Evaluation of Alternatives

We have seen how the consumer uses information to arrive at a set of final brand choices. How does the consumer choose among the alternative brands? The marketer needs to know about alternative evaluation - that is, how the consumer processes information to arrive at brand choices. Unfortunately, consumers do not use a simple and single evaluation process in all buying situations. Instead, several evaluation processes are at work.

Certain basic concepts help explain consumer evaluation processes. First, we assume that each consumer is trying to satisfy some need and is looking for certain benefits that can be acquired by buying a product or service. Further, each consumer sees a product as a bundle of product attributes with varying capacities for delivering these benefits and satisfying the need. For cameras, alternative evaluation

The stage ofthe buyer decision process in which the consumer uses information to evaluate alternative brands in the choice set.

brand image

The set of beliefs tliac consumers hold about a particular brand.

product attributes might include picture quality, ease of use, camera size, price and other features. Consumers will vary as to which of these attributes they consider relevant and will pay the most attention to those attributes connected with their needs.

Second, the consumer will attach different degrees of importance to each attribute. A distinction can be drawn between the importance of an attribute and its saiience. Salient attributes are those that come to a consumer's mind when he or she is asked to think of a product's characteristics. But these are not necessarily the most important attributes to the consumer. Some of them may be salient because the consumer has just seen an advertisement mentioning them or has had a problem with them, making these attributes 'top-of-the-mind'. There may also be other attributes that the consumer forgot, but whose importance would he recognized if they were mentioned. Marketers should be more concerned with attribute importance than attribute salience.

Third, the consumer is likely to develop a set of brand beliefs about where each brand stands on each attribute. The set of beliefs held about a particular brand is known as the brand image. The consumer's beliefs may vary from true attributes based on his or her experience and the effect of selective perception, selective distortion and selective retention.

Fourth, the consumer is assumed to have a utility function for each attribute. The utility function shows how the consumer expects total product satisfaction to vary with different levels of different attributes. For example, Anna may expect her satisfaction from a camera to increase with better picture duality; to peak with a medium-weight camera as opposed to a very light or very heavy one; to be a compact 35 mm camera rather than a single lens reflex camera with interchangeable lenses. If we combine the attribute levels at which her utilities are highest, they make up Anna's ideal camera. The camera would also be her preferred camera if it were available and affordable.

Fifth, the consumer arrives at attitudes towards the different brands through some evaluation procedure. Consumers have been found to use one or more of several evaluation procedures, depending on the consumer and the buying decision.

In Anna's camera-buying situation, suppose she has narrowed her choice set to four cameras: Nikon AF400. Olympus Superzoom 110, Pcntax Espio Jr. and Ricoh RW1. In addition, let us say she is interested primarily in four attributes -picture quality, ease of use, camera size and price. Table 6,5 shows how she believes each brand rates on each attribute.3-1 Anna believes the Nikon will give her picture quality of 8 on a 10-point scale; is easy to use, 8; is of medium size, 9; and is very inexpensive, 10. Similarly, she has beliefs about how the other cameras rate on these attributes. The marketer would like to be able to predict which camera Anna will buy.

Clearly, if one camera rated best on all the attributes, we could predict that Anna would choose it. But the brands vary in appeal. Some buyers will base their buying decision on only one attribute and their choices are easy to predict. If Anna wants low price above everything, she should buy the Nikon, whereas if she wants the camera that is easiest to use, she could buy either the Olympus or the Pentax.

Most buyers consider several attributes, but assign different importance to each. If we knew the importance weights that Anna assigns to the four attributes, we eould predict her camera choice more reliably. Suppose Anna assigns 40 per cent of the importance to the camera's picture quality, 30 per cent to ease of use, 20 per cent to its size and 10 per cent to its price. To find Anna's perceived value for each camera, we can multiply her importance weights by her beliefs about each camera. This gives us the following perceived values:

Table 6.5

A consumer's brand beliefs about cameras

Ricoh

ATTRIBUTE

Table 6.5

PICTURE

EASE OF

CAMERA

CAMERA

QUALITY

USE

SIZE

PRICE

Nikon

8

8

9

10

Olympus

8

10

7

4

Pentax

8

10

9

Olympus = 0.4(8") + 0.3(10) + 0.2(7) + 0.1(4) = 8.0

We would predict that Anna will favour the Pentax.

This model is called the expectancy value model of consumer choice.31 This is one of several possible models describing how consumers go about evaluating alternatives. Consumers might evaluate a set of alternatives in other ways. For example, Anna might decide that she should consider only cameras that satisfy a set of minimum attribute levels. She might decide a camera must have a superzoom lens. In this case, we would predict that she would choose Olympus because it is the only one that satisfies that requirement. This is called the conjunctive model of consumer choice. Or she might decide that she would settle for a camera that had a picture quality greater than 7 or ease of use greater than 9. In this case, the Nikon, Olympus or the Pentax would do, since they all meet at least one of the requirements. This is called the disjunctive mode! of consumer choice.

Row consumers go about evaluating purchase alternatives depends on the individual consumer and the specifie buying situation. In some cases, consumers use careful calculations and logical thinking. At other times, the same consumers do little or no evaluating; instead they buy on impulse and reiy on intuition. Sometimes consumers make buying decisions on their own; sometimes they turn to friends, consumer guides or salespeople for buying advice.

Marketers should study buyers to find out how they actually evaluate brand alternatives. If they know what evaluative processes go on, marketers can take steps to influence the buyer's decision. Suppose Anna is now inclined to buy a Pentax camera because of its ease of use and lightness. What strategies might another camera maker, say Olympus, use to influence people like Anna? There are several. Olympus could modify its camera to produce a version that has fewer features, but is lighter and cheaper. It could try to change buyers' beliefs about how its camera rates on key attributes, especially if consumers currently underestimate the camera's qualities. It could try to change buyers' beliefs about Pentax and other competitors. Finally, it could try to change the list of attributes that buyers consider or the importance attached to these attributes. For example, it might advertise that all good cameras need a superzoom lens to get the picture quality that active people like Anna want.

Figure 6.7

Steps between evaluation of alternatives and a purchase derision

Purchase Decision purchase decision The stage of the buyer decision process in which the consumer actually buys the product.

In the evaluation stage, die consumer ranks brands and forms purchase intentions. Generally, the consumer's purchase decision will be to buy the most preferred brand, but two factors, shown in Figure 6.7, ean come between the purchase intension and the purchase decision. The first factor is the attitudes of others. For example, if Anna Flo res' husband feels strongly that Anna should buy the lowest-priced camera, then the chance of Anna buying a more expensive camera is reduced. lie may like the specification of the Pen tax, but be offended by its name being Espio Jr (junior). How much another person's attitudes will affect Anna's choices depends both on the strength of the other person's attitudes towards her buying decision and on Anna's motivation to comply with that person's wishes.

Purchase intention is also influenced by unexpected situational!actors. The consumer may form a purchase intention based on factors such as expected family income, expected price and expected benefits from the product. When the consumer is about to act, unexpected situation;)! factors may arise to change the purchase intention. Anna may lose her job, some other purchase may become more urgent or a friend may report being disappointed in her preferred camera. Thus preferences and even purchase intentions do not always result in actual purchase choice. They may direct purchase behaviour, but may not fully determine the outcome.

A consumer's decision to change, postpone or avoid a purchase decision is influenced heavily by perceived risk. Many purchases involve some risk taking.35 Anxiety results when consumers cannot be certain about the purchase outcome. The amount of perceived risk varies with the amount of money at stake, the amount of purchase uncertainty and die amount of consumer self-confidence. A consumer takes certain actions to reduce risk, such as avoiding purchase decisions, gathering more information and looking for national brand names and products with warranties. The marketer must understand the factors that provoke feelings of risk in consumers and must provide information arid support that will reduce the perceived risk.

postpurchase behaviour The stage of the buyer decision, process in which consumers take further action after purchase based on their satisfaction or dissaiis/iietion.

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