Consumer Decision Making Process

Young man in supermarket comparing bottles of oil, rear view, close-up

The Consumer Decision-Making Process is based on many years of consumer research. It explains the different thought processes consumers go through when making a transaction. While the context surrounding the transaction may vary a great deal by location, amount, emotion and time allowed, the brain goes through a very similar process each time commerce occurs. It’s important for you to be aware of how your customers shop for the goods you have!


Problem Recognition is the first stage of the process. This occurs when an individual realizes their preferred and actual state are not aligned. It may be needs-based (I ran out of toothpaste) or vanity-based (My peers drive nicer cars than I do). In either case, a problem is realized.


Immediately after this, the individual will Search for Information, which is the second stage of the Consumer Decision-Making Process. This step might be quite comprehensive if the consumer is looking at buying a new car or new home. In this situation, the consumer would undergo extensive information search. They might consult external information sources like online reviews, recommendations from friends, industry articles, etc. On the other hand, it might be as simple as subconsciously referencing which laundry detergent was bought the previous time. This would be classified as limited information search.


This step also includes defining the set of alternatives, which can be easily thought of as a funnel where consumers start with the complete set – all the options that exist when making a purchase. The process of ruling some out is usually fairly quick and leads to the awareness set. Consumers will then enter the consideration set, which has the most viable options. This is the group of products the consumer will be selecting from. A smaller pool where all options could work.


The third stage of Consumer Decision-Making Process is the Evaluation of Alternatives. This is where products are classified in three categories – emotional, attitude-based and attribute-based. Consumers evaluate the options on how the align with their needs at all three of these levels. Does it make me feel positive (emotion) is it aligned with my values and beliefs (attitude) and does it get the job done (attribute).


Product Choice Decision is the fourth stage and when the transaction actually occurs. This step is the culmination of all the other steps and is where marketing efforts are evaluated. It encompasses several important factors like physical surroundings, social circumstances, time and state of mind. The consumer will consider what they’re buying, where they’re buying it, how much they’re paying, when they make the purchase and how they will pay for it.


Post-Purchase Decision is the final stage and occurs after the transaction is made. It is just as important as the other stages as it lends to future buys either by the same consumer (a repeat purchase) or by someone else who was recommended the product by the buyer. Unfortunately, many consumers experience post-purchase dissonance in this stage as the buyer feels regret or anxiety about the transaction.