How Do Customers Make Purchase Decisions?

As part of InfoTrends’ research for clients, we have mapped the steps in the customer decision-making process. Typically, the customer journey includes six main steps: satisfied with current device, trigger event/need recognition, research and fact finding, evaluation of options, purchase, and usage experience.

Upon returning from my maternity leave a few weeks ago, I began wondering how I fit into this model. I received a multifunction printer (MFP) for Christmas that I had selected myself. As it turns out, my decision-making process aligns with the steps outlined above. I will discuss my experience below, followed by some questions print device vendors may like to consider.

Step #1: Satisfied with current device

Several years ago I acquired a husband and his consumer inkjet printer. I was happy with the device at first—it sufficiently printed boarding passes, articles, resumés, financial documents, etc. There was no need to seek out a new printer.

Step #2: Trigger event/need recognition

After a year or so, however, the printer developed streaking issues I was unable to resolve. This was my primary reason for wanting a new device; actually research shows that many small office/home office (SOHO) users replace their printer or MFP because it has malfunctioned. The ultimate trigger for me, however, was realizing how inconvenient it was to leave the house each time I needed to print. As I was also tired of going out to scan documents, I decided to look for a multifunction device. Another required function was easy mobile print support, given that I frequently use my smartphone and tablet.

I had a number of other requirements based on my previous experience with printers, and knowledge acquired at InfoTrends related to running costs and print quality. I decided to go with a laser MFP as opposed to an ink-based machine (better print quality, especially for black text), a B&W device as opposed to a color printer (lower running costs), and an A4 product as opposed to an A3 device (lower device purchase price). Since I was asking for the printer as a gift, I needed to pick one that was not too expensive. I decided that a $150 limit would be reasonable.

Step #3: Research and fact finding

Once my major needs were determined, I began researching which devices fitted these needs. Given that I was searching for a fairly consumer-oriented/low-cost device, I knew I could find all the information I needed online. I decided to visit printer manufacturers’ websites as opposed to third-party sites, figuring that the model and specification information would be most up to date. Plus, vendor filter tools make it easy to search by specific criteria. I used these tools to come up with a list of possible devices; then I looked at prices as well as secondary features (e.g., Wi-Fi print capability, print speed, input capacity, cost per page). I also looked at customer reviews as well as reviews and prices on Amazon.

Step #4: Evaluation of options

After conducting my research, I was able to look at all my options and determine which MFP had the desired functions and features—and generally good reviews—for the lowest price and cost per page. As I was selecting from fewer than 10 options, it was fairly easy to perform this exercise.

Having decided on my preferred device, I also wanted to evaluate where my family member should go to purchase this device. Given the low prices on Amazon and the fact this person is young and Internet-savvy, I suggested she order from this source. The fact that shipping would be free validated my belief that Amazon made the most sense in this case.

Step #5: Purchase

I asked my family member about her experience purchasing the printer from Amazon. Here’s her response: “It was not really an experience. You sent me the link…I just ordered it, and it came a week later.” Her response is quite telling. The purchase process, whether online or in person, should be so straightforward and user-friendly that the person does not have all that much to say about it. In today’s world of instant ordering, people expect the process to be easy, quick, and effective.

Step #6: Usage experience

I have only had the printer for a few weeks and am satisfied so far. Set-up was easy; the print quality is adequate; and mobile printing of certain document types is a breeze. While these experiences are shaping my opinion of the product (and brand), only time will tell how it holds up in the long run. I believe my experience with the device over the next couple of years will largely determine whether I would purchase another print device from this vendor—and possibly other technology from this vendor.

InfoTrends’ opinion: Questions for vendors

Knowing how customers think and act can enable manufacturers (and channel partners) to effectively respond to their needs. Below are questions that can help print device vendors best capitalize on the typical customer journey.

Satisfied and need recognition stages: What event(s) trigger the decision process for each of your customer segments, and how will you address the specific needs and concerns of each customer category? How do your customers screen for functionality, and what functions do they consider most and least valuable? What baggage or previous knowledge do your customers bring to their decision making, and how can you capitalize on these notions or change biases? How important is acquisition cost vs. running costs for each customer segment?

Research and evaluation stages: Where do different types of customers go to learn about print devices on the market, and how can you ensure you are connecting with them at these points in the customer journey? How user-friendly are your filter tools and feature/specification lists, and how can you better use reviews and sites like Amazon to maximize your sales opportunities? How do your devices stack up against the competition; if they are more costly, do they offer more features and functionality? How can you capitalize on common perceptions of your brand?

Purchase and usage stages: What channels are your target customers most comfortable purchasing from, and what incentives can prompt them to purchase from specific channels? How simple or convenient is the purchase process for your online and offline channels? How effective is customer service online, in-store, and via dealers? To what extent do your devices hold up over time, and how easy is it for customers to receive technical support? How often do you upgrade your devices, and to what extent will customers seek out a new device for new features?

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