First Step in Making a Purchase: Problem Recognition

First Step in Making a Purchase: Problem Recognition

You’ve bought things before, right? It’s a pretty safe assumption to make that if you’re able to find and read this post, you have purchased at least one item. Do you remember the first thing you ever bought?

I know I don’t, but I do remember going to the grocery store with my grandmother when I was about seven years old. When I tried to purchase a candy bar, with my own allowance I might add, she slapped my hand, scolding me for not asking for permission. It wasn’t until my mother explained that I could purchase whatever I wanted with my own money, within reason, that my grandmother begrudgingly let me buy the candy bar.

Believe it or not, there was an entire thought process behind my decision to buy that candy bar, even in the mind of a seven-year-old.

Consumer behavior specialists have been studying the purchase process for years. They have discovered there are five different stages that factor into every purchase made by a consumer: problem recognition, information search, evaluation of alternatives, purchase decision and post-purchase evaluation. This post will delve into the first step, problem recognition.

So where does the purchase process begin? Well first, you need to realize the need to buy something.

Problem recognition is the realization of a gap between the state you’re currently in (actual state) and where you want to be (desired state). For my younger self, we will assume that my actual state was hungry and to reach my desired state of not being hungry, I needed to satiate my appetite with sustenance, a candy bar.

problem recognition

There are differences in the needs you recognize. Some may be generic, while others are selective. For example, a generic need would be a thirsty person reaching for the first beverage they come across, while a selective need would be only wanting a certain beverage, such as tea. Although, a need that was once selective can become generic the thirstier you become, or the larger the gap between your actual and desired state becomes; meaning you’re more likely to reach for any beverage.

I’m assuming that my younger self had a fairly selective need. While I probably would have accepted a variety of different kinds of candy, I doubt an apple would have filled my need.

So far, we’ve covered some pretty low involvement decisions, meaning there isn’t much thought behind them as they are basic human needs. Low involvement needs are often recognized and fulfilled quickly, some may even be done so without conscious thought.

What about high involvement decisions? A great example of a high involvement decision is purchasing a car.

It may take you longer to realize this need and usually requires more thought, as it is a significant investment. For instance, you’ve been driving your current car for a couple of years. It gets you from one destination to another, no problem. But you start to notice all of the cool features newer cars have to offer and can’t help but want them for yourself. These desires widen the gap between your actual and desired state. Most people do not act immediately upon recognition on high involvement decisions.

Of course, just because you recognize a need doesn’t mean you will act on it. There are many factors in a high involvement decision, one of them being your financial state.

Did you know so much unconscious and conscious effort went into realizing you need to purchase an item? I definitely didn’t, not when I was seven years old or when I learned about it a couple of years ago. But we’ve hardly begun to scratch the surface of the purchase process. Stay tuned for our next segment: the information search.

Katie Breight
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