The Buyer Decision Process – Everything You Need to Know
eCommerce Intelligence

The Buyer Decision Process – Everything You Need to Know

by Sarah Mehlman , Sr. Marketing Intelligence Specialist 10 Min.
March 3, 2022 | Updated September 4, 2022

What was the last thing you bought? Maybe it was a new computer for work or new shoes to keep your feet dry during the rainy season. Whatever it was, you probably didn’t buy it on a whim. Before handing over your credit card, you went through a process that ultimately led you to decide to purchase a specific product from a specific company at a specific time.

The process may be subconscious, but buyers generally complete every step, sometimes going back and forth through different stages before purchasing. This is called the buyer decision-making process.

Similarweb has been studying data from the top eCommerce sites, including Amazon, regarding the buyer decision-making process and how it’s changed over the years. Ready for insights that can help you better understand consumer behavior?

Let’s go.

What is the buyer decision-making process?

Simply put, the buyer decision-making process is a chain of steps that leads someone to make a purchase.

It starts when someone realizes they have a specific need. Before making a purchase, buyers complete several steps that ultimately influence what they buy.

The five stages of the buyer decision process.

When buying from a brick-and-mortar store, this process may be pretty straightforward. The shopper likely walks into the store, asks for help, peruses the products on the shelf, and buys something. However, with the internet and eCommerce, potential buyers have infinitely more sources of information in the palm of their hand, including reviews, social media coverage, and hundreds if not thousands of product and store alternatives to evaluate before making a purchase.

In a virtual world of limitless options, how does the buyer decision process change?

The buyer decision process in the digital era

With unlimited information accessible in seconds, potential buyers are less likely to follow a straight path to purchase. They may jump around in the process, or enter and exit at different stages. They may evaluate options and then decide they need to go back and search for more information. They could also get overwhelmed with all the options and have a more difficult time making a decision, leading to longer time lapses between steps. The possibilities are endless.

As such, today’s companies and brands must tailor their marketing and sales strategies to the digital buyer decision-making process. That means analyzing how to talk to potential customers at different stages without assuming they completed the previous stages or that they’ll neatly continue to the next.

Stages of the buyer decision process

Before we get into how your company can optimize its marketing and sales strategy for the digital buyer, let’s first dive in deeper to make sure we understand the stages.

Because the process is not linear, you need to focus on nurturing potential customers no matter which stage they enter in on or when they come across your company. You can’t assume you’re only introducing your brand at the “searching stage” and that potential customers will find their way to the next stage with you already in their minds.

You need to optimize your brand and the way you speak to customers at every stage.

1. Recognizing a need

The first thing potential customers need to realize is that they have a problem. Maybe their laptop broke, and even though they definitely don’t want to get the same model again, they also don’t know which laptop would be best for them at this point. Or perhaps they’ve realized that a certain software could help them work better and faster at their job, but they don’t know which one exactly.

Even so, they are sure something exists that would solve their dilemma, and in today’s digital world, they would be right.

To optimize your brand to reach customers at this stage, focus on helping potential customers recognize and define their needs. Create content centered around customer needs and position it where potential customers can see it. Try looking for

Potential affiliates or strategic partners where you could publish materials and obtain backlinks to your website.

If your company uses advertising to attract new customers, you could launch a media buying campaign to ensure your brand gets in front of people who are in the process of discovering their needs.

Pro Tip: Use Similarweb Find Publishers Tool to identify top targets for your media buying.

How to use Similarweb to find publishers.

2. Searching for information

Now that the potential customer realizes they need something, they’re off to dig up information. This includes asking friends or colleagues for their experiences or recommendations, as well as reading reviews online or in relevant social media posts. They’ll probably Google their need and potential solutions, and if they’re looking for a software solution, may reach out to companies for demos or ask questions about their products.

At this point, potential customers are busy plugging query after query into the Google search bar. You’re going to want to make sure your brand shows up to them in the SERP.

How? By optimizing your website’s content for SEO and launching PPC campaigns that target keywords that people might be searching for when in this stage of the decision-making process.

You’ll need to think about search intent for the keywords you’re targeting to ensure the SERP results provide the user with the information they want. For example, since they’re looking for information at this point, you might want to back away from a hard sell.

Similarweb Keyword Analysis Tool can help you find keywords in four ways.

Pro Tip: Similarweb Keyword Analysis Tool can provide tons of insights into what people are searching for and which websites are targeting different keywords. You should analyze the keywords you want to target and find your competition.

3. Evaluation

Once the potential buyer has all the information they need, they’ll start evaluating their options. Put yourself in your potential customer’s shoes. What factors are they considering? Different features, product availability, cost-effectiveness, or something else entirely?

Depending on the potential buyer’s situation, they may have different priorities. If they’ve got a tight budget, for example, they could be in need of a cheap solution. Alternately, money could be the last thing on their mind and they just want to find the best-performing option no matter the price.

They also need to consider where they’ll make their purchase. Lots of stores could offer the same product, so they’ll need to decide which store is best for them depending on price, location, warranty, or customer service availability.

Decisions, decisions! With so much noise and so many options, it can be overwhelming to make even the smallest purchase decision and as such, cause the buyer to retreat back to the previous stage and repeat the process.

So what does that mean for you? Not only should you know your product or service like the back of your hand, but you also need to know your audience and what value you can provide them. If your target audience is going to focus on a specific pain point t, you need to highlight how you can solve it for them. If they’re looking for the best deal and you have a special offer, zoom in on that aspect.

Keep in mind, customers may have some idea about what they want at this point. They’re still searching, but the keywords they’re using have changed. Instead of general information, they might be looking up product reviews or comparisons on Google. That said, you’ll want to create specific PPC campaigns and website content that addresses this mindset. This means conducting new keyword analyses for commercial intent keywords and targeting them in new campaigns.

4. Purchasing

Cha-ching! The potential customer is ready to hand over their money. Whether they’re pushing a credit card across a counter or plugging their details into a desktop, this is the most important step for companies to focus on.

Pro Tip: Ensure there are no barriers to purchase and that the process is smooth, otherwise, potential customers might go back to evaluating alternatives that could offer a simpler purchasing experience.

How can you make this process as simple as possible? By reducing the number of clicks a customer has to go through to reach the last step. Here, your PPC campaigns will focus on transactional intent keywords, meaning keywords with modifiers such as “buy,” “coupon,” “deal,” or “purchase.” Google knows that these types of keyword searches often lead to conversions and therefore, may be highly competitive. You need to constantly be optimizing your PPC ads for your products to ensure they’re the top results in the SERP.

Pro Tip: Use Similarweb Top Product Ads Tool to see which products are targeting specific keywords. You’ll see the ads competing against yours, which will give you good insights on how to optimize your ads.

Find product ads on Similarweb.

It’s also important to optimize your SEO for Amazon. It’s estimated that 44% of shoppers go to Amazon when they’re ready to make a purchase. Ensure your Amazon listing has great visibility and is optimized for conversions.

Pro Tip: Similarweb Shopper Intelligence can help you monitor consumer demand, optimize your retail search strategies, and analyze shopper behavior.

Learn what Similarweb Shopper Intelligence can do for you.

5. Post-purchase evaluation

Ok, so you made the sale. Woohoo! Take a second to celebrate and then it’s time to get back to it – your work isn’t done yet.

Post-purchase evaluation is a critical step for turning new customers into satisfied and loyal brand enthusiasts. Customers will immediately start evaluating whether they made the right decision. Let’s revisit our example to see why.

If it’s a new laptop, a customer might start working on it to see whether it has high performance or long battery life. You might include a user manual or a link to special features to help them get to know their new toy. If they purchased software, this would be a good time to give them a tutorial or an onboarding session to ensure they quickly learn how to use the software and can immediately take advantage of its benefits.

If a customer is happy with their purchase, they might make a future purchase or recommend the product to friends. If they feel buyer’s remorse, on the other hand, they might high-tail it back to the store to return the product and purchase one of the alternatives they previously checked out. And if their experience was particularly unpleasant, they may even share their negative experience with others. When customers end this process positively, however, this could streamline the process for similar purchases in the future.

Focus on developing a remarketing strategy to engage customers at this stage. You could email them to ask about their satisfaction with their purchase and send a monthly newsletter with coupons, deals, and other relevant information.

If you’re selling on eCommerce websites, you may also have other opportunities to improve the customer experience at the post-purchase stage. Prime example – pun intended – Amazon encourages long-term customers through methods such as loyalty programs. You can also offer subscriptions to provide customers with a deal in return for their continued loyalty.

Factors that influence the buyer decision process

Purchasing is highly influenced by our psychology. Tweet this

Whether it’s a story we heard once or a product review we came across, we’re often predisposed to think something that ultimately sways our decision-making in some way. While it’s impossible to completely understand why someone makes a decision, there are several important factors that definitely impact the mysterious process.

what influences the buyer decision proces


People generally respect authority. If an authority figure such as a parent, boss, politician, influencer, or even celebrity, endorses something, people are likely to have a positive view of the product or service. This also applies if the authority figure gives a negative review – we generally assign large weight to authority figures’ opinions.

This is why influencer marketing is so successful.

Social proof

The more something appears on social media, the more likely someone is to want it. For example, have you noticed your Facebook newsfeed blowing up with people playing Wordle? Maybe at first you just ignored it, but after seeing the different colored boxes and quirky words enough, you were compelled to play by yourself. We aren’t saying “monkey see, monkey do” – today’s consumers are savvier than that, but people just tend to imitate others.

Self-reflect for a minute. If you see that something has a lot of social proof, are you likely to view it more positively?

Based on how many of us jumped on board with the Pokemon Go fad a few years ago, let’s assume yes.


People love instant gratification. So, phrases that tell them they’ll quickly receive something, whether it’s a product or satisfaction, make them more likely to buy. For example, “24-hour delivery”, “get 10% off in the next hour”, or our personal favorite, “order now, get a second pizza free!”, can make us feel like we need to buy immediately.


Since the time of the cavemen, people have favored scarce materials. If something is limited, that means that only a privileged segment of society has access to it, and, let’s face it, we all want to be one of the privileged few. If people are worried something might run out quickly, they may be more likely to buy. Cue the toilet-paper buying frenzy of 2020.


Arguably the most beloved word of all – “free” – people love thinking they’re beating the system and getting something at no cost. Maybe a product offers free shipping or a free gift. While the company likely factored these “free” benefits into the cost of products they sell, potential customers feel satisfaction thinking they got something at no extra cost.

Prepare for Success

It’s often said that success is where preparation and opportunity meet. If you’re prepared to engage with potential customers at the different stages in the decision-making process, you’ll be ready when an opportunity presents itself.

Being prepared means understanding your customers, their needs, and how to address them throughout the entire process. It also means investing ongoing efforts to continually optimize your brand’s SEO and PPC strategies for the different stages. You might find things that work better and things that don’t work as well, but as long as you spend time learning and improving, you’re sure to see results in your bottom line.

Need help? Similarweb is here for you with insights and tools for every stage. Our tools can improve the likelihood of connecting with customers as they make their buying decisions – no matter what stage you find them in.

Interested in learning more? Check out these articles for further reading:

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