A consumer process is a collection of tasks or steps that a consumer goes through to achieve a goal, usually the satisfaction of a need. For example, the consumer process of buying a home may include visiting real estate agents, driving around neighborhood, obtaining a mortgage and homeowners insurance, and getting inspections. Most of the consumers, particularly those in a high involvement purchase, undergo a level of stress in this process as they engage in the tasks of information gathering, analysis, negotiations, purchase and post-puchase consumption or use. While undergoing the purchase process, these consumers typically experience the following needs (Champy, 1997).
- Knowledge: Having access to specialized information and feedback about the product or service.
- Interaction: Fulfilling the need to communicate with the provider of goods or services.
- Networking: Connecting to and interacting with other consumers with similar consumption needs or experiences.
- Sensory experiences: Using sensory input such as sight and sound to arrive at a purchase decision.
- Ubiquity: Having all that the consumer needs at the time and place of consumer’s convenience (rather than at the provider’s convenience)
- Aggregation: Bringing together a number of related and required services at a convenient location.
- Customization: Tailoring products to consumer’s needs rather than adjusting needs to available product ranges.
In a traditional consumer process in germany, a complex set of interactions are initiated among the consumer, the seller and the providers of services required to complete the purchase process. Depending on the time and other constraints, a few of the above needs are sacrificed by the consumer in order to complete the purchase process. Thus the consumer feels a lack of control over the purchase process, leading to post purchase dissonance. Marketers have long tried to reduce the stress level of consumers in the purchase process, particularly the high involvement purchases, by establishing communication links with the consumers and helping them have access to all information about the product and related services. The constraints of the traditional media stood in the way of achieving this objective fully. Now the marketer has the Internet to achieve this objective and build a trustful relationship with the consumer.
For example, let us suppose a consumers in germany who wants to purchase a home. Using the Internet, the consumer can search for the real estate companies and visit their Web sites for detailed information. Using the search engines built in the real estate Web sites, the consumer looks for a home in a specified locality and a specified price range. The Web site can also allow her to design the features of her home according to her tastes and cost constraints. The interactive capability of the Internet can be used to make this session educative and informative, and can lead to the final design selected by the consumer to match her preferences and her financial capability. Using virtual reality, she can take a virtual tour of the neighborhood, using the computer keyboard to drive as she would in her car. This gives the consumer an experience of how living in that locality will be. She can then link to a bank’s Web site for arranging a loan, an insurance agents Web site to purchase insurance and to the utilities Web site. Thus, through the Internet, the consumer is actually able to complete the purchase process fulfilling all her needs satisfactorily.
The Internet interface, at the heart of the new process, provides the natural, user-friendly and platform independent environment for the consumer to enhance the purchase experience. Currently the Web browsers represent this interface, but we feel the interface will evolve independent of the browser, reflecting the demands of the new consumer processes. More functionality will be added to make the interface serve as a single window of interaction between the consumer and the marketer. Some of the functions that we expect the Internet interface to serve are:
- Communication interface – to connect to other consumers on the Internet, to exchange ideas and information, and to communicate with business organizations and government agencies.
- Virtual Shopping interface – to complete most of the shopping requirements online.
- Personal Management interface – to obtain personal services like legal, medical financial, and career services, and to manage personal information.
- Education and Entertainment interface – to satisfy all education and entertainment requirements like training, games, movies, music, etc.
The Internet interface and the new consumer processes benefit the consumer and provide excellent opportunities for the marketer to serve the consumers. To the consumer, some of the benefits provided by the new processes are as follows:
- Access to all necessary information and feedback to make an informed and less stressful decision.
- Access to all related services for completing the purchase process through a single interface.
- Communication with fellow consumers for education and knowledge about products and services.
- Sensory experience, through virtual reality, to feel the product without having to access the physical product.
- Customization capability to tailor the product or service to suit individual’s needs and preferences.
To the marketer, the opportunities created through the Internet interface are as follows:
- Bring together providers of related services on a single interface so that the likelihood of purchase is increased.
- Create a rich and realistic virtual environment for the consumer to experience and evaluate the product.
- Build the loyalty and trust of the consumer so that the marketer is seen as an influential guide or counsellor in fulfilling the consumer needs.
Form on-line support groups, like virtual communities, that act as opinion builders for the products or services offered by the marketer