Whether on- or offline, consumers are individuals who buy products or services for personal consumption.
It is important to remember, there is not a straightforward answer to who buys: for instance some purchases are based on individual impulses whilst others may involve a number of individuals who can influence the final purchase choice. Blackwell et al. (2001) suggested there are five key roles that can influence a purchase decision:
1 Initiator - starts the purchasing process
2 Influencer - tries to influence the final purchasing choice
3 Decider - has the authority to make the final choice
4 Buyer - conducts the transaction
5 User - enjoys the benefits of the purchase decision by using the product or service.
In an online purchasing situation, the initiator, decider and user roles remain similar to those in an offline purchasing situation but research has shown that the influencer and the buyer can be significantly changed (e.g. the influencer/buyer is likely to be a younger member of the household; children and teenagers who are playing an increasingly influential role in online purchasing decisions). Furthermore, they are very likely to be those persons who actually conduct the online transaction. This is important for the digital marketing managers as they need to consider how to tailor their web site content and search marketing strategy in order to communicate with this relatively new type of influencer. Increasingly, younger influencers are enjoying more power in the online purchasing situation. E-tailers (see e-retailing section) are increasingly using web sites to support the purchasing decision by providing information at the evaluation stage of the buying process and also to avert post-purchase dissonance through sophisticated after-sales support online.
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