How Consumers Decide What to Buy Online

by | Posted on Feb 14, 2019

For every single online purchase, there’s a war going on behind the scenes for that consumer’s business. eBay vs Amazon. Giants clashing with giants. What secret weapon allows one company to succeed while the other fails? Figuring out that secret – what affects the consumer’s ultimate “buy” decision – could be the difference between success and failure for your business.

How do consumers decide what to buy online? Why do they end up choosing one product, over another?

There are a number of factors that affect and influence consumer decision making online, and having a better understanding of these is critical when it comes to ensuring the success of your own products and brand.

Consumer Decision Making: A Multi-Step Process

Traditionally, the consumer decision-making process has been divided into 4 steps or stages. This model, called the “Engel, Blackwell, and Kollat model” was published in 1968, and for the most part still holds true today.

We have augmented the traditional model, with how the world of online shopping has affected online consumer decision making:

Stage 1: Information Input Stage

At this stage, the consumer receives information from various sources, which could be marketing and non-marketing sources. Much of this is subconscious, and at this time no firm decision is made.

This is where consumers are hearing, reading or being exposed to content and ideas, without specifically going out and looking for them. Online factors which will affect and influence the consumer here are content (blogs, videos, etc.), ads they see, and social messages from friends and influencers.

Stage 2: Information Processing Stage

At this stage, there is a more conscious element to the information received. The consumer is processing this information and paying attention to it.

Online consumers will at this point have been exposed to a particular message a number of times or through multiple touchpoints. They will recognize their need or want for a particular product or service and will be more conscious of the message being received and starting to figure out how to act upon that message.

Stage 3: Decision Process Stage

At this point, the consumer recognizes their need or want, and starts searching for alternatives, evaluating these alternatives, and deciding on the final purchase.

This stage for online consumers is critical. With so much information available, all at the click of a button, online consumers will quickly evaluate which deal is best for them. This is particularly relevant when it comes to more commoditized products that are being offered by a number of sellers (let’s say a pair of Nike sneakers being offered by 3 large online retailers). Consumers will check pricing, shipping, deals, variety, reviews, and so on. All of these are part of consumers’ path to purchase.

Stage 4: Variables Influencing the Decision Process

The final “stage” is really one that affects all previous stages. This consists of various influencing factors and characteristics, affecting the individual shopper and their decision making. Factors such as values, lifestyle and personality, and the consumer’s financial situation will affect the decision-making process.

Online consumers don’t exist in a vacuum. They are also affected by things such as pay cycles, holidays, even global financial factors. Successful online retailers are able to tailor their offering to fulfill consumers’ needs and wants while taking these other variables into account.

Let’s put all of these stages into a real-world example. Cathy is a lawyer and a mother of two. Summer is coming up, and her kids are heading off to summer camp. She’s browsing online, looking for the best way her kids can stay warm during the cool Montana evenings. She’s watching videos and reading blogs about the most comfortable, warmest sweaters that are also affordable. (Stage 1)

While she’s browsing, Cathy has begun seeing a number of articles and ads around the new Under Armor “Rival Fleece” hoodie, which would be perfect for her kids. (Stage 2)

Next, Cathy checks the Under Armor website for the price and sizes available. Seeing it listed at $49 without free shipping, she then checks Amazon. Amazon offers it at the same price with shipping included. She checks eBay, then back to Amazon, then Under Armor one more time, and eventually heads back to Amazon where she purchases the item. (Stage 3)

Cathey was affected by numerous factors throughout this process, including wanting the best for her kids, knowing summer and camp was coming up, and so on. (Stage 4)

Tapping Into Consumer Decision Making Online

When it comes to factors affecting consumer decision making online, the most essential tools are effective data analytics, actionable insights, real-time information, and a true picture of the buyer’s path to purchase.

These tools enable you to tap into the 4-stage decision-making process and ensure your brand or product comes out the winner in the competitive world of online retail.

With Market Beyond, you get all of this, and a whole lot more. We’re the experts when it comes to consumer decision making online, and provide the full, accurate path your buyers as they make their purchase.

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