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Measuring the consumer decision-making process

Gain a competitive edge and increase sales by understanding and measuring the consumer decision-making process.

he process is no longer linear. Research across websites, including social media and reviews, have replaced old shopping habits, and marketers must adapt to the new consumer buying behavior.

Understanding how the consumer decision-making process works is essential for effective marketing and advertising strategies. This article addresses the process, its importance, and how to measure the components of consumer decision-making.

The consumer decision-making process consists of the five steps a person goes through when making a purchase. The process may be less linear than it used to be, but the steps themselves remain unchanged. Consumers may move back and forth between the steps leading up to the purchase decision as their online experiences lead them in different directions.

The first step is the consumer recognizing the need for a product or service. This may be triggered by internal stimuli, such as hunger, or external factors, like advertising. The need motivates a desire for something to fulfill the need.

For example, either hunger or an advertisement for a juicy cheeseburger may prompt a consumer to desire something to eat.

Next, the consumer gathers information. This used to be done by looking at advertisements in the newspaper or on television. Now, information gathering is almost completely done online. Consumers look at industry websites, social media, and Google reviews as primary sources of information. Word of mouth is also influential in gathering information, but online research is the most common way consumers learn about products and services.

To continue our example, our consumer may visit social media to see where their friends are eating or to find recommendations for new restaurants.

After learning about what is out there to fulfill their need, consumers look at alternative solutions. They weigh the choices, considering price, features, quality, brand perception, availability, etc.

Our consumer may next turn to Google to search for nearby restaurants. They evaluate them primarily by the type of food, price, and whether the restaurant delivers.

At this point, the consumer is ready to make a purchase decision. They’ve done their research, examined the available options, and decided on the specific product or service that meets the initial need. Having completed those steps, the consumer makes their purchase.

A cheeseburger is indeed what our consumer desires, so they order a meal from a local restaurant for delivery.

After the consumer uses the product or service they have purchased, they reflect on the experience. In general, they look at whether the product met the initial need, if they are happy with the purchase, if they would choose a different product next time, and whether their experience with the retailer was positive or negative. 

Depending on the experience, they may leave a review or recommendation for the product or retailer on Google or social media outlets.

After eating, our consumer turns to Facebook to review the food (delicious), delivery service (fair at best), and customer service (excellent).

Understanding how your potential customers go through the purchase decision process is an important morsel of information. Once you’ve discovered it, you can anticipate your target customers’ needs and form marketing strategies around meeting those needs.

Knowing more about your target consumers’ decision process also helps by providing:

  • Leverage against competitors: Develop strategic marketing and sales tactics to target customers’ needs in ways that set your products apart as the solution.
  • Knowledge and a better understanding of the customer base: Each step of the process provides you with an increased understanding of customer needs, information-gathering habits, how they view your brand, and key features that lead them to make purchasing decisions. All of this learning leads to informed decision-making on your part.
  • Increased sales and customer retention: This specific knowledge about your customers guides your marketing and sales efforts, which in turn can lead more consumers to your products.

This knowledge about how your consumers make purchasing decisions is undeniably important, but how do you measure it? The most reliable way to find information from your potential customers is to ask them directly with customized surveys.

A consumer behavior survey can help you identify the drivers behind purchase decisions. Send the survey to your target market to examine consumer buying behavior in a holistic manner. The information gleaned from this type of survey gives you an in-depth picture of consumer behaviors associated with making purchases in your product category.

Examples of consumer behavior survey questions include:

  1. Are you the primary decision maker in your household for the purchase of this type of product?
  • Yes
  • No
  1. How do you explore and discover products in this category?
  • Social media
  • TV ads
  • Magazine or newspaper ads
  • Online search
  • Recommendation from friends or family
  • In-store
  • Online ads
  • Other (please specify)
  1. Which of the following brands are you aware of?
  • Brand V
  • Brand W
  • Brand X
  • Brand Y
  • None of the above
  1. When purchasing products in this category, do you consider brands before or at the time of purchase?
  • Before purchase
  • At the time of purchase
  1. What factors influence your decision about what brand to purchase?
  • Brand name/reputation
  • Price
  • Customer service
  • Sustainability
  • Other (please specify)
  1. Do you have suggestions to improve the way the current products in this category meet your needs?

Our consumer behavior survey template includes questions like these, among others. Our templates are fully customizable, so you can add your branding elements—logo, colors, text—to make them your own. 

Customer satisfaction surveys (CSATs) are used in the post-purchase evaluation step to measure the extent to which your product has met the needs of your customers. Use a variety of question types to effectively measure customer satisfaction.

Examples of CSAT questions include:

  1. How likely are you to recommend this brand to a friend or family member? 

(provide rating scale)

  1. How satisfied are you with your recent purchase of product A?
  • Very satisfied
  • Somewhat satisfied
  • Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied
  • Somewhat dissatisfied
  • Very dissatisfied
  1. Which of the following words best describes our products? Select all that apply.
  • Reliable
  • High quality
  • Good value
  • Unique
  • Unreliable
  • Ineffective
  • Poor quality
  • Overpriced 
  1. How long have you been a customer of our brand?
  • This is my first purchase
  • Less than six months
  • Six months to one year
  • 1–2 years
  • 3 or more years

Our customer satisfaction survey template contains 10 commonly used questions for this type of survey. Each question can be customized to match your brand voice and include specifics for your products. Add more relevant questions as you see fit—our survey templates can be customized to fit your needs.

Customer experience (CX) surveys reveal how customers perceive your brand, based on their interactions throughout the purchasing process from the point of considering alternatives through post-purchase evaluation. Since customer experience is a major factor in driving loyalty, growth, and revenue, this is an important factor to measure regularly.

Examples of CX survey questions include:

  1. How likely are you to recommend our brand to a friend or colleague?

(provide rating scale)

  1. Did you need to contact our customer service department about your purchase?
  1. How responsive have we been to your questions or concerns?
  • Extremely responsive
  • Very responsive
  • Somewhat responsive
  • Not so responsive
  • Not at all responsive
  1. Do you have any comments or concerns about our brand, product, or customer service?

Our customer experience survey template asks these questions and more, allowing you to quantify CX and determine areas for improvement. Use it to create your own CX survey by personalizing it to fit your brand and needs.

It’s easy to get started on your consumer research surveys with SurveyMonkey. Use one of our hundreds of templates to get a jump start on finding out more about your target consumers and their buying decisions.

Gain a deeper understanding of your consumers with our usage and attitude solutions. Have other customer research needs? Find out what drives purchase decisions and more with SurveyMonkey market research solutions.

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