The search for information is the most important state in the consumer decision-making process. This is evident in the way the decision-making process among consumers tends to change drastically in response to changes in the availability of product information. For example, there is a threshold of information beyond which consumers’ buying decisions worsen (Chen, Shang & Kao, 2009). At the same time, information overload also tends to be beneficial to consumers because it enables them to develop a better subjective state when making a decision on which product to purchase. The subjective state also helps consumers to develop effective information filtering mechanisms. For novice consumers, the richness of information and the consequent attitudes of information overload may bring confusion to the entire decision-making process (Chen, Shang & Kao, 2009). This essentially means that the threshold of information overload varies from one person to the other. At this point, it may be necessary for researchers to examine how emotional confidence and cognitive load influence the perceptions as well as the purchase decisions that consumers derive from available product information (Yoon, Cole & Lee, 2009).
The importance of the search for information is also demonstrated by the move by some online retailers to introduce informational filtering mechanisms with a view to enable customers overcome the challenge of information processing (Chen, Shang & Kao, 2009). Some of the most common information filtering mechanisms in e-commerce include search engines, shopping baskets, and merchandize catalogs (Chen, Shang & Kao, 2009). In using search engines, consumers need to have specific information, which they should key into the online portal to obtain more details. In shopping baskets, consumers set aside products for further consideration, while merchandize catalogs embrace the idea of highlighting the relationships between different pieces of information with a view to arrive at a more appropriate purchase decision.
Moreover, the search for information is increasingly being used as a basis for creating distinctions among different types of products. For example, a distinction has been made between search and experience products (Huang, Lurie & Mitra, 2009). Search goods are those for which it is easy to obtain quality information before making a purchase decision. In contrast, experience goods are characterized by difficulties in obtaining quality information before a purchase is made. This idea has been cemented in traditional economic models, which stipulate that the marginal cost involved in information search should be equal to the marginal benefit of identifying just the right product to purchase. Such distinctions indicate that information search is of utmost importance in the consumer decision making process.
A different way of assessing the importance of Information search is by looking at the extent to which it inducts the consumer to external factors influencing his purchase decision (Darley, Blankson & Luethge, 2010). This is a crucial step because the consumer may not have put into consideration many factors, such as durability and variety, when conceptualizing the need to purchase the product. In this regard, information search provides an entry point to a new realm of external environment where his perceptions, attitudes, and assumptions regarding the product are tested, with some being upheld and others fiercely rejected. It is the only stage in the decision making process where the consumer gets an opportunity to obtain objective information. In all the other stages, the consumer may choose to introduce aspects of subjectivity. In contrast, the information that a consumer obtains at the information-search stage, to a large extent, offers the greatest chance for carrying out an objective assessment of his needs vis-à-vis the value proposition of the product.
Chen, Y., Shang, R. & Kao, C. (2009). The effects of information overload on consumers’ subjective state towards buying decision in the internet shopping environment. Electronic Commerce Research and Applications, 8, 48–58.
Darley, W., Blankson, C. & Luethge, D. (2010). Toward an Integrated Framework for Online Consumer Behavior and Decision Making Process: A Review. Psychology & Marketing, 27(2), 94–116.
Huang, P., Lurie, N. & Mitra, S. (2009). Searching for Experience on the Web: An Empirical Examination of Consumer Behavior for Search and Experience Goods. Journal of Marketing, 73, 55–69
Yoon, C., Cole, C. & Lee, M. (2009). Consumer decision making and aging: Current knowledge and future directions. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 19, 2–16.