Consumer Behaviour - Holiday Decision Making Process

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Decisions are omnipresent in the daily lives of human beings. Being tireless decision makers, it stands to reason then that we understand the forces that drive decision making. The following report seeks to critically evaluate the long-held traditional ‘rational problem- solving and cognitive model’ of the consumer decision making process against the background of the holiday decision making patterns of the modern consumer.

The one striking aspect of all the theories thus far was the portrayal of the consumer as a logical, rational decision maker who made complex choices based on reason, rational thinking and minimal risk-taking. The five cognitive stages that a consumer goes through to arrive at decisions have been analysed against patterns of Holiday decision making. It was observed that although certain patterns did follow the cognitive paradigm, overwhelmingly holiday decision taking is one involving emotions and is adaptable. There is no one fixed process but a blend of several influential factors. Tourism is essentially a people-related business and many variables shape its future. Actual decisions are seen to be more spontaneous and less deliberate than the cognitive theory suggests.

Now more than ever, people are looking to fulfill their main satisfaction in their consumptive role. But how do consumers make their decisions? This question has been at the centre of much scrutiny and several marketing theories. If marketers are conjuring up new ways to capitalise on trends, then so are the very people they aim to lure.

This report will aim to focus on the traditional ‘rational problem solving, cognitive model’ of the consumer decision making process and evaluate it in light of the behaviour patterns involved in the process of ‘holiday decision making’ by the modern consumer.

The interest in the area of consumer decision-making process evolved as early as 300 years ago with early economists, led by Nicholas Bernoulli and later by John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern proposing that consumers were influenced by the expected outcomes of their decisions (Richarme, 2005). This early model, the Utility Theory, viewed consumers as rational beings who made decisions leading to optimum satisfaction from uncertain scenarios.

In the modern world of countless choices, consumers are faced with evermore complex decisions. Consumers are more aware, information is found in abundance and therefore, the scope of decision making is far wider than ever before. Decisions fall into three levels based on the effort involved: extensive problem-solving, limited problem-solving and routinised response behaviour (Decrop, 2006, p.71).This throws open the door to debates on the relevance of existing consumer decision making theories. The main focus here will be particularly in the area of ‘holiday decision-making’. Over the years, the vacation decision making process is garnering interest and various theories have been put forward. However, there has been a lack of adequate empirical applications of these theories. Existing models and authors kept reflecting on the same five stages in the decision making process and thereby implying a rational approach. However, further analysis shows a viewpoint that differs from these traditional tenets.

1. Consumer decision making - A Cognitive approach and understanding holiday decision making behaviour

The general perspective on the rationale behind consumer behaviour is approached from economic, passive, emotional and cognitive angles. Whilst the first three have their own significance, the cognitive view presents the consumer as inherently rational and a ‘thinking problem solver’. Therefore, this person seeks to fulfil needs and desires by actively searching for information about products and services and thereby minimizing future risks. This processing of information creates preferences in the mind and...
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