The act and process of purchase is, in itself, the function of a goal. The consumer felt a state of deprivation and needed to address it. So what we now have is a motivated consumer. Motivated consumers can now proceed to engage in a number of behaviors that they may deem necessary in order to achieve their goal. This includes information gathering, information processing, and generating conclusions about products. The level of motivation, however, will vary depending on how the consumer relates with the object of involvement or the product being sought.
Clearly, buying a stick of gum is going to be a different purchase process compared to buying a refrigerator. In order to understand these differences, we need to further classify buying behaviors based on (1) the consumer’s perception of the product category and (2) the consumer’s attitudes toward the product category.
First, a consumer can perceive a product category to be simple, complex, or somewhere in between. As an example, if a student was to shop for a laptop and was very knowledgeable about the relevant technical terms such as RAM, storage capacity, processor type, memory, and the like, then this student would likely appreciate the differences between the various brands and offerings of laptops in the market. On the other hand, imagine the same buying situation, but this time with a senior citizen who is averse to technology and has little knowledge about the technical specs involved in buying a computer. Chances are to this person, all computers seem alike.
So how does this distinction affect the buying behavior? A more sophisticated buyer who understands the differences between the products will be willing to shop around, gather brochures or data, check for specs online, and generally take time studying and comparing the products in the market. On the other hand, what will be the typical buying behavior of a non-savvy consumer? Likely this consumer will (a) ask an acknowledged expert for advice on what to buy, (b) choose a brand that seems most familiar compared to all the others, or (c) choose the most attractive-looking product among the options.
Second, the consumer’s attitude toward the product can affect the buying relationship as well. Is this a product that is considered expensive, very important, or durable in nature? In this case, the consumer will spend more time and attention with the decision-making process. It will require a lot of involvement—something known as high-effort behavior. On the other hand, if the consumer does not have much at stake with the purchase, if it is considered inexpensive or non-durable in nature (i.e., it will not be a permanent part of the household), then the consumer will tend to have less of an involvement in the buying process—also known as low-effort behavior.
Putting these together, the figure below illustrates four different types of buying behavior (Assael 1995):
Complex buying behavior arises for important purchases where there are so many different features and attributes with each brand having different manifestations of each feature. The consumer is cognizant of these differences. Houses, cars, and durable goods are some examples of products that tend to be met with complex buying behavior. A consumer undertakes a lot of searching and analyzing before any purchase happens.
Dissonance-reducing behavior occurs when a consumer wants to keep life simple, and yet the risks faced with the buying decision for an important purchase are perceived to be high. The consumer may therefore resort to decisions that simplify life, such as buying the brand that most people choose, relying on the decision of a trusted friend, or relying on the word of the salesperson. This is why appliances and consumer electronics, for instance, benefit greatly from having popular brands. Many household appliances tend to be bought this way.
Variety-seeking behavior occurs when the product involves minimal risk, but there are so many choices, each with its own features and attributes. The consumer may opt to try each product at least once, leading to the trying of a wide variety of the products. This is how consumers may likely respond when faced by the huge breadth of offerings for instance snack foods in groceries. This is also what leads “foodies” to try different restaurants on different dates.
Habitual buying behavior happens when consumers feel that learning about the different competing products is not worth it, so they would rather select the product that they are most comfortable with. This is the outcome that is hoped for by many fast-moving consumer goods, such as personal care products, that seek to make consumers buy their products out of habit.
Perhaps one of the more disturbing (or admirable, depending on your point of view) examples of habit-formation comes from Kopiko. The brand first entered the Philippine market by selling Kopiko coffee-flavored candies and offering these to gynecologists so that they can give these for free to expecting mothers. -A year later, Kopiko then launches its line of instant coffees. Lo and behold, moms soon realized that when their kids were agitated, they can give them Kopiko coffee and they instantly calmed down. Apparently, the babies became familiar and comfortable with the taste of Kopiko from when they were still in the womb! (Lindstrom 2011)