Characteristics of the market place can have a significant effect on external search behavior. Availability of information, the number of alternatives to consider and the location of outlets are among the influencing factors. In addition many market conditions lead consumers to attach importance to the purchase situation or to perceive differences between available alternatives. This appears to foster greater external search activity. To illustrate among the conclusions drawn from various studies are that external search is greater when:
1) Prices are higher and price differences between brands are greater.
2) Style and appearance are perceived to be quite important.
3) It is suspected that substantial differences may exist between product alternatives.
Consumers often adopt various strategies which reduce the amount of external search. For example, patterns of brand and store loyalty can develop through purchase experience over time. Also, evidence suggests that when the purchase decision is complex or when the available information is difficult to process consumers tend to adopt simple choice rules (such as pick the middle priced one) and significantly curtail their external search.
Of course many of the consumers’ own characteristics influence the degree of eternal search activity. The following generalizations illustrate the variety of relevant findings:
1) Greater market experience with a product is associated with a lower degree of external search.
2) Open mindedness and self confidence of consumers have been found to be positively related to greater activity
3) Socio-economic characteristics have been related to search. For example, higher educational levels and income have been associated with greater search, while a reduction in activity is related to increasing age.
4) Some evidence suggests that consumers differ in their ability to process information, and if their processing limits are reached the effect may be to decrease the extent of external search.
5 ) As mentioned higher levels of consumer involvement with a product appear to be associated with a greater degree of external search
6) Consumer appears to require an optimum level of stimulation from their environment. When stimulation is sufficiently below this level, external search will tend to be toward less novel stimuli. This will help the consumer return to the optimum stimulation level. Notice that this process may be occurring quite independently of any specific purchase problems the consumer may be facing at the time.
7) Consumer market beliefs are important because they serve to simplify consumer decision making by directing search and evaluation activities. These generalized associations between say objects (e.g. buyers, products, vendors)
Attributes (e.g. price quality) or functions (e.g. marketplace competition) allow consumers to reduce their decision complexity and to make quicker judgments with less cognitive effort than if a more thorough analysis were undertaken. Table illustrates a variety of market beliefs. It is easy to see how these could have a strong influences on the extent and nature of consumers search and evaluation processes.
A number of factors unique to the specific situation can also influence external search. Search may be reduced when:
1) The urgency of a need or the amount of available time exerts pressure on the purchase decision.
2) Store conditions are perceived as being crowded.
3) Special opportunities arise to purchase at an especially attractive price.
Risk or uncertainty regarding the most appropriate purchase decision or the consequences of the decision is a significant variable influencing the total amount of information gathered by consumers.
It is important to recognize the risk is subjective. That is, the risk involved in a purchase decision is perceived by the consumer and may or may not bear a strong relationship to what actually exists. For example even the choice of canned ham may involve considerable risk in terms of the impression a person wishes to make when purchasing it for a dinner party involving his or her boss.