers begin their search for information. Done strategically, effective search engine optimization strategies increase product visibility, but can also simultaneously demonstrate comparative advantages of your product.

1. Optimize Your Site for eCommerce

For instance, let’s say that you choose to optimize your search engine performance for the phrase: “Safe E-Scooters in NYC.” While this increases your visibility for prospective customers that look up any variation of this phrase, it also instantly demonstrates the unique selling points of your product. That is, your product and company are obsessed with safety, and that you are readily available within New York City.



Step 4: Purchase Decision

In this step, customers are making the final decision on whether to purchase the product. Crucially, it is still possible for the customer to be derailed by other external factors at this point. 

Some distractions during the consumer purchase decision include:

  • Negative user experience during the checkout process
  • Social media buttons available next to cart
  • Banner ads near cart
  • Lack of clear next steps
  • Overwhelming number of choices when shopping
  • Shipping and fees aren’t competitive 

Luckily, there are ways to keep your customers interested. Some e-commerce engagement strategies include:

  • Send reminder messages and emails based on real-time and historical behavior
  • Condense number of steps to checkout process 
  • Create collateral that can be read on-platform and educate customers

Finally, a customer makes a purchase! But this process is not over yet.



Step 5: Post Purchase Evaluation

In this step, the customer has already completed a purchase, but may still be actively reflecting on the purchase decision. 

For example, 60% of customers that purchase facial skin care products actually go online to conduct research after the purchase. If the customer has a poor experience, or finds a better alternative, this may radically affect customer retention. And this issue is not unique to the self care industry.

1. Gather Customer Feedback

Gathering customer feedback is an effective way to develop insight into both your business and product. By making an intentional effort to collect verified reviews, you are signaling to customers that their opinions are valued. It also allows access to customers during that vital post-purchase behavior and thought process. 

Direct ways to engage in post-purchase decision making include:

  • Leveraging email marketing
  • Conducting online or traditional focus groups
  • Investing in social listening tools 
  • Analyzing emotional analytics 
  • Browsing customer review sites 

The list goes on, literally. Try out some other unique ideas (like opening up a private Facebook group for customers) in our blog on customer feedback.

2. Nurture Your Customer Relationship

Because customer purchases are more empowered by the Internet than ever before, customer loyalty can no longer be taken for granted. Almost every customer (7 out of 10, according to Salesforce) has high expectations of a positive customer experience. We believe that superior customer experience and long-lasting customer relationships are key to securing positive customer experiences. After that, long-term brand loyalty is sure to follow. 



Want to understand customer behavior more deeply? Check out our article on voice recognition technology and its influence on shopping habits.