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Why People Buy

There are many reasons why people buy products, services, cars, candy bars, airline tickets, or laundry soap. But at the bottom line, the buying process is similar whether the item being sold is a toothbrush or a home. And the process is similar on-line or at a brick-and-mortar store.

Basically, buying is a problem-solving process. Solve the buyer’s problem and you will have a much better chance of making a sale (product or service).

There are generally five steps in the buying process, the first of which is where the buyer analyzes the situation. If a person’s car breaks down, he might begin to think about needing a new vehicle. This process may take a short time or be stretched out over quite a long period. The analysis process can be motivated by need, desire, entertainment, information. Even a simple act of deciding that a person needs a new book to read or a video to buy begins with this stage of the buying process.

The second step in the buying process is facing the problem. Jimmy’s mom has finally realized that Jimmy just ripped his last pair of nice jeans, and he’s supposed to go to a birthday party on Saturday. Or the car may begin to be in the shop too many times.

The third phase is where alternative solutions are examined. Jimmy could just wear his shorts to the party, or the man with the broken-down car could just go on repairing it. This is where the customer begins to make active decisions – Mom might drive to the mall or go on-line and look for pants.

It’s worthwhile to digress and mention that while we – in our Internet-centric world – might think the on-line alternative is frequently the logical choice, there are many other dynamics in the customer’s mind. Maybe she likes strolling the mall; maybe the mall experience is a social event; maybe he’s going out to dinner and brick-and-mortar shopping is an easy addition to his trip (with more browsing opportunities); maybe she has several different items she wants to purchase and the mall is convenient for all of them.

In the fourth step, the alternatives are compared and evaluated. This is the most critical stage for the seller, as this is the stage in which the sale actually takes place. This is the stage with the most uncertainty and anxiety for the customer. At this point, the buyer may become confused, distrustful, and reticent. Thus, in this stage, a seller's job should be to reassure the buyer that he is making the right decision.

[And being a “seller” doesn’t mean a sales person standing behind a counter explaining the benefits of Levis versus Wranglers. Being a good seller includes how your store is designed, how easy your website is to navigate, and, especially, how well you present alternatives (both on-line and in person). Customers want to feel they’re making a choice. They prefer when they can compare multiple options appropriate to their situation. You stand a better chance of making a sale if you can offer the buyer two or more compelling products or services that fill his need. If you offer only one, the consumer is likely to go to another seller to compare, and then you may lose that prospective customer to your competition.]

Finally, if you’ve done the best you can, the fifth step in the buying process – commitment – should lead to the customer buying what you’re selling. Everything you have done, especially in the stage above, has led the customer to make a purchase decision, and to make a purchase decision from you, rather than the competition.

It should be noted that there are actually a couple of post-buying steps in the process which can have an impact on the customer. For example, we’ve all heard of “buyer’s remorse,” and many businesses understand that this can actually create an opportunity for them to pave the way toward future sales, by instituting customer loyalty programs, having on-going communications, etc.

These steps should show you that your advertising, your flyers, your website, and your newsletters don’t actually sell. They appeal to the buyer at various times during the steps of the process. The critical thing to remember is that human brains work today pretty much as they did 10 or 15 years ago – before the web was ubiquitous. Customers want help with buying decisions; people’s brains are still attracted to certain colors, images, etc.; people still read headlines before copy; the basic tenants of consumer awareness, confusion, etc. still apply. Basically, don’t get so caught up in delivery systems (online vs. a physical presence) that you forget basic selling and marketing principles.

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