How to Hack 5 Stages of Consumer Decision Making Process

How does a random person decide to purchase one product and not the other? More importantly – how do I make this person decide in favor of my product? While the answer may seem complicated, the gist of the consumer decision making process is pretty simple – take a look at yourself.

We are all consumers. We all make purchasing decisions – so let’s break down this process and make you a better marketer solely by walking in our everyday shoes.

Consumer decision making process typically has five stages:

  1. Problem recognition
  2. Information search
  3. Evaluation of alternatives
  4. Purchase decision
  5. Postpurchase behavior

If you are a marketer, each of these stages is equally important – and equally volatile. This means you really have to kick up your imagination a notch if you want to understand what takes your future customers from point 1 to point 5. Moreover, you need to be aware of the scope of influences on consumer decision – and we’ll help you with that. Let’s begin.

1. Consumer decision making process: Recognizing a problem

Sometimes, the consumer decision making process is fairly straightforward. The closer the product is to our basic needs, the more straightforward and shorter the entire purchasing decision is. For example – you are out of milk. You will probably skip information and evaluation and just go to the closest supermarket and get some.  You probably already know which brand you prefer, or you just don’t care and rely solely on the price. If you have a certain preference, such as lactose milk, you probably did some research on it, but all in all, milk is milk.

How to Hack 5 Stages of Consumer Decision Making Process
May the prettiest box win.

The further you go from these basic needs, the more complicated the decision process is.

Let’s take this example. Recently, I decided to buy an activity tracker. I didn’t come to that decision out of nowhere. I am not an athlete, but I am a fitness enthusiast. I follow a few fitness pages where I get useful information about diet and new workouts. At some point, I wanted to know how I can make sure I do high-intensity interval training right. I learned that activity trackers such as Fitbit can help me maximize my workout.

How to Hack 5 Stages of Consumer Decision Making Process

I immediately visited Fitbit website. This leads us to the next stage of the consumer decision making process. But let’s stay here a little longer and put you back into the shoes of a marketer.

How do you affect a problem recognition stage?

First, you need to think – under which circumstances people feel the need for your product? Is it a straightforward process, like the one we mentioned with milk? Is your product a necessity? Or, like with Fitbit, people won’t know they want or need it before they see it? You need to run this analysis in the first stages of your business development. It is a prerequisite for a successful marketing strategy. In this article, you will learn how to conduct market opportunity analysis.

Second, you need to understand that a marketer has to be one step ahead of the consumer. You need to be right there with the solution when the consumer recognizes a problem or a need. How do you do that?

How to Hack 5 Stages of Consumer Decision Making Process
Hmm, what time is it? (Source: Home Business )

With classical advertising, you capture people’s attention before they recognize the problem. When they do – they (ideally) immediately think of your product. With digital marketing, things are a little bit less straightforward – in many cases, you don’t aim for the immediate purchase. Instead, you cater to a targeted group of consumers and their interests.

For example, I am a suitable candidate for Fitbit, based on my likes and interests. I receive a LiveStrong newsletter, I follow Jillian Michaels and Kyla Itsines, I have Nike Training Club app on my phone – all of this implies that I prefer working out on my own, on my own terms. There are no gym membership ads on my Facebook and Instagram News Feed. I avoid ads, in general.

How to Hack 5 Stages of Consumer Decision Making Process
Because frankly, I need a new excuse to buy another pair of leggings. Content marketing at its best.

But I click on every email newsletter from LiveStrong and I regularly read health and fitness content tailored to my needs. When I had a problem – needing to boost my efficiency – the blog post successfully offered me a solution.

Sounds complicated? In this article, we wrote about the ways to grow your email list. You can use your email list to segment your audience and target it with messages that are likely to lead to the purchasing decision. In the following articles, we wrote about utilizing social media to capture the attention of prospective consumers. In both, you will find actionable advice on hacking consumer decision making process.

2. Consumer decision making process: Information Search

Once I realize I need an activity tracker, I can either buy it as soon as possible or simply be in a state of “heightened attention”.  As the time goes, I will become more proactive, and start asking people, looking online on retail websites and searching for lists of the best activity trackers.

In my case, I immediately went to Fitbit website, because I saw the gadget mentioned in the Nike Training Club app. You could say that their branding led to my associating their product with the gadget itself. However, what I found on Fitbit site didn’t quite help my consumer decision making process.

How to Hack 5 Stages of Consumer Decision Making Process

First, I was annoyed by the retracting menu. Second, I clicked on an empty space several times, trying to see all the choices at my disposal. The homepage menu offered only individual products, which is not the best choice for a person who first wants to study the options. In the end, I realized it’s only possible to see all Fitbit bands if I click on “store” in the upper right corner.

As I was looking through the options, I had three conditions that would guide my decision process:

  • I wanted it to monitor heart rate
  • I wanted it to be waterproof
  • I wanted it to count steps

However, a gadget with these features costs over $100, so I decided to look through the alternatives.

How do you affect an information search stage?

One of the great ways to differentiate between consumers and segment them early on is based on the product attributes they prioritize. People can prioritize price, type of product or brand. If I was a brand aficionado, I’d probably pick FitBit immediately.

This where the power of branding comes into effect. To read more about the secrets behind successful branding (and yes, it is possible even if you’re just a small business), click here.

Why did I go into so much detail about my experience with the website? Because it matters in consumer decision making process. The information you’re going to provide for a consumer who recognized the problem and sought information depends on their intent. If they are purchasing immediately (remember, the more basic the need is, the urgency is greater), it is important that your website and copy are informative, straightforward, with a clear call-to-action.

Scientific research shows that consumers often search for limited amounts of information and that blasting people with too much info at this phase will kill your conversion rates.

But, what happens when the consumer looks for the alternatives?

3. Consumer decision making process: Evaluation of alternatives

The darkest hour closes in – the customer leaves your website to see what your competitors are offering. As we said earlier, the consumer decision making process is fairly individualized. The thing you can generalize is that

  • A consumer is looking to solve a problem/satisfy a need
  • The solution (your product) needs to meet certain expectations
  • So each solution or a product is evaluated based on these expectations

When a consumer is evaluating different brands and offers, plenty of factors contribute to the final decision. First, there are personal beliefs and attitudes involving politics, religion, popular culture, etc. Since branding is connecting with people on a very personal, conversational level, people are seeking to see the brand reflect their values.

You could see that in the branding story of Nike, but you can see the same thing with fashion brands, musicians, even food products (for example, I knew a guy who refused to buy Ben&Jerry’s ice cream cause he didn’t like their political narrative).

How does that look in practice? After I left FitBit website, I googled “best alternatives to FitBit”. The highest ranking article is a good example of content marketing – a very valuable asset in hacking consumer decision making process.

How to Hack 5 Stages of Consumer Decision Making Process

The author understands the three postulates of consumer’s evaluation – it satisfied my search intent, it listed fitness trackers with images, prices, specs and clear calls-to-action, making my search easy and straightforward. After evaluation, I picked three contenders.

How to Hack 5 Stages of Consumer Decision Making Process
One of the contenders.

However, as I studied their specs on Amazon, I clicked on another, suggested activity tracker. After noticing it had no reviews, I clicked on a similar one that boasted heart rate monitor and waterproof qualities for $29, with an Amazon rating of 4 stars.

How to Hack 5 Stages of Consumer Decision Making Process
Final choice?

Not too shabby, right?

How do you affect an evaluation of alternatives stage?

If you are competing with brands, this is your time to shine.

We dealt with this issue in this article, where you could figure out what elements on your website kill your conversion rates and what you can do to change that.

When you’re designing your offer, sales copy and website, keep in mind several scientifically proven behavior patterns in consumer decision making process:

  • Consumers are more likely to choose an alternative that appears to be a compromise
  • Consumers who are not sure whether the purchase will be satisfying are likely to go for well-known brands (or the highest ranking product and service)
  • Consumers’ choices are often influenced by subtle changes in the way alternatives are described – for example, the reason why I clicked on the alternative model was the color I prefer and the fact that it had “heart rate monitor” in its description.

To be able to offer an alternative that will steer the consumer towards your product. You need to be aware of your target customers, main competitors, their strength, and weaknesses and create your offer accordingly.

4. Consumer decision making process: Purchase Decision

The final decision comes in three shapes.

When I started evaluating Fitbit, and then moved on to the alternatives, I came up with a set of minimum requirements for my chosen activity tracker. Consumer decision making process concludes with one of the three possible scenarios:

  • Setting a minimum acceptable cutoff level for each requirement and choosing the first option that meets these levels

For example, if I wanted to be absolutely sure that my fitness tracker would have a precise pedometer, heart rate monitor and be waterproof while swimming – with an effective accompanying app, I’d chose Fitbit. If I wanted to simply have all of these features on a minimum level for a small price, I’d choose LETSCOM.

How to Hack 5 Stages of Consumer Decision Making Process

  • The consumer can also choose a product based on the most important requirement

In my case, it is a heart rate monitor. That means I could drop the fitness trackers altogether and simply purchase an old-school heart rate monitor.

  • Finally, the consumer can slowly eliminate alternatives by comparing them on the basis of one requirement – first the price, then the efficiency, etc. until they end up with the winner.

How do you affect a purchase decision?

As you could have seen so far, affecting a customer’s purchase decision starts way before they even think of needing your product – and all the things you do ultimately contribute to the final outcome. But I wanted to address one thing specifically in this stage – social proof.

As you may notice, I did not go for one of the alternatives, even though it met my requirements – simply because there were no user reviews I could rely on. I want to know that the product I am buying delivers – and I want to hear it from its actual users. Basically, online user reviews are a digital word-of-mouth, one of the most valued and best-delivering marketing strategies.  They can make or break your product. They will move people from stage 3 to stage 4 of the consumer decision making process.

How to Hack 5 Stages of Consumer Decision Making Process

So follow how people react to your product, respond kindly and take action even when the reviews turn out to be negative. If I see a response that shows engagement and actual interest to solve the user’s problem, I automatically add another plus to that option. This ties into the final consumer decision making process stage, the one that’s often ignored and overlooked.

5. Consumer decision making process: Postpurchase Behavior

After the consumer purchases your product and starts using it, they may notice certain flaws. This is when the consumer forms an opinion of your brand – whether it satisfies their needs and solves their problem efficiently.

At this stage, you have to reinforce the consumer’s choice, and the effective strategy for this type of marketing comes from monitoring reviews, people’s actions and the way they use your product. Many brands do it by nurturing a sense of community, belonging and common purpose for its consumers – something we repeatedly touched upon in the posts about branding strategy.

Building a network of loyal consumers also means building an entire marketing team that spreads your message with credibility and persuasion you can hardly match.


Now that you walked in your customer’s shoes, I bet it feels a little easier to be one step ahead with your marketing strategy. In this article, you can find plenty of advice on focusing on each stage of consumer’s purchase decision process, so I strongly recommend that you run through them, as many of them include actual tools used and vouched for by our team at LeadQuizzes.

Also, we suggest that you check out what LeadQuizzes offer – with us, you can find one tool that will help you attract customers, keep them engaged, learn more about them and segment them properly for the best customer decision outcome.

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