Purchasing is considered as an extremely intricate and organizational course of action. Its main purpose is not limited to the common understanding, which is to procure goods or services as a solution to one’s own needs. The Customer Purchase Process illustrates the stages that a company’s customers go through prior to actually buying a product or availing a service. Having a deep understanding of this process will let the company appropriately adjust their marketing strategies.

Stages of the Consumer Purchasing Process

Consumers do not buy products randomly. There are stages that customers undergo before making a determination whether to buy the product or not. These are problem recognition, information search, evaluation of alternatives, purchase decision, and post-purchase evaluation.

Problem Recognition

The first step and probably the most significant of all five steps is problem or need recognition. A purchase will only ensue if there is a need. Problem recognition occurs when a lag exists between the customer’s desired state and actual state. Consumers become aware of this lag and aim to fill that void to achieve the “desired state”. Usually, the needs are caused by internal and/or external stimuli. For instance, a company offers gardening services to its clients. In order to do this, the company needs to procure gardening tools or equipment. Therefore, the need to buy a product is established. However, not all needs will translate to acquisition or procurement of a product. To illustrate this, let us say that your garden or lawn needs some trimming or mowing. You would like someone to do that for you (desired state) because you are too busy managing other things (actual situation). In doing so, you need to pay someone (an individual or a company) $100 for gardening services. Since the cost seems unreasonable, you decided not to settle, ergo there was no purchase behavior in this scenario.

Classification of Customer’s Need Recognition

A customer realizing his or her needs is usually driven by internal or external stimuli, influenced by different types of needs, and established according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Internal stimuli refers to a physiological need. Examples are hunger or thirst. On the other hand, an external stimuli pertains to extrinsic forces such as advertisements or word of mouth.

A person’s needs can be characterized as functional, social, or need for change. Functional needs are those termed as solutions to consumers’ problems. An example is buying a washing machine instead of hand washing your clothes or going to the laundromat. Social needs are needs derived from wanting to be a part of the society or norm. An example is buying high end furniture to show that you can afford these items. The need for change is described as a consumer longing for changes. These lead to e.g. buying new wallpapers so that you can change your room’s décor.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

1. Physiological needs
2. Safety needs
3. Need of love and belonging
4. Need of esteem
5. Need of self-actualization

This represents one’s order of needs and tells that a person is directed by specific needs that he or she has to attain first before moving to the other needs.

Information Search

After establishing what a person needs or wants, the next step is to look for information regarding a particular product or service that you are inclined to purchase (information search). Common sources of information can either be internal or external. Internal information is the kind of information that the consumer already knows, either because of past experiences consuming the product or his/her opinion regarding the brand. On the contrary, external information is the type of information that the consumer acquired, either from his/her family or friends, the media, or product reviews of other customers.

During this phase, the consumer takes into account internal information and information from family, friends, or relatives. The deciding factor here is how the product or service was presented.

Evaluation of Alternatives

Once the consumers became certain of what they want, they will start evaluating their choices, which is the third step in purchasing process. Factors that affect the customers’ evaluation process are their attitude and involvement. If there is a positive attitude and high involvement, the consumers will appraise different companies or products. If not, then one company or product will be assessed. When considering various alternatives, consumers consider the product’s features and specs (objective characteristics) and the product’s or company’s reputation (subjective characteristics).

Purchase Decision

The fourth step is purchase decision. This is where the acquisition takes place. According to Philip Kotler, the final purchase decision can be impeded or disrupted by customers’ negative feedbacks on the product and the level of motivation to acknowledge the feedback. To illustrate this, let us say that a customer is inclined to buy a new laptop. However, a “techie” friend gave this brand of laptop a negative feedback. Because of that, the customer decided not to buy the laptop and checked for other alternatives.

Post-purchase Evaluation

The customer’s buying process does not end after the purchase of the product, hence the need for post-purchase evaluation. After buying and using the product, the customer will contemplate on his/her decision regarding the purchase of the product. Is the consumer satisfied or not? If yes, it will result to brand loyalty.