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Unpacking the five stages of the consumer decision-making process

Unpacking the five stages of the consumer decision-making process

min read

What does a jar of peanut butter have in common with a gaming laptop? When people decide to purchase either of these products, they go through a surprisingly similar process. 

The customer decision-making process includes five common stages: problem awareness, research, comparison of alternatives, purchase, and reflection. In this article, we'll dig into each of these stages in detail and show you why understanding the consumer decision-making process is a key step in building trust with your buyers and moving them toward a purchase decision.

<a href="#five-stages-of-the-consumer-decision-making-process" class="anchor-link">Five stages of the consumer decision-making process</a>

  1. <a href="#problem-recognition-need-desire" class="anchor-link">Problem recognition</a>
  2. <a href="#research-what-solutions-exist" class="anchor-link">Research</a>
  3. <a href="#evaluation-of-alternatives-best-option" class="anchor-link">Evaluation of alternatives</a>
  4. <a href="#purchase-decision-moment-waited-for" class="anchor-link">Purchase decision</a>
  5. <a href="#post-purchase-evaluation-was-it-worth-it" class="anchor-link">Post-purchase evaluation</a>

<a href="#manage-each-customer-journey-in-streak" class="anchor-link">How to manage each customer’s journey in Streak</a>

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What are the five stages of the consumer decision-making process?

Here's a brief explanation of each stage of the consumer decision process:

  1. Problem recognition: At this stage, someone has a realization that they have a particular need or desire.
  2. Research: Next, they start researching to see if a product or service can fulfill that want or need.
  3. Evaluation of alternatives: From there, they compare the products and services they've found to see what might be the best fit.
  4. Purchase decision: After sufficient comparison, they decide to make a final purchase.
  5. Post-purchase evaluation: The consumer uses the product or service and reflects on their decision.

We'll go through each of these five stages more in-depth below.

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1. Problem recognition: what's the need or desire?

At this first stage of the consumer buying process, the customer realizes they have a need or desire that could be fulfilled by some type of product or service. They might not know exactly what they want, and the realization may even be somewhat unconscious, but in this phase, a person goes from being unaware of their want or need to being aware of their want or need. This paradigm shift is what begins the consumer’s journey.

The realization can be spurred on by internal or external stimuli. In a basic sense, internal stimuli are sensations and feelings that arise on their own, while external stimuli are things like advertisements, ideas from friends and peers, or an eye-catching photo of a restaurant entree. 

Internal and external stimuli often go hand in hand, too. Someone may have the internal desire to improve their lawn because they just like it when things look nice—but they’ve also seen their neighbor's pristine lawns and perhaps lawn improvement advertisements they don't consciously remember.

Key application

If you're the founder of a business, you might be intimately aware of the problem your product or service solves based on your own experience. But if you were hired later on, you might have some work to do to understand the needs and desires of your ideal customer. All of your sales and marketing efforts should stem from the real problems your brand solves.

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2. Research: what solutions exist?

During this information-gathering stage, customers are exploring what's out there. They might peruse product reviews, online forums, or social media. People often ask their colleagues, mentors, friends, and family members for advice when looking for a new product or service during this phase, too.

Key application

Your goal here as a business is to have optimized content across channels that explains what your company offers and how your specific solution would solve their needs. You might have content available through search engines, e-commerce product pages, social media posts, video platforms, or a blog. 

Some product categories like beauty and DIY home improvement lend themselves to social media influencer marketing. On the other hand, B2B products often work well with LinkedIn thought leadership articles and detailed blog posts.

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3. Evaluation of alternatives: which is the best option?

Comparison shopping is engrained in the modern consumer's DNA. Rarely does someone skip this step and decide to buy a product after simply discovering it exists. 

As an example, say a college student has a couple hundred dollars to spend after their birthday on a new watch. They might add five or ten watches to their Amazon shopping list. They'll evaluate things like dial color, water resistance, and movement type before making a purchase.

This phase could last months as business leaders contemplate the best new software to implement for their team. Or, it could last just a few seconds as someone compares different pasta sauces in a grocery aisle. 

Key application

User-generated content (UGC) is when current customers share their experience with your product or service, and it’s a goldmine of opportunity for you as a business. Promote it like your business depends on it because prospects trust real people giving authentic reviews more than they trust self-promotion. If it's a good product, your past customers will do the selling for you through reviews. A good first step is to encourage past customers to submit reviews to help people searching for information find you.

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4. Purchase decision: this is the moment we’ve waited for

At this step in the consumer decision-making process, the customer buys the product they think will best fit their needs. Depending on your product category, this decision may or may not be heavily influenced by small variables in price. Perhaps the deciding factor in making a purchase decision is the warmth someone feels from a salesperson at one store versus another. In some situations, a product or service might satisfy everything the customer is looking for, so they’ll care less about the price or the type of customer service because it’s so clearly the right solution.

Key application

Your goal is to make it as easy for customers to buy your product or service as possible. Include trust signals, high-conversion copy, and high-level benefits of the product on the checkout page if you sell online. You can use things like exit intent pop-ups and abandoned cart emails to reel almost-customers back in. Integrating with one-tap checkouts like Shop Pay or Apple Pay can make the buying decision even simpler.

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5. Post-purchase evaluation: was it worth it?

The post-purchase evaluation is important for how the customer will make buying decisions in the future. Did the product solve their need or problem? If you sell business services, equipment, or commercial software, your customer is likely to methodically review the outcomes of using your product against their expectations. But with other types of products, the reflection may be more spontaneous. It might happen when the customer's friend asks them about the product or when a consumable product runs out.

Key application

The end of the consumer decision-making process can be the beginning of many more if you leverage it correctly. Use post-purchase emails to ask for kind reviews and uncover problems. When issues arise, make sure your customer service team is on the case quickly. Often the best customer advocates are the ones who initially had a problem but were quickly helped out.

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How to manage each customer’s journey in Streak

screenshot of a Streak sales pipeline in Gmail

Whether you're nurturing 12 or 12,000 leads, it’s nice to know exactly where everyone is in the decision-making process. 

Maybe one prospect is already aware of your brand and actively comparing alternatives. Maybe another doesn’t even know they have a need that your product solves. Streak can help you manage the customer experience at scale as your leads move down the funnel.

Streak CRM integrates seamlessly with Gmail so your team has visibility into the marketing funnel right in their inboxes. Intuitive controls allow you to edit customer data efficiently so you spend more time understanding the consumer and their needs. Plus, Streak's collaborative features allow you to link multiple salespeople and teams together. This keeps everyone on the same page as your prospects navigate their decision-making process and interact with different team members.

Think Streak could help you keep track of your prospects better? We think so too. Give it a go for free today.

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