Professional Studies for Screen-Based Media
Foundation Degree South West
Consumer Buying Behaviour

Understanding consumers as information searchers


Every day the average consumer is exposed to approximately 1,500 commercial messages. With increasing competition for consumers' attention, grasping how consumers process information is indispensable for marketing practice. Important marketing objectives, such as increasing sales or brand awareness depend on how well consumers understand and retain relevant information. As a general rule of thumb, it is expected that consumers will actively look for information regarding a product or service when the risks of making a wrong decision are high.

Perceived risks

There are five types of perceived risk.

  • Financial risk: Based on the cost of a product relative to a consumer's disposable income.
  • Social risk: Is a function of whether or not the product purchased will be accepted by relevant others.
  • Psychological risk: Based on the degree to which a product or service is in accordance with a consumer's values and self-concept.
  • Performance risk: Related to the likelihood a product or service will function as it is expected to.
  • Physical risk: The probability that a product or service can be hazardous to a consumer's wellbeing.

Sources of information
Most purchases involve some level of risk and therefore require consumers to search for information. Consumers have many sources of information that they can look for. These may be arranged as either personal/impersonal and either marketer controlled/non-marketer controlled sources. Figure 8.1. demonstrates the range of sources of information that a consumer may use. These sources are important for a marketer to consider because where a consumer can easily make use of personal, non-marketer controlled sources the influence that the marketer has on any subsequent decision is very small.

Figure 8.1 Consumer sources of information

Source: Adapted from Robertson, T.S., Zienlisnki, J. and Ward, S. (1984)

Information acquisition model
Information search is a complex aspect of consumer behaviour. The Information Acquisition Model summarises relevant aspects of why and how consumers search for information.

Figure 8.2 Consumer information search

Source: Assael, 1992

Example to illustrate Figure 8.2

A. Factors encouraging information search
High Consumer involvement: Jennifer is organising a surprise party for her 18-year-old daughter. Where to celebrate the party is a very important decision for her because she believes that a memorable party will demonstrate how much she loves her daughter.

High Perceived risks: Jennifer is worried because she wants to take the whole family to an exotic destination; this will be a significant financial commitment (financial risk). She is also concerned with satisfying everybody's expectations (social risk) and ensuring that the trip is a safe one (physical risk).

Low product knowledge: This is the first time Jennifer has organised a trip of this nature. In fact, she hasn't travelled abroad before.

Less time pressure: Jennifer has 10 months to organise the trip, so she has plenty of time to look for alternatives.

More product differences: Numerous travel operators sell packages to an even greater number of •exotic destinations', Jennifer finds it difficult to decide which destination is more suitable and what operator offers the best deal.

B. Information acquisition
Jennifer is actively looking for information that will help her with her choice (purchase specific). In this case, where the objective is time specific, the information search is unlikely to be ongoing or passive.

C. Information processing
Once Jennifer has collated enough material she will process all the information, storing relevant facts in her short and long-term memories. At this stage she could decide that more information is needed and resume her search for information.

D. Brand evaluation
Once the information has been digested, Jennifer will have to evaluate the travel operators she is considering.

E. Purchase and consumption
Jennifer will purchase her dream holiday package from one of the tour operators. She will experience the holiday and will then assess whether her expectations were met or not. E. Memory This direct experience will now form an important part of what Jennifer stores in her long-term memory and retrieves in future situations when she is faced with similar purchase decisions.