Understanding the consumer decision journey

Understanding path-to-purchase is vitally important to any product success. This gives you opportunities to better understand how to win consumers and also how you may lose them. While I don’t have any mind-reading techniques to share, there are ways to understand the inner thinking of a purchase decision. One way is to leverage the consumer decision journey approach, developed by McKinsey & Company. This approach was developed as a response to the more complicated world we live in. Consumers are exposed to a variety of messages throughout the day. Therefore, the path-to-purchase is no longer a straight linear path of decades past. It is now a journey with multiple decision moments.

Download the Consumer Decision Journey Template



Consumers get kicked into a purchase journey when they receive a trigger. There are many kinds of triggers. Someone may have seen an ad on TV that piqued their interest. Someone may have seen the latest must-have fashion item in a magazine. Someone may be kicked into a purchase journey because their old product broke and they need a replacement.

Initial Consideration

Once the consumer has decided to make a purchase, inside his or her mind there is an initial consideration set of brands or products. This could very well be the brand that was featured on the TV commercial. Typically, this initial consideration set includes brands the consumer had prior experience with, and other popular widely known brands. These are brands and products that are top of mind. Marketing and advertising certainly play a role here.

Active Evaluation

But this is where things get interesting. The next stage of the journey is active evaluation. Consumers are smarter now. They know that they have choices. They will go through a time period when they will actively evaluate if the brands and products that may be top of mind are actually the best for their needs. Often, they do this evaluation online. But they may do this at the store too. For example, you may research more if you’re buying a higher priced item like a computer. But even for low price item, say gum, you are looking through the available options at that checkout counter before making a final decision. To win at this important moment, first you have to understand where this research is taking place. Then, seed the right information to help your brand stand out from the rest. This impact information you may decide to share online and on packaging.


At this point, the consumer makes the purchase decision. Our job here is to make this transaction as seamless as possible.

Post-Purchase Experience

But the journey is not yet over. After the purchase decision is made, there is the post-purchase experience. We know the digital world has given consumers voice. If they are not pleased with the purchase, they now have the opportunity to let the whole world know. Our goal here is to improve their usage experience. It can be as simple as making sure you have easy-to-understand instruction booklets. Or, it may include tactics such as customer service and social listening.

Loyalty Loop

The goal here is to create loyalty. With an amazing post-purchase experience, the consumer may skip directly to purchase the next time he or she has a need. Loyal consumers, once triggered, may purchase your brand and product, without ever considering any other brands or doing any evaluations. This is the ideal scenario.

With this approach in mind, we can better understand how purchase decisions are made.

Download the Consumer Decision Journey Template

Are you ready to map out your Consumer Decision Journey?


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Photo source: Jorge Franganillo

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