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Research has shown that consumers go through a complex psychological and psychosocial decision-making process before deciding to make the purchase of a desired product or service. Psychologists and researchers have attempted to evaluate those factors that influence a consumer to make decisions in regard to choosing the products to purchase. In the last decade, social media has emerged among the factors that influence purchase decision (Edelman, 2010). It has been found that most young adults consumers who use social media to share opinions and give recommendations (Moschis and Moore, 1979). This means that it has broad implications for businesses if exploited effectively. However, there is limited knowledge on the extent and dimension of social media’s influence. The purpose of this study is to clearly articulate how social media influence’s purchase decision and to what extent. Findings are expected to answer the question; in what ways do social media influence consumers’ purchase decision?
Several authors have published several works in an earnest effort of explaining how a consumer is influenced to make the purchase decision. Most importantly, the works explore how these psychological and psychosocial influences have been extended to social media; making it a powerful platform for advertisement.
In the book Consumer Behaviour and Culture, Mooij (2011) explores the consequences of global marketing and advertising; in which social media are included. The author details how psychological factors influence a consumer’s decision making. The factors are discussed in the subsequent paragraphs.
The author begins by stating that motivation comes about when a need is aroused and a consumer wants to satisfy it. This need drives a consumer to buy the product that will fulfill the desire. If the product satisfies the desire, it may influence the consumer to make a repeat purchase. On the other hand, if it does not meet the need to satisfy the desire, the consumer may try to find a different product that will fulfill the desire (Mooij, 2011). In regard to social media, motivation can be aroused when a consumer sees his or her peers talking about a particular product or service.
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Perception refers to how a consumer collects information and organizes it. Tai (2005) explains that social media influences perception by exposing a consumer to the information about a product or service severally. On the other hand, personality refers to how an individual’s psychological traits, characteristics, habits, attitudes and beliefs can be manipulated to influence a purchase decision.
Learning refers to the process via which consumers obtain knowledge on product purchase and utilization. This takes place through various channels of which social media is among. Learning through social media takes place when manufacturers or service providers give more information on their products on social media. According to Grant and Waite (2003) learning on social media can also occur via when consumers seek or share information from or with friends.
Attitude refers to the overall evaluations that express how much a consumer likes or dislikes a particular product (Sproles and Kendall, 1986). This can be influenced severally by social media. For instance, if a consumer keeps getting information from friends on how substandard a particular product is, then this information will be reinforced in their psyche and may not be changed easily. This is especially true of young persons, majority of who are on social media (Spero and Stone, 2004).
It is important for marketers to be aware of factors that influence t purchase decision and how they can influence the consumers’ decisions on purchasing products (Court et al., 2009).
Culture is a way of life of a people and it is made up of behavior patterns and social relations, which characterize each culture and make it unique from others. According to Leo, Benneth, and Hartel (2005) it provides a reference frame for consumer desires and the behavior exhibited towards achieving them. Culture usually contains sub-cultures such as race or ethnicity, religion and geographical regions (Arch, 2005). Marketers should design products that meet different needs of each sub-culture.
Social class refers to the divisions in society where individuals sharing similar values lifestyles, interests, level of income and behavior can be categorized. Members of the same social class often have similar behavior patterns. This means that one’s social class determines what they wear or what they eat. Social class can be used as a refeence frame by consumers when they are making purchase decisions.
The reference group is what a consumer use as a standard in making their purchases. In this context, John’s (1999) extensive research carried among children shows that later in life, they buy products that conform to those of other members of their reference group; in this case being their families. Other examples of reference groups include the consumer’s peers or social class.
According to Hafstrom and Chae (1992) a consumer goes through five steps before making a purchase decision. These steps are:
- Need recognition
- Information search
- Alternative evaluation
- Post-purchase evaluation
Fannin (1984), notes that it is not at all times that consumers will go through all the five steps. For instance, if a consumer feels hungry, they will jump directly to the last step; which is purchasing food.
The buying process begins with a customer recognizing their need. For example, one may need a new pair of shoes or new tires for their car. The sense of need arises as a result of the difference between the actual state and the desired state. The actual state is how the consumer feels at that particular time or how the need is being met at that particular point in time while the desired state is the way a consumer wishes the desire to be met. The ideal state is achieved when the desired state and the actual state are equal, that is, when a consumer meets their desire in the way that they wanted to (Laura, 2009). The need is triggered by stimuli, which are those factors that make the consumer buy something. The stimuli can be either internal or external. Internal stimuli refer to those factors that arise from within an individual to make them purchase a product. An example of an internal stimulus is hunger, which may make the consumer to buy food. External stimuli include factors outside the consumer that influence them to make a purchase. For instance, when someone passes by an attractive advert of a burger, it may influence one to buy it (Laura, 2009).
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After the need is established, the consumer gets to look for relevant information about the product desired. The search can be undertaken either internally or externally. Internal search entails the consumer spotting alternatives from their memory. This information may have been achieved earlier from the use of the product or from friends’ reviews on social media. Internal search is especially applicable when a consumer wants to make a low-involvement purchase where huge costs are not incurred for example in buying a toy. External search involves the consumer obtaining information from brochures, magazines, adverts or by asking friends. Social media also features in this category since most companies are now advertising on them.
Evaluation of Alternatives
In this stage, the consumer evaluates the information acquired from the previous stage. This leads to the selection of the product brand that has the highest likelihood of satisfying the consumer´s needs. In high-involvement purchases, the consumer may take longer and do extensive evaluation before making the purchase. This is because the purchase involves high expenditure or high risk. On the other hand, some purchases require simple evaluation, for example, when one needs to buy a pen or a roll of tissue paper. To influence the consumer more, firms need to stress more on the positive aspects of their products in comparison with those of their rivals (Bakewell, and Mitchell, 2003).
After the consumer has evaluated the information at hand, they make the purchase decision. This is where the consumer decides on what to buy, in which quantity and from which store. Sometimes the consumer may change their decision at the last minute. For example, this can occur when upon arriving at the store, the consumer finds an on-going promotion like a premium on a particular product/brand and makes the decision (Lachance, Beaudoin, and Robitaille, 2003). This stage is divided into 3 categories: fully planned purchase, partially planned purchase and unplanned purchase (Mooij, 2011).
Fully planned purchase happens when the consumer chooses the product and brand well in advance before the consumer visits the store. The product is purchased deliberately after an extensive decision-making process. This is especially so when efforts are placed on loyalty gained through strategies like free samples (itshoki, 2011).
Partially planned purchase takes place when the intent to buy a product exists but the choice of a particular choice is postponed incentives like price reductions are likely to be gained. In this case, the product may be selected in the sttore or the store’s website (Reynolds & Wells, 1977).
Unplanned purchase takes place when both the product and brand are chosen at the point of sale. Such decisions are likely to be made when marketers employ strategies like credit purchase or price cuts at the stores.
Post Purchase Evaluation
This is the last stage that comes after the consumer has made the purchase. In this stage, the consumer evaluates the product they have bought by the satisfaction derived from using it (Feltham, 1998). The consumer might find that the product does not meet their requirements or it meets them. Sometimes the product may exceed the anticipation the consumer had for it.
According to Baird and Parasnis (2011) this is the appropriate stage for marketers to make follow-ups by collecting consumer feedback. This will come in handy in providing information on how to improve certain products or their brands to meet consumer satisfaction. Marketers should not strive to create the need in consumers but rather work on ways of meeting them satisfactorily (Laura, 2009).
The major limitation of existing literature on this subject is that most are general on the influences of the purchase decision-making process. Those that are specific on social media are not comprehensive in the sense that they have not provided enough empirical evidence. This therefore means that more research needs to be done on this area so as to come up with a comprehensive explanation on how social media influences the purchase decision.
Questions that will be used to guide the research include:
- Do social media users consider their friends’ observations or comments before making a decision?
- Have they ever bought anything based on information collected over social media? If so how frequent?
- Do they pay attention to adverts placed on social media?
These questions will be posed with the aim of guiding exploration of the hypothesis that if social media does influence consumer’s purchase decision then it can be used as an advertising platform.
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For this research, a sample population of 1000 social media users will be used. The users will be selected randomly from popular social media such as Facebook and Twitter. The type of sample will be limited to those individuals who have the power to make purchases. Data will be collected through three main methods: face-to-face interviews, questionnaires, and observation.
Since some parts of this research will involve data directly or indirectly from individuals, ethical considerations have to be taken into account. These include:
- Obtain permission before interviewing children.
- Ensure that the activity of data collection does not harm or injure anyone physically or emotionally.
- Maintain anonymity of data unless the owner gives permission or there would not be any harm in sharing it.
- Accurately report or represent data as obtained from the source.
Given the nature of the research problem, data will be analyzed using observational research. Here, a population sample of social media users will be examined to determine how they are influenced to make purchase decisions (Churchill and Dawn, 2005).
Considering all the important factors such as the time for return of mailed questionnaires and publishing of findings. The research will take place in approximately four weeks.
From the various literatures analyzed, it has been observed that the process a consumer goes through before making a purchase decision is dependent on various factors. These factors are mostly psychological and psychosocial and have various influences themselves. With the advent of the Internet, most individuals have resorted to social media as a platform to obtain and share information. This makes it a powerful influence when it comes to decision making; including purchase decisions. The aim of this research is to establish how social media influence consumer’s purchase decision. This research is important in the sense that it will help marketers enhance their marketing strategies through understanding how social media influence consumer’s purchase decision. The major limitation expected in this research will be the lack of uniformity in the data collected. This is so because psychological processes are highly unique to individuals or groups.
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