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Getting Clear About Your Customer’s Purchasing Invovement

What If Your Customer Doesn't Care About Your Product featured image

In our previous post about the 5-stage consumer journey, we highlighted your customer’s various decision-making processes and behaviors.

This time we’ll dive into the details, starting with the problem recognition stage, where customers first decide what problems they have, and how to go about seeking solutions.

As a retailer, do you know what your customers’ purchase involvement level is?

customer purchase involvement graph

In consumer psychology, ‘purchase involvement level’ determines the way customers make purchasing decisions. It describes how “involved” a customer is in making the effort to arrive at an optimum decision, which will yield the greatest satisfaction.

Broadly, there are three levels of involvement:

  • Habitual decision-making (low/no involvement) – “I’ll just buy what I bought the last time.”
  • Limited decision-making (low-mid involvement) – “I’ll just see what they have to choose from and pick one that’s cheapest or something.”
  • Extended decision-making (high involvement) – “I’m going to do my research before buying, because I really wanna make sure it’s the best.”

These decision-making processes differ from product to product, and are context- and customer-specific.

Understanding your customer’s involvement level when it comes to buying your product is one of the most critical things you need to do.

There are two ways this could go wrong if you don’t:

1. You underestimate your customer’s involvement and deprive them of the information they need before they can make a purchase.


If your customers are more involved than you think, they will be scrutinizing your offering and comparing it against your competitors’. They’ll even compare it against the easiest option of all: not buying anything.

Consider the example of bespoke suit tailoring.

An average bespoke suit can easily cost more than $1,000, which is a really big investment for most first-time buyers. They have no knowledge of the work that goes into making a suit. Why is it so expensive? Will they lose their savings and end up looking ridiculous?

They need more information and reassurance to convince them that their purchase will be a sound one. Otherwise, they might cut their losses and rent or borrow a suit instead. (Or even avoid social events entirely. Look what you’ve done!)

Michael Andrews Bespoke screencap
Here’s a positive example worth learning from.

Michael Andrews Bespoke lays out their workmanship process for their customers to see, so they have an informed idea about where and what their money is actually paying for.

If your product requires any sort of investment or involvement on your customer’s part, you owe it to them to give them all the information they’ll need, and then some. Surface more details on your site: more stats, more quotes, more customer reviews!

2. You overestimate your customers’ involvement and fail to win them over because your efforts go unnoticed.


When customers are choosing items with low purchase involvement, they’re barely paying any attention to your product.

According to renowned psychologist Herbert A Simon, our cognitive limitations make it hard for us to make optimal decisions. Instead, most of us engage in something called ‘satisficing’ – a combination of satisfy and suffice.

In other words, we choose an item simply because it doesn’t seem to suck.

Consider how many laptop and PC retailers overwhelm their brochures with technical specifications:

Way, way too much information and jargon that we don't understand.
Way, way too much information and jargon that most of us don’t understand.

The truth is, most of us don’t even know half of what those numbers mean. We typically apply simple heuristics to help us make our decision. Perhaps we’ll choose the one with the biggest numbers overall, or maybe we’ll pick something that seems ‘mid-range’. (Retailers know this, and they exploit the anchoring and decoy effects to their advantage.)

At the other end, there will always be some people who truly understand and obsess about every last detail.

Bearing this divergence in mind, retailers have two main options:

  • Adjust their offering to suit the satisficing majority.
  • Focus on the minority who really care about (relatively) narrow specializations.

As Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen states,

Gain market share by understanding the job your customer needs to get done and why they hire your product.

If you plan to sell high-end laptops to a niche minority, make sure that your product can stand up to the test of their relatively high standards.

E.g. Most people I know who really care about what goes into their computers don’t buy pre-assembled ones from the big brands; they order individual parts and assemble it themselves.

What if you’re trying to sell soap that can, maybe, prevent cancer?

Start by asking yourself: What kind of person would want to buy that instead of regular soap? Where would I find such people? How do I convince them that my product solves their problem?

You’ll probably need to approach it from a completely different angle. People don’t decide to randomly buy specialized soap while they’re at the supermarket- they decide elsewhere, and then go looking for it.

When it comes to your customers decision-making, assumptions can be costly– even deadly.

Most of your decisions as a retailer should be based on data and real-world feedback, not assumptions.

It is very easy to imagine how customers might think or act, but it won’t always be accurate. You could waste time, money, or both. And you might find it challenging to recover from such wastage.

Some questions to consider:

  • In the eyes of your customers, is your product considered low or high involvement?
  • Are you trying to target the majority, or a niche minority?
  • What problems are your target customers trying to solve? How does your product help them do that?

Stay tuned for more insights on consumer psychology!

Samuel Hum

Samuel Hum

As a finalist in Esquire's Best Dressed Real Man contest, Samuel is ReferralCandy's fashion eCommerce expert and resident sartorialist. He is obsessed with human behavior, social psychology, and handstands. He is also the lead calisthenics trainer at Weightless.

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