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.