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Customer Decision Making Process

Last updated on April 10, 2023

Different models postulate the stages of the customer decision making process. The number of stages in each of these models depends on the factors a customer relies upon in making a purchase decision.

Regardless of the model, there are standard stages that a customer has to go through in their purchasing.

Note: these stages depend on whether a customer purchases for the first time or a repeat purchase. A customer will likely skip a step or reverse others in repeated purchases.

Five Stages of Customer Decision Making Process

1. Problem Recognition

The urge to buy starts from the desire to have or solve a problem. Something missing in a customer’s life or a problem prompts the urge to buy. A customer recognizes a need or a problem based on haves and have-nots.

In the case of what they have, a customer looks at how well a product or service satisfies them. When they are dissatisfied, they recognize a need to purchase. This purchase could replace a customer’s product or dispose of it and buy a new one.

In the case of have-nots, customers are looking for their desired state of life and their current state. If customers feel they are not where they wish to be, they try to intervene and achieve their desires. In the case of a purchase, a customer’s desires will be met after acquiring a good or service.


A person with an unreliable car starts by recognizing the frustration caused by their unreliable car. To such a customer, they need a reliable car. This car could replace the unreliable one or an addition to unreliable one.

Another person could use public transport to commute to and from the workplace. Such a person could identify the problem of inconveniences caused by public transport. They could need a private car for better time management to and from work.

2. Searching Information

Once customers recognize a need or a problem, they want to solve the problem and satisfy their needs. Thus, the search is on what can solve their problem or meet their need. This search takes two different approaches, internal and external approach.

The internal approach involves customers conducting a self-review of what they need. One, a customer examines what they feel about haves and have-nots. For haves, a customer asks questions like:

  • Am I really satisfied with this good or service?
  • How can I solve this problem related to this good or service?
  • What can have more value for my money?

The external approach involves examining what other people know about the problem or a need of customers. This is quite a wide topic of consideration. It starts with a customer inquiring for guidance or information from family members and close friends.

Other customers are likely to head online and search for more information. Besides, there are those who conduct window shopping in different outlets offering what they search for.


A TV user has noted that their TV set is not supporting the mirror casting option. First, one will ask themselves why they need a mirror casting feature from their TV. This TV user will likely inquire from friends and online sources about the best TV solution that does not support mirror casting.

3. Alternatives Evaluation

Once a customer does an internal and external information search, they will assess alternatives. Features, pricing, and accessibility, among others, differentiate alternatives. Customers compare and contrast alternatives at their disposal to settle on the best option. Some people evaluate alternatives by themselves, and others seek the support of friends, family members, or experts.

The decision for alternatives depends on the nature of the purchase choices of dealers, among others. For instance, a customer purchasing commodity involving a large sum is likely to get support from an expert in alternatives evaluation support. A customer buying a pair of shoes will likely evaluate alternatives by themselves.

Another example you can relate to is when deciding to buy something locally or internationally. In the case of local purchases, one can comfortably go about alternatives evaluation by themselves. In the case of international purchases, a customer is likely to seek support from experts and other reliable external support systems.

4. Making an Actual Purchase

After a customer has evaluated alternatives and settled for the best option, it’s time to make an actual purchase. To this point, a customer has been holding their money to meet their transaction motives. The purchase to be made will solve a customer’s problem or meet a desire.

Actual purchase depends on many factors. Some customers decide to buy on cash or credit, others on hire purchase, and others on instalment systems, among other viable options at the customer’s disposal.

The selection of the mode of payment depends on what a seller uses, the seller’s location, the amount involved, and the agreement between the buyer and the seller. Ideally, customers are comfortable with a payment mode they feel safe with because of the ever-increasing money fraud.

5. Assessing Satisfaction

After a successful purchase, the customer’s decision-making process returns to where it started. Customers evaluate what they got from themselves after searching and purchasing what they were looking for. A customer compares the utility of their purchase with the problem or needs that prompted a purchase.

A purchase will meet customers’ expectations differently, which dictates their level of satisfaction. They could be delighted if purchase utility exceeds their expectations, satisfied if their expectation were met, or dissatisfied if a purchase never met the customer’s expectations.


Assume a customer who was searching for a reliable car. The car owner will be delighted to live with it if it never develops a major breakdown. The car’s utility will exceed expectations.

If the car purchased breaks down less often than a previously owned car, the customer will be satisfied because their needs were met.

If, by any chance, the new car breaks down more often than the previous car that the customer had, this customer will be dissatisfied.

These are the three levels of satisfaction that the car owner would expect.

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