My friend, do you see the lady at the music store on the photo of this article?

Rumors say she has become obsessed with vinyls. Indeed, it is a fascinating way of listening to music, which has gone back to being trendy. But how did she come to this decision of purchasing vinyls? And what process does she go through in order to purchase them?

In this article I would like to take you through her journey to briefly explain the steps of consumers’ decision making process (DMP). It is a topic of great importance for any marketing student or marketer. To help you understand it, I will use the case of the lady at the music store as an example, ok?

However, it is not the purpose of this article to explain every single factor which influences our DMP. The main goal here is to provide you with a good overview, ok?

Just to set the record straight.

So first, let me show you an overview on the figure below. I will discus with you consumers’ DMP from the perspective of six main steps: need recognition, information search, evaluation of alternatives, purchase, consumption and post-purchase evaluation.

Main stages of consumers’ decision-making process.

Shall we discuss all the steps?

Here we go!

Consumers decision-making process starts with what we call “need recognition”. Essentially it represents the moment a consumer identifies the need to consume something. This perception is a reflection from the contrast between two main states: present state (where or/and how you currently find yourself, physically, mentally and with your current possessions, for example) and an preferred/projected state (how you could be/feel given that you would consume a desired something).

For example, how much better you would feel if traveling to a certain destination. The new experiences you would have at the next music festival. How more pleasant your drives would be if you had a better car. How pleasurable it would be listening to the record of your favorite artist.

This need recognition is often triggered by various marketing actions. For example, nudging you to be exposed to a product or service, by creating short term deals, by manipulating elements of physical environments, by pushing notifications and even by finding your through real-time Geo-location.

We are also highly influenced by the attitude of others. Once a product becomes “trendy” (positive attitude from various consumer groups), we quickly develop a need to adjust to those groups. It can also happen due to the life cycle of products, as we tend to desensitize to things after repeated exposure and seek the novelty in new releases as a form of stimulation.

On the case of the lady at the music store, let us assume that she wishes to purchase vinyls to experience a new/old way of listening to music. What could have motivated her to now start listening to vinyls?

Well, the need recognition might have been triggered in many ways. For example: when she was informed that vinyls were more accessible, maybe when she desensitized from the digital music she currently owns, perhaps by being influenced by the positive attitude of others towards vinyls or even by the nudges in the physical or social environment she found herself in.

Once the consumer has identified the need to consume something, the next step represents the information search process. It is comprised of two main stages: internal search and external search.

The internal search represents the mental recall of all information that one knows about a product or service. So the consumer recalls past experiences, what he or she has read, comments of others, marketing communications and more. If this is enough, the consumer moves on forward to the next steps. In case it is not enough or if there are too many risks involved, the consumer will engage on an external search.

The external search represents the active search for sources, which can help the consumer make a better decision. Thus, it includes the search on sites, contacting others, talking to experts, reading consumer reviews, videos and more.

Here, marketers have three common challenges:

  • Avoid information overload
    • Information overload is achieved when consumers are exposed to an amount of information which is greater than one’s capacity to process it. The consequence is a sense of confusion and dissatisfaction. Thus, marketers imply great effort to avoid this, by using filters, clear content, recommender systems and more.
  • Reduce risks
    • Every decision making implies some form of risk (physical, social, financial, psychological, functional and more). So often when we search for information is because we seek to reduce the perception of such risks. As consequence, it is the goal of marketers to provide content, which allows to reduce the main risks associated with the product or service.
  • Inspire
    • Searching for information about products and services is often a pleasurable task. We often search for information about things we never purchase, simply because it is fun. Moreover, the way the information is provided has a profound impact on how consumers will evaluate the options available. So the content must be inspirational, creative, novel, valuable and innovative.

After identifying the need to purchase vinyls, she probably first unconsciously applied an internal search to recall offline and online stores where she could vinyls. Also, she tried to remember artists that released their music in vinyls. If the internal search was enough and she knew where and what to buy, she would simply move on to the next stages of the decision making process.

Bu if the internal search was not enough, she would have to engage in external search. This means Googling to know the closest record stores, and vinyl versions of albums she liked. She would probably ask friends and family members, search for reviews on sound quality,  availability and price of vinyls.

After searching for information, consumers are then faced with multiple options of purchase. The question then becomes: which is the best option to buy? Thus, we engage on an evaluation of alternatives.

Marketers use various models to try to understand how we make decisions. For example, Fishbein’s multi-attribute model, where we measure how consumers evaluate the relevance of attributes, and the perception of these attributes on products. Essentially, it allows the identification of an overall “attitude score” of a product, which can be used to estimate the likelihood of consumer choice.

Moreover, the evaluation can often be a challenging, time consuming or tiresome task. For this reason, we often apply “heuristics” (mental shortcuts) to come to quick conclusions. Such mental shortcuts reduce time and effort in decisions, but also, can often lead us to wrong assumptions and dissatisfaction.

After searching extensively, and if she liked the information she found, she would probably have a few options from where to purchase vinyls from. Thus, she would probably judge the options based on how important some of the attributes are for her: songs, reputation of the artist, price, delivery time, reputation of the store, return policies and more. She might also apply some representative heuristics to come up with a quick conclusion on other records from the same artist.

After this, she would know exactly what to purchase.

On the purchase stage, consumers convert the desire to purchase on the act of acquiring what was once desired. The most important aspect here for marketers is to facilitate the process as much as possible. Convenience is a key factor in inducing purchase. Thus, stores should provide as many options as possible, methods of payment, delivery formats and efficient processes. The key impediments lies on service inefficiency or any possible factor, which can reduce consumers’ perceived trust.

The lady would now choose the most appropriate payment method for her vinyls. In case it is to be delivered, the trust on the service is crucial, given that it represents a rather fragile product. Social, cultural and psychological factors, for example, can also play a role on how many, when and which types of products are bought.


We consume products for different reasons. Some products, for utilitarian purposes. This means, when we seek to solve problems or optimize processes. For example, when we buy drill to drill holes on our walls to hang paintings. Or when we purchase medicine to cure an illness.

In other times, we consume for hedonistic purposes. Here, we consume to feel pleasure, such as with music or any other product or service/experience with which we release “happy neurotransmitters” (dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin or endorphin). The interesting aspect of hedonic consumption is thta we often seek ways of maximizing pleasure. Thus, we combine simultaneously stimuli that can provide multiple releases of happy neurotransmitters.

It is not unusual to listen to music while drinking a fine drink, being surrounded by friends or loved ones, dancing or even eating something pleasant. What do all of those things have in common? They are all pleasurable. And when combined, even more pleasurable.

Therefore, as a specie that is constantly seeking pleasure as a reward for actions, consumption is a paid form to quickly achieve such rewards.

When receiving the vinyls, it would not be unexpected to imagine her opening a bottle of wine, putting the records on loudly, dancing across the room with her partner and eating the sliced cheese. In this scenario, the music is simply one of the stimuli she used to trigger an emotional response in order to feel pleasure.

After concluding the entire process, consumers engage on a process of evaluation. The evaluation contrasts two main factors: previous expectation towards the product/service and the perceived performance of the product/service.

This evaluation has three main possible endings:

  • Negative disconfirmation
    • When performance does not meet expectation. Consumers in this case are dissatisfied.
  • Confirmation
    • When performance simply meets expectations, and consumers are satisfied.
  • Positive disconfirmation
    • When performance exceeds expectations, and consumers are extremely satisfied. This often happens due to the element of surprise, innovation, novelty, or simply due to a positive personal contact.

Post purchase evaluations are different for products and services/experiences

Such evaluations are normally quite different for products and services/experiences. We tend to have clear and objective expectations towards tangible products, such as instruments, records or electronic devices. For this reason, the satisfaction is also simple.

On the other hand, services and experiences induce a rather vague and subjective expectation. Would you know how to describe precisely what you expect from bungee jumping, for example? As consequence, the satisfaction are complex and highly subjective. If ten people go sky diving, each one would probably describe the experience in a different way.

And how to we remember experiences?

Daniel Kahneman, Nobel prize in Economics in 2002 and author of “Thinking Fast and Slow“, makes a super interesting distinction between the “experiencing self” and the remembering self”.

He described the experiencing self as the one in the moment when something happens, such as the one in the stands of a game or in the crowd of a music festival. The remembering self, is the one that recalls a moment after some time. For this reason, the remembering self is the one which makes most of our post-purchase evaluations, as we obviously spend most time after something has happened. And how does the remembering self recalls moments?

Well, we tend to recall things with a certain pattern: the start of an experience (as our senses are triggered for the first time), the end of an experience (as we are attentive for the closure), and the moments of high and low emotional reactions (due to their positive and negative emotional implications).

So it is very important for marketers to consider the entire journey of consumers when developing experiences, as these moments will play a pivotal role in how we reflect back to know if we enjoyed or not a certain moment.

Finally, after having gone through the entire process the lady would reflect on how she felt about the purchase. Did the sound quality match her expectations? Were the songs good after the first or repeated listening? Did the handling of vinyls fulfill her desires? Was the durability of the records good? A reflection on factors such as these will allow her to define if she is satisfied or not.

Final Thoughts

As mentioned at the start, this article aims to only provide an overview of consumers decision-making process.To explain in detail every concept present in each stage goes beyond the scope of this article. Nevertheless, I hope it helped you gain an insightful overview of each stage or to simply recall them.

Decision-making processes are complex. These six steps here described may simply last seconds. Or years. They might be highly pleasurable, or deeply disappointing. And that is exactly the beauty of it. As much as might try to rationalize how humans make decisions in contexts of consumption, most of them are purely based on emotions and are far from rational.

Aren’t humans an interesting specie?