This past holiday season, retail sales were the best they’ve been in recent history. And now that the holidays are behind us, let’s reflect on our shopping. Whether you picked out a gift for your significant other, or your parents, or a coworker, the possibilities that were presented to you were absolutely endless. So how did you decide? Why do we all come to the decisions we make when we buy stuff?

To start to understand why we buy, it’s important to understand how we buy. While there are many influences on our purchasing decisions, consumers buy to fulfill a need through the purchase of goods. Simple. But there’s a significant difference in how we approach purchases and it depends on the level of involvement by the consumer. While no less important, routine purchases are low involvement. These are items that don’t require much forethought. They are lower risk, lower cost, habitual purchases of tried and true goods. Purchases that require a significant investment of time and effort are high involvement. The involvement is significant usually because the price is high, the purchase is infrequent, and since it’s not something they normally buy, the consumer will need to educate themselves on the product before making the purchase. Things like cookware, TVs, vacuums, luggage, cars – those occasional and higher cost purchases – fall into this category.

Consumer Buying Decision Process

Bergmeyer recently had the opportunity to work with a retail brand in redesigning a high involvement purchase experience – a cookware department. Cookware is a unique product category – yes, it’s high involvement – but it’s also a product type that is usually purchased by first-time buyers… people moving into a new home, or engaged and planning for a new life (with shiny, new things!). The options available to them can be overwhelming — there are different types of vessels, different constructions, outer surface, inner surface, conductivity, handles... and that’s just the start. We collaborated with this retailer to position them as experts in the product category with a communication and planning strategy and that enabled customers to shop confidently. By associating strategic design moves in the department with a 7-step decision-making process, we created an experience that help customers make tough choices. It applies to cookware but could also apply to any other high involvement purchase. Here was our approach:

Step 1: Outline your goal and outcome

The tactic: First, a retailer needs to make consumers aware of a preliminary self-assessment stage. A customer might think, “I know I need this, but how will I use it?” We made customers aware of the need to know how they use or will use the product. With strategically-placed and appropriately-scaled messaging to initiate the consumer’s thinking, we helped them align their individual lifestyle needs to the products that support those needs.

Step 2: Gather data

The tactic: For the consumer to gather data, data must be supplied. This is an area where retailers can provide their expertise and gain a customer’s trust by displaying valuable educational information. A store associate won’t always be available to provide customers with the information they need, so we developed educational messages that have just the right amount of information to let them inform themselves. For many customers, this stage of the process happens even before they enter a store. Retail brands can support this research phase by providing educational material online. As the go-to resource for product information, both online or in stores, brands can gain credibility and authority on a particular subject and inspire customers to easily make the transition from the web to physical retail.

Step 3: Develop alternatives

The tactic: If they’re making a high cost, infrequent purchase, customers will surely want to take some time to consider their options and compare sets of products. Retailers can enable this need by providing a select area in stores to bring together the full range of options so customers can see them at a glance. For example, we created a workspace that held one item from every available collection in the store. It gave customers immediate access to the full selection so they determine additional options.

Step 4: List pros and cons

The tactic: Pros and cons is a great method for comparing two or more things. And while a retailer might not want to highlight any potential negative aspects of a product, you’ll want to highlight the pros by listing the unique qualities of a product. Product features can be narrated with inspiring storytelling or an easy-to-read bulleted list of features, benefits, and design attributes. It’s also important to list the specifications of a product (cost, dimensions, materials) that are consistent across the selections to allow consumers to compare apples to apples.

Step 5: Make the decision

We’ve reached the critical point. The experience has been guided by an awareness of how a customer will use the product, they’ve educated themselves about it with resources that were supplied by the retailer, they’ve seen various alternatives, and they’ve filtered their options down by comparing with others. Decision made. There will certainly be other factors that will impact the purchase – cost, benefits, the unreasonable opinions of the person they’re shopping with – preparing for these factors with a solid foundation of strategic messaging and thoughtful planning can help reduce unanticipated influences.

Step 6: Take action

The tactic: Once a customer has decided they want to buy, it’s up to the retailer to make their options for buying crystal clear and reduce any friction in the last stages of the process. If the item is difficult to carry, have the ability to buy in-store and get it shipped home for free. Or have a sales associate offer to help carry it out of the store. Or offer an easy transaction right near the product’s location in the store so the customer can avoid queuing at the main point of sale. Think about every consumer’s needs at the end of their purchase experience to heighten the pleasure of making that purchase.

Step 7: Reflect on the decision

The tactic: For high involvement purchases, consumers will tend to reflect on their decision after the purchase, questioning if it truly was the right choice. We want to feel good about our buy after investing all that effort into it! We encourage retail brands to help affirm the customer’s buying decision with follow up messages, like tips on how to use the product, showcasing its benefits to your life, and then, offering an opportunity to solicit positive feedback to help the next buyer.


Consumer behavior is complex, sometimes unpredictable and even irrational - just the sort of challenge we love to take on! Nonetheless, as a designer working frequently with retail brands, I’ve come to the realization that even though these steps might happen out of sequence, or occur as a combination of in-store communication and online resources, each one is an important milestone in the customer’s journey and an essential part of their decision-making experience.

Over to you… what was the last high involvement purchase you made? How did you come to the decision? Share your story with us!

Published Feb 21, 2019