The Consumer Decision Making Process Model: Explained

Understanding how consumers make decisions is the foundation of understanding marketing. While the value formula explains how we make decisions in a simplified way, we can delve into decision making much more. The decision making process starts from the planting of the idea of purchase, and continues past purchase.

Consumer Decision Making Model

The Consumer Decision Making Process Model can be used to illustrate this further, and describe how we come to make decisions. The information processing model asserts that there are six steps to every purchase decision. This is illustrated on the list below.

  1. Stimulus
  2. Problem Recognition
  3. Information Search
  4. Alternative Evaluation
  5. Purchase Decision
  6. Post Purchase Evaluation

To begin the decision making process, a stimulus must be present. This could be through a marketing device which alerts the consumer to the possibilities, through specific circumstances which prompt the buyer (such as a broken product), or through any other stimulus which plants a seed of an idea into the consumer.

After the stimulus is delivered, the consumer must recognise the problem and want to solve it. The stimulus in this case must not only attract attention, but be galvanising enough for the consumer to want to take action.

When the consumer decides to solve the problem, they go through a phase of information search. In this phase, they use information they already know and search for more. Depending on the type of product and perceived importance to the consumer, this could be very brief or quite thorough.

After gathering information, the consumer evaluates the knowledge and compares between different brands and potential substitutes to decide on which would be best. The evaluation process is complicated- and this is an entire field of study by itself, but it will suffice to know that one would choose a product which most meets the consumer’s needs.

Within the purchase decision process, the customer evaluates for value. If the benefits provided from the product is greater than the cost, a purchase is made.

The final step in the decision making model includes a post purchase evaluation. This stage is important, as it effects the customer’s future purchase behaviour as well as word-of-mouth. An important consideration is post-purchase dissonance, or more commonly known as buyer’s remorse. The alternative would be customer satisfaction and post-purchase rationalisation. What very frequently happens is that after a purchase the customer would feel heightened emotions regarding the purchase, and reconsider whether it was justified. They either regret the purchase, feel satisfied about it, or cope by justifying their decision. Making sure that the customer is satisfied is important in retention and loyalty.

Brandon sees an advert one day regarding Rolex watches. As a lover of watch-wear and luxury time pieces, Brandon already has six different watches for different occasions but decides that one more would improve his collection. While Brandon is already a Rolex fan, he talks to one of his friends whom he knows has great taste. That friend recommends that he try Patek-Phillippe. Following the friend’s advice, he chooses Patek-Phillippe over Rolex, and orders the watch. Brandon receives the watch a few weeks later in brilliant packaging, which reaffirms the value of the watch. Feeling rather good about his purchase, he proceeds to show it off at the next available opportunity. Brandon is delighted to have received many encouraging compliments regarding the watch.

Patek Phillippe Watch

In this case, we can clearly see Brandon receiving a stimulation to his problem: he did not have enough watches. He identified the problem, and considered purchasing a new one as a solution. Brandon then uses both information he knows already as well as advice from a friend in his information search phase. Evaluating the alternatives, he decides on a purchase. Post purchasing, packaging and compliments reaffirm the purchase decision.

While the six steps are generally what happens in decision making, an important consideration in the world of marketing is the use of heuristics. Heuristics describe the use of a simple mechanism in purchase without going through the six steps. Often the case for small, low-involvement goods- heuristics are used so that a consumer does not have to consider all goods, and instead use a familiar brand or a singular consideration.

One day you wake up to find that you are out of milk. While you do not normally do the shopping, your significant other is sick so you have to go and get it. Before departing, you decide that you will just buy the cheapest 2L bottle. To obtain the cheapest, you go to Aldi. At the supermarket, you don’t even look at the brand as you look through the prices and select the milk. Before you leave, you look for vitamin C pills for your significant other. Knowing that she hates pills, you look for the smallest pills you can find. Finally, you grab your usual can of Red Bull before you leave.


In this case, all three purchase decisions utilise heuristics. Milk is selected based on price, vitamin C pills based on tablet size, and energy drinks based on a familiar brand. Not only that, but the first decision is one to go to Aldi. While other stores may have cheaper milk, due to a pre-formed association that Aldi is the cheapest, a decision is made without explicitly searching for information.

From the six steps and the understanding of heuristics, a marketer must target marketing communications with these stages and processes in mind. Depending on where you target the consumer, you will have to convey a different message. Not only that, but for low-involvement goods it is a good idea to build familiarity and if possible a purchasing habit. Secure that, and customers will purchase without over-thinking and evaluating competitors.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
blog comments powered by Disqus