How Market Research Influences Consumer Decisions

The 5 Steps in the Consumer Decision-Making Process

5 Steps of Consumer Decision Process Make Up Every Sale. Getty Images | Echo | Cultura Collection

The amount of effort that consumers put into making a purchase decision is related to the importance of the final decision, or what market researchers refer to as the level of involvement. Many choices that consumers make about brands, products, or services are mid-level decisions that require only limited problem solving.  The higher the perceived risk of a decision to a consumer, the more effort and time the consumer is generally willing to put into a structured or expanded decision-making process.


The 5 Step Process of Consumer Decision-Making

  1. Problem Recognition - Most problem recognition occurs as a natural response to the difference between a particular state of affairs and a desired ideal situation.  A marketing or advertising campaign can also be a catalyst for recognition of a problem state that essentially did not exist for the consumer before exposure to the influential promotional materials.
  2. Information Search - During this step of the decision-making process, a consumer looks for appropriate, relevant information that will assist her to make reasonable, feasible choices that will solve the recognized problem.  This step of the decision-making process is necessarily divergent, bringing into focus a wide range of alternatives that may be considered in more depth, assuming they survive the first few rounds of evaluation.
  3. Evaluation of Alternatives - As information about available choices are compiled, a consumer begins to sort through and categorize the information in a way that fosters convergence.  By using the information about alternatives to compare the benefits or disadvantages of the relevant choices, consumers are able to narrow the field to the most promising alternatives. 
  1. Product Choice - Consumers typically construct mental rules-of-thumb or heuristics that help them to make decisions more expediently or with less cognitive dissonance than when decisions are made without some decision guidelines for weighing the merits or drawbacks of brands, products, or services.  Examples of heuristics include country-of-origin, brand loyalty, and the concept of price equals quality, otherwise referred to as "you get what you pay for."
  1. After Purchase Evaluation - Although post-purchase assessment tends to be an informal process, consumers do consider their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their decisions and purchases.  Cognitive dissonance is a term used to reflect the regret, anxiety, or frustration that poor purchase choices have on the after-the-fact emotional state of consumers.  The overall feelings that a consumer has about a brand, product, or service are often couched in terms of satisfaction or dissatisfaction, or more formal metrics such as intent to re-purchase and subsequent recommendations to others. The net promoter score is an example of a metric that simplifies customer reactions to their purchase decision.

Running throughout these steps to consumer decision-making are internal influences and external influences.  Internal influences include many of the attributes that are embedded in target market segmentation efforts, such as lifestyle, age or generation groups, attitudes, personality, level of education, motivation and perceptions. External influences include situational and social factors, such as time, the physical environment, culture, subculture, social class, gender roles, group memberships, opinion leaders, and trendsetters.


Now That You Know

Now that you know the steps that consumers go through in order to make decisions that are high risk, you can use this information to increase the relevance of your market research and enhance your marketing and advertising campaigns.  Effective marketing strategies based on the 5 steps of decision making include the following: 

  1. Locate concise information to support decisions where consumers search online.
  2. Conduct research to identify the criteria consumers use to evaluate brand superiority.
  3. Provide information that resonates with consumers decision heuristics.
  4. Foster accurate consumer expectations through honest advertising.
  5. Present relevant contrast between the current and future choice scenarios.


Solomon, M. R., Marshall, G. W., Stuart, E. W., Smith, J. B., Charlebois, S., and Shah, B.

(2013). Marketing: Real people, real choices (4th Canadian ed.).  Toronto: Pearson Canada, Inc.