Evaluation of Alternatives: Step Three in Making a Purchase

Evaluation of Alternatives: Step Three in Making a Purchase

The previous post in this series covered the information search portion of the consumer purchase decision. You have to know the facts before you can make a decision. That’s a given, right? If you missed that post, you can find it here.

Now that you’ve collected all of the information you need to make a decision, it’s time to evaluate the alternatives. Since a successful information search results in multiple options, we hope you have several alternatives to choose from. Like all other steps in this process, the consumer’s attitudes and perceptions play a huge role.

There are multiple ways in which a consumer can evaluate their options, but we’ll just focus on three of the most common ways: attitude-based heuristic, attribute-based heuristic and alternative-based heuristic. All three types are referred to as heuristics, which are basically problem-solving methods.


Attitude-based heuristic

When you evaluate alternatives with an attitude-based heuristic, you are essentially only using your stored memory to choose which you like best. This method does not compare the options, but evaluates them in isolation and there are no adjustments for the importance of certain attributes. It is often used for low involvement decisions, like deciding on which type of sandwich you would like to eat.

You’ve got it narrowed down to three choices: a good ol’  PB&J, turkey or club. Without comparing the options, your mind wanders to all of the delicious PB&J sandwiches your mom has made you over the years, immediately causing you to crave one. You evaluated the PB&J without giving any thought to the other options, meaning you used an attitude-based heuristic.


Attribute-based heuristic

When using an attribute-based heuristic, you compare each option side-by-side using criteria you have selected. This method can be used for both low and high involvement decisions, but is most commonly used in high involvement decisions given the level of effort exerted to make the decision.

Take the sandwich example used above, you may choose the criteria to be: quality of the bread used, proportion of ingredients and overall flavor. As you can see, it is extremely subjective, the criteria is whatever you decide to use.

Once the criteria is established, you rate each sandwich on all three aspects. To make a decision, you may each choose a criteria that is most important to you and choose the highest ranking one. Another way to decide is to set a minimum level for each criteria and the first sandwich to pass all of the minimums is the one you will eat.


Alternative-based heuristic

The only alternative-based heuristic we will cover is satisficing. When you use satisficing to evaluate your alternatives, you are essentially choosing the first one that satisfies your need. This means the order in which the options appear is crucial. In the case of choosing a sandwich, since PB&J is listed first, and is a sandwich (aka satisfies your need), you will likely choose that one. Satisficing is most commonly used in low involvement decisions, as there isn’t much thought behind the decision making.


There are other simplifying strategies used to make decisions, some of them being: brand loyalty, habitual heuristic (do you have a habit of buying the same items?), reliance on the norms (what is everyone else buying?) and reliance on affective responses (which will make you feel good/bad?).

We’re almost there – to the actual decision. Did you relate to one of the heuristics above? It’s common to realize you tend to come to decisions in a similar manner. Next up: the actual decision.

Katie Breight
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