Consumer Behaviour Online – How Different Is It From the “Real World”?

Consumer behaviour is the study of when, why, how, and where people do or do not buy a product or service. It attempts to understand the process a buyer goes through to make a purchase. This process consists of 5 stages- problem recognition, information search, information evaluation, purchase decision and post-purchase evaluation. Let’s have a look at the differences between online and “real world” consumer behavior.Problem RecognitionThis first process occurs when a buyer’s desired state differs from his actual state. This can be as simple as running out of an essential product such as bread or as complex as the need for a larger house because of a growing family. This process does not necessarily differ between online and offline consumers. It is simply the recognition of a problem.Information SearchThis stage opens up the many research sources available to the consumer. There are two factors to consider here internal and external searches.Internal- such as using your memory to recall information about past experiences and purchases. This is mostly used for frequently purchased products such as bread, milk, postage stamps, bus tickets, those products which you need little assistance to make a decision on purchasing.External- this is a much larger field and includes influences from family and friends, advertising and product reviews.It is in this stage that we see the greatest difference between online and “real world” consumer behavior. The internet offers a buyer the opportunity to search literally far and wide in the quest for product information. Price and product comparisons are at one’s finger tips. This does not necessarily make the decision easier as the wealth of information available can be very overwhelming. It does however offer a form of convenience as the buyer can conduct their research from anywhere they are by simply logging onto a computer.Our “real world” buyer on the other hand can spend countless hours, days or weeks tracking down relevant information to make an informed decision. The advantages in this scenario though are the ability to touch, feel, taste or smell the product in question.Information EvaluationIn this stage the consumer uses all their new found knowledge to narrow down their search. The process here for both online and offline buyers is very similar, it is however likely that the online buyer has more information from a larger range of merchants to evaluate.Purchase DecisionHere the buyer will choose what to buy, when to buy or if to buy at all. The online buyer’s decision can often be influenced by such things as return policies, shipping costs and delivery timeframes. The personal information required for these purchases can also be a negative for some buyers. The ‘real world’ buyer has the ability to pay cash in many circumstances without the need for any personal information changing hands; this is an important fact for many shoppers. The opportunity to interact face to face with the salesperson can also be a big influence in the decision as is the look and feel of the store. Online consumers rely on their feeling of trust when purchasing from a website and regardless of information gathered this may be the decider.Post Purchase EvaluationAll consumers will make a post purchase evaluation, this may be in the form of a survey soon after purchase or the fact that they repeat buy the same product or from the same merchant. This stage will not change significantly form online to “real world’ consumers.All consumers go through this process when we buy, but most of it is done automatically. The fact that we may purchase online or in a “real” store is a very personal choice. There are both advantages and disadvantages to both options.Here are some if themOnlineAdvantages
Convenience-any time day or night
Wide range-almost anywhere in the world
Price comparisons-ability to search for best bargains
Disadvantages
Privacy-the need to give personal information for purchases and delivery
Delayed delivery time-some products are instantly downloaded such as music but physical items must be posted
No face to face contact-for some this may be an advantage but most people like the personal touch
No physical contact with product-i.e. touch, smell, taste
Real WorldAdvantages
Can usually take the product home with you
Can touch, smell, taste product before purchase
Can be a very social occasion with family and friends
Cash can be used
Personal contact with salesperson and store
Disadvantages
Localized selection
Less price comparisons
Need for travel to purchase
Time needed to shop
As you can see Consumer Behaviour online follows the same process as the “real world” with a slightly different feel to it. Internet Marketing is a growing industry and will never replace “real world’ shopping, but it does offer certain advantages, the biggest being convenience and selection.

The Consumer Buying Decision: How Social Media Has Changed Consumer Behavior

The Consumer Buying Decision in the Digital Age: How Social Media has altered the marketThe buying of a product is an evolutionary process. In earlier times the process was this:A consumer starts with many brands to choose from
The original number is whittled down
A final choice is made
Buying decision is madeIn the new social media world, the buying decision has evolved to this:Consider the product
Evaluate the product
A choice is made-closure
Post PurchaseThe source for much of the material in my article comes from two places.”Branding in the digital age” which appeared in 12/10 issue of The Harvard Business Review, was written by David C. Edelman. A second source was “The consumer decision journey” written by David Court, David Elizinga, and Susan Mulder, which appeared McKinsey Quarterly, June 2009.In a modern market consumers connect with brands in fundamentally new ways. Much of the information that consumers get is through social media platforms that marketers many times cannot control. There is an explosion of products and product information from sources of information that organizations can’t influence, but which have a great impact upon if a product is going to be purchased. The paradigm has changed from a “push” world, in which products are produced and pushed upon consumers, to a present day “pull” market place in which consumers pull products from the shelves. In old media, a consumer was given a choice of products in a category and a choice was made. In a new media age, a consumer interacts a great deal on digital platforms, which provide a wide array of products and alternatives. The consumer now remains engaged in the product, through social media, after the purchase is made. In today’s market a major influence in the purchasing of a product is someone else’s advocacy.The buying decision is a journey: the journey is made up of 6 parts. (1)There is a consideration of brands. (2) There is an evaluation of the brands through the input of peers, reviewers and others. (3) A product is bought. (4) The product is enjoyed. (5) A bond is created between product and consumer. (6) The consumer becomes an advocate. The goal of marketing has always been to influence consumers at just the moment that a purchasing moment is going to be made. Marketing is about touch points, places where the consumer is open to influence. Social media platforms have created newer touch points for a consumer and a marketer must adjust to that reality. Customer loyalty has changed. Customers aren’t loyal to brands; they are loyal to their friends. Modern organizations must learn how to “friend” their customer if a brand is going to be effective. Knowing how to “friend” a customer is something that marketer must learn to do for a customer buy their product.Brand awareness is the first important step in both old and new media. In old media, a consumer begins with knowledge of a group of brands, and then whittles that roster down. In new media, he becomes aware of a few brands, and then new information is given to him through the internet, and the number of original alternative brands increases. The awareness stage is a distinct paradigm change in marketing. Instead of a few products that can be pushed on the consumer, there are a great many products that a consumer can choose from. The market is now a pull environment.Traditional marketing is important, but the new touch points (social media) mean that branding has to be done in a different way. The adoption of a brand is now through “influencers” friends, family relatives, and peer groups. In the awareness stage, with many offerings in each category, a company has to build trust with individuals. Marketers and consumers must become friends. Products must have a significant purpose for a consumer to purchase them. A personal relationship is the means by which this is done. Another big change between old and new media is that the post purchase experience shapes the opinion of the consumer and this influences subsequent purchases.In today’s marketplace, with the advent of social media platforms, brand loyalty for a product is not strong. Social media gives a marketer constant opportunity to convert a consumer.Social media allows a marketer to create loyalty in a way that awareness and loyalty couldn’t be achieved before. Recently, Ford created awareness for the Fiesta, a year and half before it even came on the market. By having dedicated agents tweet, create posts and blogs large numbers of people wanted a relationship with the car before it even exited. This allowed Ford to create a “friendship” with its customer and to have a “conversation”. Consumers are more influenced by their friends than with big brands. A comparison between the Fiesta and the Fusion can be example of this. At the end of Ford’s social media campaign, 38% of Ford’s target group was aware of the Fiesta. This is the same amount of awareness that market had for the Fusion that had been on the market for over two years and Ford had spend millions on conventional advertising.This is why Ford’s Fiesta campaign was a case study for contemporary marketers to follow. When the Fiesta did come on the market, 12,000 were sold, the closure stage. It will be interesting to what happens next. Will there be loyalty. Ford and Fiesta buyers had a lot of experiences together. During the campaign there were 5 million engagements of social networking sights, 11,000 videos were posted, and 15,000 were made, 13,000 photos taken. Ford created a lot of “friends” during the Fiesta campaign. It will be interesting to see if this translates into strong loyalty for the car or for continued buzz on social networks and if this influences the purchasing of the car.