Consumers don’t necessarily go through all the buying stages when they’re considering purchasing product. You have probably thought about many products you want or need but never did much more than that. At other times, you’ve probably looked at dozens of products, compared them, and then decided not to purchase any one of them. At yet other times, you skip stages 1 through 3 and buy products on impulse. As Nike would put, you “just do it.” Perhaps you see a magazine with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt on the cover and buy it on the spot simply because you want it. Purchasing a product with no planning or forethought is called impulse buying.
Impulse buying brings up a concept called level of involvement—that is, how personally important or interested you are in consuming a product. For example, you might see a roll of tape at a check-out stand and remember you need one. Or you might see a bag of chips and realize you’re hungry. These are items you need, but they are low-involvement products. Low-involvement products aren’t necessarily purchased on impulse, although they can be. Low-involvement products are, however, inexpensive and pose a low risk to the buyer if she makes a mistake by purchasing them.
Consumers often engage in routine response behavior when they buy low-involvement products—that is, they make automatic purchase decisions based on limited information or information they have gathered in the past. For example, if you always order a Diet Coke at lunch, you’re engaging in routine response behavior. You may not even think about other drink options at lunch because your routine is to order a Diet Coke, and you simply do it. If you’re served a Diet Coke at lunchtime, and it’s flat, oh well. It’s not the end of the world.
By contrast, high-involvement products carry a high risk to buyers if they fail, are complex, or have high price tags. A car, a house, and an insurance policy are examples. These items are not purchased often. Buyers don’t engage in routine response behavior when purchasing high-involvement products. Instead, consumers engage in what’s called extended problem solving, where they spend a lot of time comparing the features of the products, prices, warrantees, and so forth.
High-involvement products can cause buyers a great deal of postpurchase dissonance if they are unsure about their purchases. Companies that sell high-involvement products are aware of that postpurchase dissonance can be a problem. Frequently, they try to offer consumers a lot of information about their products, including why they are superior to competing brands and how they won’t let the consumer down. Salespeople are typically utilized to do a lot of customer “hand-holding.”
Limited problem solving falls somewhere in the middle. Consumers engage in limited problem solving when they already have some information about a good or service but continue to search for a bit more information. The backpack you’re looking to buy is an example. You’re going to spend at least some time looking for one that’s decent because you don’t want it to fall apart while you’re traveling and dump everything you’ve packed on a hiking trail. You might do a little research online and come to a decision relatively quickly. You might consider the choices available at your favorite retail outlet but not look at every backpack at every outlet before making a decision. Or, you might rely on the advice of a person you know who’s knowledgeable about backpacks. In some way you shorten the decision-making process.
Brand names can be very important regardless of the consumer’s level of purchasing involvement. Consider a low- versus high-involvement product—say, purchasing a tube of toothpaste versus a new car. You might routinely buy your favorite brand of toothpaste, not thinking much about the purchase (engage in routine response behavior), but not be willing to switch to another brand either. Having a brand you like saves you “search time” and eliminates the evaluation period because you know what you’re getting.
When it comes to the car, you might engage in extensive problem solving but, again, only be willing to consider a certain brands or brands. For example, in the 1970s, American-made cars had such a poor reputation for quality, buyers joked that a car that’s “not Jap [Japanese made] is crap.” The quality of American cars is very good today, but you get the picture. If it’s a high-involvement product you’re purchasing, a good brand name is probably going to be very important to you. That’s why the makers of high-involvement products can’t become complacent about the value of their brands.
Consumer behavior looks at the many reasons why people buy things and later dispose of them. Consumers go through distinct buying phases when they purchases products: (1) realizing the need or want something, (2) searching for information about the item, (3) evaluating different products, (4) choosing a product and purchasing it, (5) using and evaluating the product after the purchase, and (6) disposing of the product. A consumer’s level of involvement is how interested he or she is in buying and consuming a product. Low-involvement products are usually inexpensive and pose a low risk to the buyer if she makes a mistake by purchasing them. High-involvement products carry a high risk to the buyer if they fail, are complex, or have high price tags. Limited-involvement products fall somewhere in between.
- What is consumer behavior? Why do companies study it?
- What stages do people go through in the buying process?
- How do low-involvement products differ from high-involvement products in terms of the risks their buyers face? Name some products in each category that you’ve recently purchased.