In buying, isn’t it that there’s always consumer decision making?

/ 12:12 AM December 25, 2015

QUESTION: Last Friday, your MRx column on the correct consumer decision making divided our marketing class into those who agreed and those who disagreed with your conclusion that for most consumer products, there’s no deliberative decision making in consumer buying. More students disagreed because our professor (who was your former MBA student) said that the issue was “not a question of the correct consumer decision making model.” He said: “It’s more a question of is there or isn’t there consumer decision making?”

He said there’s always decision making, whether the product bought is low or high involvement, dispensable or a necessity.


Every Friday, our elective marketing professor leads the class in discussing your MRx column. At the end of the class, we were still divided. Those of us who agreed with you thought of asking you. So may we please have your ideas, especially on the two cases of soy sauce and laundry detergent.

Answer: You have two related questions. The first comes from your professor’s view that when buying goods, consumers are always making a decision. So the issue is not about the correct consumer decision making model. The second question is about non-deliberate, impulsive buying decision for low involvement products like soy sauce and laundry detergent.


Your first question then is: “Is it not true that consumers are into decision making when buying a product?” If this is so, then the issue is not about what is the correct consumer decision making. It’s about whether there’s decision making at all.

There is, of course, consumer decision making when buying. My last Friday’s MRx column is about what kind of decision making and not about whether there is or there is none. The column was about two kinds: the non-deliberate, impulsive kind versus the deliberate, rational kind. Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman labeled these two kinds in very simple terms: “fast thinking” versus “slow thinking.” According to Kahneman’s research, consumers’ most used decision making model is the fast, non-deliberate and impulsive kind. This was the kind that last Friday’s column focused on.

Your second question is about the two cases of soy sauce and laundry detergent. These were cases of fast, non-deliberate and impulsive consumer decision making because they are low involvement products. But what are low involvement products? We concentrated on laundry detergent because it’s a product that has been studied extensively and what we can understand about this product category can be applied to soy sauce.

When a consumer buys laundry detergent as a low involvement product, my own research has repeatedly shown that the con     sumer buys it without or with little regard for what her friends would say about her status or personality. She buys it for its functionality and not for image.

But my research has also shown that a frequent and loyal buyer of a Surf brand and a Champion brand cares about brand image and how that image mirrors her own self-image. The devoted Surf buyer likes the brand because its buyers are “wais” (smart) housewives. On the other hand, Champion buyers believe Champion is for “mga matipid” (budget conscious). So a product category (like a laundry detergent) can be low involvement but its brands can be high involvement to the consumers.

My consumer research found that this situation is just as true in the case of bottled water and its brands. To most consumers, bottled water is a low involvement product category. They buy bottled water for its thirst quenching property. But buyers of Evian and Perrier also buy for social status.

How will you know if your product is low involvement to your consumers? Let consumers tell you. Pretest or research. Pretesting is particularly urgent when your product is very frequently bought and has a short sales cycle, like a few weeks. So test quickly and test often.


Donuts are a case in point. Donuts have a lot of variants and each variant when launched or relaunched sells well for just over six weeks. This means that if you decide to advertise a launched new variant, that ad has to be developed and exposed after one week. The ad’s choice of media has to be just as quick and cost effective. Something similar applies to the donut variant development.

In addition, this product development has to be continuous.

To summarize, there’s always decision making when consumers buy a product. But there are two kinds of decision making: fast and slow. Fast is non-deliberate. Slow is deliberate and rational. Most consumer decision making is fast and non-deliberate. This is particularly true with low involvement product categories. To know if your product is low involvement, research. For products that are very frequently bought and have a short sales cycle, test quickly and test often so that you can align your advertising and promo and product development process with the timing of consumer buying.

Keep your questions coming. Send them to me at [email protected] Merry Christmas to you all and my best wishes for the New Year.

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