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Consumer Decision Process
The consumer's decision process consists of six basic stages: stimulus, problem awareness, information search, evaluation of alternatives, purchase, and post purchase behavior. A stimulus is a cue (social, commercial, or noncommercial) or a drive (physical meant to motivate or arouse a person to act).

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A stimulus is a cue (social, commercial, or noncommercial) or a drive (physical meant to motivate or arouse a person to act). When one talks with friends, fellow employees, family members, and others, social cues are received. The distinguishing attribute of a social cue is that it comes from an interpersonal source not affiliate with the seller.

A second type of stimulus is a commercial cue, which is a message sponsored b a manufacturer, wholesaler, retailer, or other seller. The objective is to interest consumer in a particular product or store.

A third type of stimulus is a noncommercial cue, which is a message received from an impartial source such as Consumer Reports or the government. This cue has higher credibility because it is not affiliated with the seller.

A fourth type of stimulus is a physical drive. This occurs when a person's physical senses are affected. Thirst, cold. heat, pain, hunger, and fear cause physical drives.

Problem Awareness
At the problem awareness stage, the consumer recognizes that the good or service under consideration may solve a problem of shortage or unfulfilled desire. Recognition of shortage occurs when a consumer becomes alerted to the fact that a product needs to be repurchased. A product such as a suit may wear out. The consumer may run out of an item such as razor blades. Service may be necessary for a product such as an automobile. It may be time for a periodic service such as an eye examination. In each of these examples, the consumer recognizes a need to replenish a good or service.

Recognition of unfulfilled desire occurs when a consumer becomes aware of product not purchased before. The item may improve self-image, status, appearance or knowledge in a manner that has not been tried before (luxury auto, cosmetic surgery, encyclopedia), or it may offer new performance characteristics not previously available (videotape camera, tobacco-free cigarettes). In either case the consumer is aroused by a desire to try something new.

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Information Search
After the consumer decides a shortage or unfulfilled desire is worth consideration information is gathered. Information search requires listing alternative products that will solve the problem at hand and determining the characteristics of each.

Evaluation of Alternatives
At this point, there is enough information to select one alternative from the list of choices. Sometimes this is easy, when one alternative is clearly superior to the others across all characteristics. A product with excellent quality and a low price will be an automatic choice over an average quality, expensive one. Often the choice is not that simple, and the consumer must carefully evaluate alternatives before making a decision. If two or more alternatives are attractive, the consumer needs to determine what criteria (attributes) to evaluate and their relative importance. Then the alternatives are ranked and a choice made.

Following selection of the best alternative, the consumer is ready for the purchase act: an exchange of money or a promise to pay for a product. Three important considerations remain: place of purchase, terms, and availability. The place of purchase may be a store or nonstore location. Purchase terms involve the price and method of payment. Availability refers to stock-on-hand and delivery. Stock-on-hand is the quantity of an item a seller has in inventory. Delivery is the time from when an order is placed by the consumer until it is received and the ease with which an item is transported to its place of use.

Post-purchase Behavior
After a purchase, the consumer frequently is involved with post-purchase behavior; either further purchases or re-evaluation. In many cases, buying one product leads to further purchases. For example, the purchase of a house leads to the acquisition of fire insurance. The purchase of a suit leads to the purchase of a matching tie. The purchase of a home videotape system leads to the acquisition of blank and movie cassettes.

The consumer may also re-evaluate a purchase. Are expectations matched by actual performance of a good or service? Satisfaction usually results in repurchase when the product wears out and positive communication with other consumers interested in the same item. Dissatisfaction frequently results in brand switching and negative communications with other consumers.

Dissatisfaction is often the result of cognitive dissonance, doubt that the correct decision has been made. The consumer may regret making a purchase or wish another alternative was chosen. To overcome cognitive dissonance, the firm must realize that the decision process does not end with the purchase. Aftercare (follow-up telephone and service calls, advertisements aimed at purchasers, extended warranties) helps reassure consumers, particularly for important and expensive decisions with many alternatives.

Types of Decision Process
The consumer may use extended, limited, or routine decision making. This depends on the degree of search, level of prior experience, frequency of purchase, amount of perceived risk, and time pressure.

Extended consumer decision making occurs when a consumer makes full use of the decision process. Considerable time is spent on information search and evaluation of alternatives. Expensive, complex items with which the consumer has had little or no experience require this form of decision making. Extended decision making is usually required when choosing a college, a house, a first car, or a location for a wedding.

Limited consumer decision making takes place when a consumer uses each of the steps in the purchase process but does not spend a great deal of time on any of them. The consumer has previously purchased the good or service under consideration, but not regularly. Perceived risk is moderate, and the consumer is willing to spend some time shopping. A second car, clothing, gifts, home furnishings, and a vacation are examples of items typically utilizing limited decision making.

Routine consumer decision making occurs when the consumer buys out of habit and skips steps in the process. The consumer seeks to spend no time in shopping and usually repurchases the same brands. In this category are items with which the consumer has a great deal of experience. These products are bought regularly and, as a result, have little or no perceived risk. They are relatively low in price. Once the consumer realizes a good or service is depleted, a repurchase is made. Examples of items routinely purchased are the daily newspaper, a haircut by a regular barber, and weekly grocery items.

Source of Reference:
Albert Loudon and David Della Britta, Consumer Behavior : Concepts and Applications, , McGraw Hill. You can obtain this fine book here

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