The Customer Buying Decision Process

Five steps to business success ...


Getting potential customers to choose to purchase from your business isn't easy. You also need them to keep making that same buying decision, which is even harder ...

Whether online or in the real world, the customer buying decision process is the same.

Whether online or in the real world, the customer buying decision process is the same.

copyright: grinvalds / 123rf stock photo (licensee)

People are complex. Our purchasing decisions are influenced by billions of factors. We should also question even the most convincing reasons in this age of advertising, algorithms and Amazon one-click-why-did-I-order-this? If I'm honest, ''I just felt like I had to have it!'' is the only thing I'm comfortable saying.

Luckily, some smart people have done a lot of the groundwork for us. Although they differ on some of the details, they agree that there are five steps to a decision to buy.

  1. Need Recognition

    You're probably already confident there's a need for your business, but the important part is the recognition.

    If a need isn't recognised then a purchase won't be considered. The recognition happens when the customer's situation doesn't match their ideal. If that need isn't recognised you will need to educate potential customers.

  2. Information Gathering

    The effort at this stage varies depending on the complexity of choice and the customer's personal involvement. If the choice is simple or the customer is not particularly involved, only existing information will be required. If the choice is more complex or the customer is more involved they will seek external information.

    More weight is given to existing information than to external information. Likewise, external information provided by family, friends and other customers will be given more weight than information from advertising or company materials.

  3. Alternative Evaluation

    This one has a fancy name, but it's really just weighing the options. Two things matter here: the features desired and the brand perception.

    These two things will differ between all customers; for one customer, brand will trump features; for the second, features beats brand; for the third, they just need certain unusual features; then there are a million variations in between.

    The customer forms three groups of possible solutions: very low chance to purchase, no particular opinion or high chance to purchase. The size of each group increases with more complex purchases and a higher level of customer personal involvement.

  4. Purchase Decision

    This is it. We had to get four stages in, but we've reached the actual purchase. After completing the third step, the customer proceeds to make their purchase; however, a lot can still go wrong. The customer might still change their mind. With certain 'grudge' purchases, the customer might even be looking for reasons to change their mind.

    The purchase decision can still be altered by things like special offers, promotions, terms and conditions of the sale, lack of someone to speak to or even just the weather.

    Simply put, it's about the shopping experience at this stage. Make sure you get everything you can control right. Even just a poorly-timed popup, an awkward click on your website or just not having someone on hand will send customers straight to one of their other possible purchases from step three a.k.a your competitors.

  5. Post-purchase Behaviour

    At some time after the purchase, the customer will compare their satisfaction to their original need. In many ways, this stage is the most important to your business's success and the place where most businesses trip.

    Next time they go through these same five stages, an unsatisfied customer will put you straight in the 'very low chance to purchase' group. But, remember what we said in stage two; information provided by family, friends and other customers will be given more weight than information from advertising or company materials.

    When asked, just over 90% of people say they trust their friends and family to influence their purchases, about 70% trust other customers online, but only around 50% of people said they trust the information coming from business.

    To understand the relevance, let's say we have a group of ten potential customers. If you don't have satisfied human beings singing your praises you might be able to convert up to five of them. If people are talking about you positively online you're looking at converting up to seven.

    However, if you have people willing to recommend your business to their friends and family you could be talking about converting nine out of every ten people.

Satisfied customers who remain satisfied don't just become loyal customers; they become your best performing and lowest paid sales & marketing people.

Yes, an unsatisfied customer is one amount of profit in the bank right now, but a satisfied customer could be five new customers making five lifetimes worth of purchases.

That means that making sure customers are satisfied with their purchase, and remain so, isn't just the morally right thing to do it's also the most profitable.

Until next time ...



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