Geek looking at data

Uncovering Social Values In The Buying Decision Process

Published Oct 31, 2015, 09:39 AM by Mohad Ali

Most marketers would agree that it’s an exciting time to work in this field. Adopting a data-centric view has given us the ability to find answers to questions that businesses have posed for generations. Among the most important: “Why would customers select (or reject) my product?” Research into consumer behavior attempts to find these answers and has always been one of the more popular marketing areas of study, partly because it relies on the social sciences to draw connections between the underlying values that drive our actions.

With this goal of better understanding why we do the things we do, scientists at Environics Research have been conducting a national survey for over 30 years to measure Canadians’ personal and social beliefs. When we link this dataset (known as SocialValues) to customers’ behavioural data, we can learn what matters most to a group of customers and how their worldview shapes their consumption habits. And, when we place these Social Values in the Buying Decision Process framework, it becomes even easier to see the role these values play in consumer behaviour.

The Buying Decision Process describes the path that customers take as they make a purchase. Although there are many models that track this journey, they all agree on the general progression a customer typically takes—described below—and the importance of this framework to the field of marketing.

Identify a need for a product

The framework holds that customers begin their journey by identifying a gap in their lives that can be filled with a new product. The key word here is “new”, because replacing an existing product does not always require a journey at all. Instead, customers may simply rely on preexisting knowledge or biases, such as brand loyalty. Furthermore, these needs can be practical or impractical in nature; they simply represent an unmet demand or unfulfilled desire.

Several of the 94 Social Values studied by Environics Research come into play at the very first stage of the Buying Decision Process. For instance, consumers may harbor a Need for Escape from their daily routines or possess a Need for Status Recognition. Their need for a product may also be affected by their attitude toward shopping in general: they may embrace a trip to the mall with a Joy of Consumption or take a more practical approach to acquiring material goods with a sense of Utilitarian Consumerism.

Search for options to fulfill the need

A person’s Social Values can have a great deal of influence on the way they conduct their search for new products. If they have a high degree of Confidence in Advertising, they may be swayed by those messages. A strong Confidence in Big (or Small) Business may lead consumers to select goods from those providers. And those who show high levels of Obedience to Authority would probably be more likely to search out the opinions of experts before making a decision.

Evaluate the options available

During this stage of the buying journey, customers rank each of their purchase options according to the “value” they perceive. Typically, this involves an intuitive cost-benefit analysis, where consumers compare a product’s functionality to its costs. But in reality, there’s much more going on behind the price-function equation.

Of course, for consumers who score high on the Importance of Price, a product’s cost may be all that matters at this stage.  For others, values like Importance of Aesthetics and Enthusiasm for New Technology may weigh more heavily, making it particularly difficult to evaluate options strictly on objective costs and functions. Consumers more concerned about Time Stress may especially like products that don’t require complicated contracts (think mobile phone plans), while those who enjoy Pursuit of Novelty may undervalue—even disregard—price, convenience and aesthetics simply for the thrill of embracing a new trend in the marketplace.

Make a purchase

Individuals who express a strong sense of Consumptivity – that is, an enthusiasm for purchasing products in an area of interest—are often excited when they reach this stage because they are finally ready to open their wallets. When scoring high on values such as Buying on Impulse or the Importance of Spontaneity, they may have even skipped the previous two stages, rushing to get to this step and trusting their instincts that they’re making the right choice.

Post-purchase behavior

This final stage of the journey deals with the way consumers respond after they have made a purchase. Buyers who exhibit Consumption Evangelism are more passionate in their excitement (or remorse) and tend to share their feelings with a wider group of people—say, friends and family or on social media platforms like Yelp. Consumers with high scores for Ostentatious Consumption may even flaunt their purchases in public, hoping to demonstrate their social status through their newly-acquired product.


When viewing consumer behavior through the lens of the Buying Decision Process, Social Values no doubt play a vital role from beginning to end. A solid grasp of these attitudes and interests helps marketers recognize where they may win or lose potential customers along their journey. Indeed, understanding why customers would behave as they do through their Social Values measures can help marketers develop effective strategies and convincing communications through every step along the purchase process.

Click here to learn more about how marketers better understand their customers with Social Values.


Mohad Ali brings the perspective of a business strategist to his role as a Client Advocate in EA’s financial, insurance, telecommunications and travel practice.
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