Optimising the 5 Steps of the Consumer Buying Process

With the exception of impulse purchases, most shoppers give a lot of consideration to the products they buy. In fact, 81% of them conduct product research online before they make a significant purchase. 

Brands that engage these consumers at an early stage stand apart from their competitors. By following the consumer buying process, it’s easy to reach these shoppers long before they make a purchase. Here’s what you need to know. 

What is the consumer buying process? 

The consumer buying process is a series of steps that each consumer takes when they make a purchase. It includes five stages: 

  • Problem recognition 
  • Information gathering 
  • Evaluation 
  • Purchase 
  • Post-purchase evaluation 

Brands should be familiar with all five stages of consumer buying so that they can effectively engage shoppers. This will also allow them to streamline each step so that more people reach the point of conversion – and perhaps even brand loyalty or evangelism. 

How to optimise each step in the consumer buying process 

As more and more shoppers move online, the consumer journey continues to evolve. To reach people during the buyer decision process, brands need to develop new digital channels, adjust to cutting edge technology and create a better customer experience. 

Here’s how they can do this at each stage of the consumer buying process. 

1. Problem recognition 

Before consumers ever consider making a purchase, they must first have a want or need. 

Often, consumers will know the problem exists and brands simply need to present their product as the solution. For example, everyone knows bathrooms get dirty so bleach brands simply need to build awareness of their product lines and explain why they’re worth buying. 

Other times, consumers might not even realise that a problem exists. For example, they may not know that they pay too much for insurance or that their makeup contains parabens. In this case, brands would need to highlight the problem, as well as the solution that their product provides. 

Marketers should present their product as a hero that saves the day. When creating videos, ad copy and other content, follow this simple narrative and your message will stay with consumers throughout the rest of the buying process. 

2. Information gathering 

Once consumers know they have a problem, they will look for a way to resolve it. This is where product research comes in. 

If your brand awareness campaigns are effective, some shoppers will head straight to your website or search for your brand’s name. However, others will search for generic phrases related to their problem. 

According to recent data, 40% of shoppers still begin their product research on search engines, like Google and Bing. But 38% also use Amazon, while 35% search on other marketplaces like eBay and Etsy. Around a quarter of shoppers also conduct searches on social media and retailer sites. 

With this in mind, brands need to ensure they have an omnichannel presence, so information about their products is available wherever shoppers search. They should also conduct keyword research and undertake SEO activities to ensure they rank high in relevant search results. 

They can establish a visible presence on marketplaces by writing detailed product descriptions and building up positive reviews. To rank on Google, on the other hand, they should add great content to their website. This could include the likes of blog posts, videos, webinars, whitepapers and demos. 

However, getting to the top of search results takes time on all these platforms. So you may want to consider using sponsored ads to get there faster. 

3. Evaluating solutions 

Because the digital shelf offers such a broad range of options, shoppers will need to examine alternative products and compare solutions before they make a purchase. 

Consumers evaluate items using a wide variety of characteristics. These can include quality, price, features, brand name, look, reviews, shipping costs, shipping times, warranties, guarantees, returns policies, BOPIS options and customer service. 

So, to optimise this step in the consumer buying process, brands should create great product pages which feature these key pieces of information. Include detailed descriptions, high quality images, videos and testimonials. 

Additional guidance like size guides, FAQs and chat features could all be useful too. Anything that helps shoppers evaluate your product will make the buying process easier. You can even use digital shelf monitoring software to ensure your listings are consistent across all third-party sites. 

At the end of this stage, consumers will choose the product that best suits their needs. But the buying process is still far from over. 

4. Purchase 

Even when someone chooses a product that meets their needs, conversion isn’t a sure thing. 

Consumers can still walk away at this late stage. And, with the average cart abandonment rate hovering at just under 70%, the fact is that many people do. But brands can tip the scales in their favour by optimising the purchase stage of the buying process. 

To do this, it’s essential to simplify your store’s checkout procedures. According to new data, consumers commonly abandon their carts because: 

  • Extra costs, like taxes and shipping, were too expensive 
  • They were forced to create an account 
  • Delivery was too slow 
  • The checkout process was too complicated 
  • They didn’t trust the site with their card information 
  • There weren’t enough payment methods 

So taking simple steps like providing guest checkout, adding more payment options or pre-populating checkout forms can help brands close a lot more sales. 

Brands can go even further by using the likes of social commerce, Where to Buy solutionsshoppable video and other shoppable media to streamline the path to purchase. These technologies all make it easier for consumers to add products to their basket and finalise their purchases. 

Finally, if a customer does walk away, brands can always use ad retargeting and email remarketing to win them back. 

5. Post-purchase evaluation 

Just because a shopper converts, this doesn’t mean the consumer decision process is over. In fact, you should hope that it is just beginning. 

If customers are happy with their product, this could lead to repeat purchases, subscriptions, positive reviews and referrals. Whereas, unhappy customers are more likely to return a product or leave negative ratings. 

To help improve the post-purchase experience, brands should monitor reviews and send out customer surveys. They can then use the information gathered to improve their products and update inaccurate product descriptions. They can also mitigate any negative purchase experiences by providing exceptional customer service. 

To encourage repeat purchases, brands should send follow-up emails, share exclusive customer offers, run loyalty programmes and make re-ordering simple. It’s worth investing in customer retention because it’s less expensive than acquiring brand new customers. 

In fact, an academic study shows that increasing customer retention by 5% can boost profits by a massive 25%. It’s also worth noting that most shoppers will spend 57% more on products from the brands they know and love. 

Final thoughts 

As you see, purchases can take time. But this gives brands plenty of opportunities to engage with shoppers as they move through the five stages of consumer buying. Marketers that understand this process can reach shoppers with the right message at the right time. Ultimately, this should lead to more conversions and greater customer retention.

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