The buying task refers to the consumer’s approach to solving a particular problem and how much effort it requires. The level of consumer involvement is an important part of the buying task: whether the buyer faces a high-involvement decision with lots of associated risk and ego involved, versus a low-involvement decision with little risk or ego on the line.
Product or brand familiarity is another, related dimension of the buying task. When a consumer has purchased a similar product many times in the past, the decision making is likely to be simple, regardless of whether it is a high- or low-involvement decision. Suppose a consumer initially bought a product after much care and involvement, was satisfied, and continued to buy the product. For the buyer, this is still a high-involvement decision, but now it’s simpler to make. The customer’s careful consideration of a product and the subsequent satisfaction have produced brand loyalty, which resulted from involvement in the product decision.
Once a customer is brand loyal, a simple decision-making process is all that is required for subsequent purchases. The consumer now buys the product through habit, which means making a decision without additional information or needing to evaluate alternatives. Selling to and satisfying brand-loyal customers can be a great position for marketers, although it’s important not to rest on one’s laurels and take them for granted. New competitors are always looking for ways to break existing brand-loyal habits and lure the consumer into an enticing new product experience.
The available market offerings are another relevant set of situational influences on consumer problem solving. The more extensive the product and brand choices available to the consumer, the more complex the purchase decision process is likely to be. And the more limited the market offerings are, the simpler the purchase decision process is likely to be.
For example, if you already have purchased or are considering purchasing a smartphone, you know that there are multiple brands to choose from—Samsung Galaxy, Apple iPhone, Sony, LG, HTC One, and Nokia, to name several. Each manufacturer sells several models that differ in various features–design, screen size, memory, speed, camera quality, and so on. What criteria are important to you? Is purchasing a smartphone an easy decision? If a consumer has a need that can be met by only one product or one outlet in the relevant market, the decision is relatively simple: Either buy the product or let the need go unmet.
This is not ideal from the customer’s point of view, but it does happen. For example, suppose you are a student on a campus in a small town many miles from another marketplace. Your campus and town have only one bookstore. You need a textbook for class tomorrow; only one particular book will do, and only that bookstore carries it. Amazon and other online retailers have the book at a lower price, but they can’t get the book to you overnight, so you’re stuck. In this case the limitation on alternative market offerings has a clear influence on your purchase behavior.
As you saw in the smartphone example, when the extent of market offerings increases, the complexity of the problem-solving process and the consumers’ need for information also increase. A wider selection of market offerings is better from the customers’ perspective, because it allows them to tailor their purchases to their specific needs. However, lots of choices may also confuse and frustrate the consumer, such that less-than-optimal choices are made.
Marketers can find opportunities in either scenario—a crowded competitive set and a complex decision for the consumer, or a narrow competitive set with limited choices and a simpler decision for the consumer. In a crowded field, the marketer’s challenge is to make compelling offerings and useful information prominent in the consumer’s processes for gathering information and evaluating alternatives. In a narrow field with limited choices, effective marketing can help the consumer feel good about the choice they had to make. A good experience with the product during and after purchase is a recipe for brand loyalty.