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Consumers' Purchase-Decision Criteria

  |  April 24, 2001   |  Comments

Too few e-commerce sites emphasize benefits in product descriptions. Yet the complex personal, psychological, and social factors that determine how consumers rate the importance of product features serve a single motivation: How do I benefit?

Last week's article talked about how business customers frequently use a well-defined evaluation process to select products and vendors. The technique maps the importance of each criterion to how well a product performs, then calculates a total score for each product.

Consumers use a similar approach that takes into account both how well a product appears to meet their needs and how important they feel those needs to be.

In some ways, consumer decision-making behavior is much more complex than the corporate decision-making process. Marketers have researched consumer behavior for many years, and many articles have been published in marketing journals explaining how consumers make purchasing decisions. We now understand that consumers move through a well-defined process to make a decision. That process includes the following steps:

  • Recognizing a need

  • Searching for information

  • Evaluating alternatives

  • Deciding to purchase

In mapping out the buying process that consumers use, researchers have identified several categories of motivation that determine how consumers attach weight to -- or rate the importance of -- product features:

  • Personal. This includes the demographic factors that are correlated with purchase behavior.

  • Psychological. Personality, attitudes, lifestyle, and motivations are a few of the factors included.

  • Social. These influences include friends, family, opinion leaders, role models, and similar factors.

Everyone involved in creating advertising and other marketing material knows that consumers are not as interested in a product's features as they are in the benefits they can receive. And it's no surprise to marketers that the way consumers feel about a product heavily influences the likelihood of their making a purchase. However, it may surprise Web marketers just how few e-commerce Web sites actually emphasize benefits in product descriptions.

For instance, many of the tools at Sears.com just list features and specifications without mentioning any of the benefits of owning and using those tools. This is very different from other marketing communications by Sears; the radio and TV spots frequently emphasize how good people feel when using their strong, reliable tools.

At the other end of the spectrum is The Sharper Image. Its Web site provides a significant amount of descriptive copy for products. For instance, the Talking Digital Tire Gauge at first seems a bit extravagant. However, the descriptive copy emphasizes a serious benefit that will hit home for anyone who drives an SUV: "Recent experience has taught the driving public how critical properly inflated tires are to safe motoring."

It's clear that the copywriters and marketers at The Sharper Image understand consumer behavior and the motivations that influence consumer purchases. Web marketers can apply such proven techniques to help customers make better purchase decisions. These are some of the ways to improve e-commerce performance:

  • Review the motivations and emotions that drive consumers to purchase your products.

  • Understand the process that consumers use to make purchase decisions.

  • Emphasize benefits in product descriptions, explaining how the features and functions help provide those benefits.

If your Web site emphases features and specifications rather than benefits, it's time to look at updating the product descriptions.

Also, review the Web's various interactive techniques that can keep you in touch with customers. While some technologies are expensive and provide little value to consumers, others are affordable and effective.

It's always hard to persuade customers to purchase products, but applying an understanding of the consumer buying process makes it a lot easier.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cliff Allen

Cliff Allen is President of Coravue, a company that provides content management software and application service provider (ASP) hosting for Web and email. Allen is coauthor of three books about Internet marketing, including the "One-to-One Web Marketing, Second Edition" (John Wiley & Sons, 2001).

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