Low versus high involvement buying decisions

Low versus high involvement products and buying decisions (Extended and Limited problem solving in consumer behavior)

There are so many factors that influence consumer behavior. While sometimes it may be easier to decide which product to buy, at other times, the process may be time consuming and may require some or a lot of preliminary research before the purchase. A consumer might make quick and easy decisions based on his knowledge and experience regarding a product while another may have to conduct more research before buying. The level of involvement is an important factor deciding how important a product is for you and how much information you need to have before making a purchase decision.

In our daily lives we make several purchases that hardly require lot of research, thought or selection. If someone is used to having a can of Diet Coke with lunch, it will not require him any thought or research every time before he buys the soda drink. It is a routine decision where you decide quick based on your knowledge and experience. Consumers make decisions ranging from fairly routine to those requiring extensive thought and research. This can be understood as a continuum at whose one extreme lie the low involvement decisions and at the other are the high involvement decisions. The decisions that fall in the middle are called limited problem solving.  Generally, the decisions vary by consumers and not by products. However, some products can be high involvement for most consumers. A consumer that is newly buying a product will show higher involvement compared to the other who is just replacing it.

Low Involvement decisions –

There are products that we buy regularly and do not even think twice before buying them. When you have run out of grocery or milk, there is no need to conduct a lot of research. Anyone buys these products as soon as he has recognized the need and without doing any research or evaluation. It is because we buy these things on a regular basis and do not need to think over which brands of milk or bread to buy.  There are two important characteristics of low involvement products:

  • They are relatively inexpensive
  • They are low risk products.

Low involvement decisions involve products that do not typically cost much and are bought regularly. A packet of bread, a can of milk or diet coke; these products are not so expensive for an average buyer. The risk of making wrong decisions is also very low in case of low involvement decisions. Such products do not pose a major risk if you have made a wrong choice by mistake. If someone has bought Diet Pepsi instead of Diet Coke, the risk of financial or any other kind of loss is negligibly small because apart from very slight variation taste and the brand, the products are nearly similar.

Same is the case with milk, bread, magazines and newspapers. People consume such products on a regular basis and do not put much thought before final action of buying. Companies selling low involvement products use advertising and sales promotion to push the sales higher and to reach more consumers. They also sell from a higher number of stores to cover a larger consumer base. Such products can be seen regularly in TV ads, print ads or outdoor and instore advertising. Promotional activities like the use of ‘coupons and discounts’ are also common among the companies making low involvement products.

Impulse buying – Sometimes consumers may feel inclined to engage in impulse buying. Impulse buying means buying without much planning and thought and only because you felt like buying the product. A packet of chips on the stall makes you feel hungry ad you purchase it without any thought. A magazine has a hot celebrity on its cover and you just purchase it without any consideration. Low involvement products are not necessarily impulse purchases but many times we buy them just out of impulse.

However, several times high involvement products too can be bought at impulse only because you were unable to resist their appeal. In case of impulse buying it is mostly the appeal of the product that makes us buy it. For example, a new model of handbag on a shop’s shelf is absolutely irresistible for a lady crossing by the store. She enters the store,  inquires for the price and brand and without much considerations and checking the product just superficially, buys it.

High involvement decisions:

The high involvement decisions are made after careful consideration and lots of thought. There are three important characteristics of high involvement buying decisions.

  • They are risky
  • They are complex
  • They are expensive.

The risk of failure is always high in the case of high involvement decisions. Such decisions are also more complex than the low involvement decisions.  You need to consider several factors before you buy insurance or a new car. They are more expensive. Buying a new house is generally a high involvement decision for most people. These are not routine purchases but still important and highly relevant in people’s lives.

So, routine response behavior cannot be expected in the case of high involvement decisions. Consumers would do their research and evaluation before they make the final purchase. Quality becomes a very important factor in case of the high involvement decisions. Before you buy your new car, you consider several factors, like fuel efficiency, passenger security, interiors, design, technology and so on. Even if you zero in on a few brands, you would do a lot of evaluation and comparison of features and prices before you buy.

If a high involvement purchase fails, it can give birth to a lot of anxiety. Suppose you bought a new car and later realized that the other option had a few features that were more suitable to your lifestyle and you feel frustrated over your decision. Buying a new house also requires similar evaluation and analysis. The anxiety felt because of making a wrong purchase decision is called post purchase dissonance. Since it can be a problem, companies selling high involvement products provide a lot of information to their consumers regarding their products’ features and combine it with customer service for the customer’s satisfaction.

They also use their sales people to convince their customers about the superiority of their product’s features. Many people make such purchases just once or twice in their life time and therefore do it after proper consideration involving extended research, also called extended problem solving. Personal selling becomes an important method of customer engagement and persuasion in case of the high involvement products. Brand name and brand image also become important in case of high involvement products. People may like several products but would buy only from the brands they consider most reliable.

Limited problem solving:

It falls in the middle between low and high involvement decision making. There are several products that we do not buy on a regular basis, are not very high involvement and still require some research and evaluation before finalizing the purchase. For example you have to buy a new vacuum cleaner. You have some basic information in this regard and you are familiar with cleaners and their features.

 You would like to do some research and comparison before you buy a new one because you do not want that it fails after a few months or is not very convenient to use. So, you could do some online research or consult a friend whom you consider knowledgable. You could also go to your favorite store and consider one from the available models. There are many factors that limit the research and decision making process before the purchase. Such products are not bought on impulse or with minimum consideration but do not require extensive research or thought either.

Thus, we see that the consumer decision making process differs from consumer to consumer. One may easily buy a pair of jeans from his favorite brand while the other would search and evaluate several before deciding which one to buy. High involvement products are expensive, and risky so require lots of evaluation before buying. The buying decision process behind the high involvement products is also complex. On the other hand, in case of the low involvement products, the decision making process is simpler and you do not give a second thought to which bread you have to buy. Consumer decision making process is a complex but interesting process and understanding it helps companies understand how they can market certain products and maximize customer satisfaction.

Abhijeet Pratap

I am Abhijeet Pratap, editor of notesmatic. I am an MBA with marketing (major). Apart from writing on various topics in business management, marketing and English literature, I like to read and write about technology.