Anybody who works in or studies marketing is pretty obsessed with the purchasing cycle. It’s how a business owner dives deep into the consumer’s mind and understands their behavior. Kind of creepy, right?  

The thing is we all interact with the purchase cycle at some point. You go through this process when you grab a chocolate bar from the line at the grocery store, shop for a new car, or get a set of golf clubs. It’s something that both marketers and consumers should fully understand.

Here are the five stages you’ll go through when buying anything.

#1 – Problem or Need Recognition

Problem or Need Recognition

The buyer recognizes a problem or need that has to be addressed. It can be triggered by something internal, like a need for a drink because you’re thirsty, or an external stimulus – such as seeing an ad for a new water park and suddenly wanting to go.

Mike and Kate are going horseback riding for the first time and want to look the part. They realize they want cowboy boots for the occasion.

Information Search

The buyer will search online, seek out ads, talk with friends, and do whatever they can to gather information about a potential purchase. This step may not always happen in the purchase cycle, but it is important for bigger purchases like a new car or your first home.

Kate doesn’t want to go shopping at a store so tries to see what their options are online. Mike, meanwhile, is looking at retailers near them to see if anyone has the boots in their sizes.

#3 – Alternative Evaluation

Alternative Evaluation

There isn’t a simple process or answer for how buyers evaluate different options. It just depends on their personality, lifestyle, and the situation. They may make their buying decision based completely on impulse, or on other factors like price or online reviews.

Mike ends up finding a rockin’ pair of red boots that are a perfect size 10 at a clothing store down the block. Kate, however, has found a similar pair for less money online, the only difference being they’re turquoise. Mike has to make a choice between the two.

#4 – Purchase Decision

Purchase Decision

Now the buyer is finally ready to make a decision. They consider the research and alternate options and narrow in on the best possible choice. It usually comes down to the anticipated benefits the product will offer over any others.   

After much hemming and hawing (and yee-hawing because they’re really in the spirit), Mike finally decides to go with the cheaper turquoise pair of boots. Kate has also found a nice royal blue pair for herself in the same size.

#5 – Post-Purchase Behavior

Post-Purchase Behavior

At this stage, the buyer is either satisfied or unsatisfied with their decision. The expectations of the product should be aligned with the product’s performance. If that’s the case, the customer will be happy with their purchase and may recommend the product to others.

Mike and Kate wear their boots horseback riding and get a ton of compliments. They recommend the website to everyone and then look for a place to go square dancing, starting the cycle all over again!

As a marketer, Mike and Kate’s behavior should be of special interest. They ended up going with the turquoise boots, even though Mike was initially drawn to the red pair. This came down to both price and convenience, making the online store the winner over the clothing store down the block.

A good company will be aware of this procurement process and adjust accordingly. Our need for goods and services can pop up at any given time. If you run a business, you want to be the supplier that’s there when you’re needed most.

Final Thoughts

The purchasing stages may take the blink of an eye or years. It really just depends on the person doing the buying.

It also depends on what’s getting bought. For instance, if you want to order promotional products like stress balls and t-shirts for a trade show or fundraiser, you’re probably going to take more time in each stage than if you were buying a new toothbrush.

Steps of the buying process

The most important thing is to be aware of the components of the purchasing cycle, whether you’re a marketer or consumer. Ultimately, you’ll make much better decisions.


Kotler, P., Armstrong, G. (2018). Principles of Marketing 17th Edition. Retrieved from Pearson Education Limited:  London, UK.

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