Challenged with competing products, companies are finding it more important to understand why a consumer would choose one product over another. To do this, the company needs to recognize the complex decision-making process a consumer goes through. The variety of products is always expanding, but with the consumers' limited temporal and cognitive resources, they cannot simply analyze all the products.
Making rational choices does not only require access to options, but also the necessary time and information needed to choose.
Consumers increasingly face information overload and consequently are unlikely to process all available product or service specifications.
Marketers can strategically design the information given to consumers are such the options being promoted appear more attractive causing the consumer to make the decision to purchase.
Elements of the Decision-Making Process
There are five elements of consumer behavior that lead to a purchasing decision. The first element is problem recognition; the consumer comprehends a need, difference between a perfect and a genuine situation. The situation can be as simple as seeing there is no bread left. Second information search, the consumer is looking for value. This is where clarification of options is revealed to the consumer and many involve internal and external search. Next is assessment of other possibilities. What standards will be used and what is the perceived value in making the purchasing decision. Fourth is the decision to purchase. This involves when, to buy, who to buy from, or if to buy at all. When to buy will come from influences like store atmosphere, time, is there a sale happening, and the shopping experience. Who to buy from will depend on the terms of the sale, past experience with the seller, and the return policy. If all the factors do not fit what the consumer is looking for the consumer may and will chose not to buy. Fifth is post-purchase behavior. Once the consumer makes the decision to purchase, he or she will compare the likelihood the buying decision meant expectations, this will leave the buyer either satisfied or dissatisfied. Pleasure or disappointment will affect the consumer's impression of value, any communications and recurring purchase activities. Companies work to establish a positive after purchase communication with the consumer to build a relationship with the buyer for continued business. At this point companies understand the consumer may have tension or anxiety following a purchase, this is cognitive dissonance. (Price, Zinkahn 2004)
Cognitive dissonance is the perception of incompatibility of two cognitions. Cognitions are processing information applying knowledge and changing preferences, it is reasoning, perception, and learning. Cognitive dissonance is any element of knowledge, attitude, emotion, belief, or behavior. (Price, Zinkahn 2004)
An example follows. Jane purchases a new computer. After little or no consideration of various computers, Jane chooses one. While Jane's choice is in agreement with the facet of his choice and with the imperfections of the computers she has rejected: it is dissonant with any know or unknown faults of her choice and the good appearance of the rejects. If Jane's dissonance is enlarged enough by reviews of the computer she has chosen, rating the computer poorly, or if she finds her friends computers leave her new purchase lacking, Jane will start to be weighed down by her computer and start to second guess her choice. If Jane had a first choice in a computer and it was not available causing her to settle for the lesser choice then that first choice computer becomes accessible Jane will feel an immediate boost in the second choice computer's previously subdued dissonance. Jane will perceive complete cognitive dissonance when dissonances outweigh consonance. Jane can try to decide to change the imbalance in favor of consonance by exchanging her computer to meet her...
References: Arnould, E, Price, L & Zinkahn, G (2004) Consumers (2nd ed.) [University of Phoenix Custom
Edition e-text]. McGraw Hill/Irwin, 2004, New York, NY. Retrieved September 27, 2006 from University of Phoenix, Resource, MKT/463Marketing Website; https://ecampus.phoenix.edu/secure/resource/resource.asp
Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University
Press. Retrieved October 19, 2006 from http://www.ciadvertising.org/student_account/spring/spring_02
Hawkins, D, Best, R. & Coney, K. (2004). Consumer Behavior (9th ed.) [University of
Phoenix Custom Edition e-text]. McGraw Hill, New York, NY. Retrieved September 27, 2006 from University of Phoenix, Resource, MKT/463Marketing Website; https://ecampus.phoenix.edu/secure/resource/resource.asp
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