In this article, we shall examine the search process engaged in by consumers and the factors that influence it.
Types of consumer search activities
For our purposes here, information may be considered to be knowledge obtained about some fact or circumstance. And in the context in which we are dealing within this article such knowledge is to be used in a consumer behavior situation.
The term search refers to mental as well as physical information seeking and processing activities which one engages in to facilitate decision making regarding some goals object in the marketplace. Consequently search may be undertaken in order to find out about products, prices, stores, and so on, related to the product. Search may be categorized as pre-purchase or ongoing (based on the purpose of search) and as internal or external (based on its source).
This is typical form of search we associate within the purchasing context. If the consumer has recognized a problem, then pre-purchase search would be engaged in.
This is characterized as search activities independent of specific needs or decisions; it does not occur in order to solve a recognized and immediate purchase problem. Thus if a consumer were searching with an interest in a product but with no demand for the product the search would be ongoing rather then pre-purchase
Ongoing search for automobiles may include regularly reading automotive magazines. Pre-purchase search, however, might involve use of the same magazines but only reading them every few years when a new car purchase is about to occur Notice that these search purposes are different but they involve the same activities consequently they are difficult to separate in practice. Table offers a summary of the similarities and differences between these two types of search in terms of determinants, motives, and outcomes.
This is the first stage to occur after the consumer experiences problem recognition. It is a mental process of recalling and reviewing information stored in memory that may relate to the purchase situation. For instance a consumer may recall that a friend made very negative comments about a particular brand of coffee maker (which the consumer is now considering buying) while playing bridge several months ago. Notice that these derogatory comments were stored in the consumer’s memory and now have some into play by affecting her attitudes unfavorably toward the brand. Thus, the consumer relies on any attitudes information, or past experiences that have been stored in memory and can be recalled for application to the problem at hand. The recall may be immediate or may occur slowly as a conscious effort is made to bring the information to mind. Once recalled the information may be used in the evaluation process as the consumer seeks to resolve the purchase decision confronting her.
The reliance on internal search may be a very important part of shoppers’ strategies. For instance one study showed that most shoppers rely on experiential information sources in retail shopping trips. That is, they run inward tot heir previous shopping experiences for making decisions about where to shop. Only a limited number of people engage in any external information search (whether from family, friends or advertisements prior to making a major shopping trip. This situation makes especially difficult to overcome a negative image or mistaken impression that people in the market may have of a retail stores. Once the store has been removed from the consumer’s mental set of acceptable alternatives it may be quite difficult to get that consumer to reconsider or re-experience the store.
The term pre-search decision making has been used to denote the decisions consumers make before actively engaging in external search for information on product and store alternatives. Because consumers have been exposed to advertising messages over a long period and had previous purchase experience with a brand, there is likely to be considerable information stored in their memories. When the decision process is initiated consumers will rely on this stored information to help them make a variety of decisions before engaging in external information seeking. Thus, a considerable amount of decision making may be done prior to external search. Note that consumers who have already made pre-search decisions are ready to buy and may require minimal amount of persuasive selling effort.