To Buy and What to Buy… That is the Consumer Question

The Marsh-mellow test was a study conducted over 40 years ago by PHD Walter Mischel. The study gave an insight into our abilities to deny instant gratification and practice will power. What it showed was that the brain could be broken up into two systems, The Cool and The Hot system. The cool system is cognitive in nature. It’s essentially a thinking system, incorporating knowledge about sensations, feelings, actions and goals — reminding yourself, for instance, why you shouldn’t eat the marshmallow. The hot system is impulsive and emotional. The hot system is responsible for quick, reflexive responses to certain triggers — such as popping the marshmallow into your mouth without considering the long-term implications (Metcalfe & Mischel 1999)

So what does this have to do with the Consumer Decision Making Process?

When it comes to making decisions every consumer, no mater what the product, goes through a process of evaluation and elimination. Unlike the children in this video however, who struggled to wait for the ‘better deal’, adult consumers are constantly calculating the costs and weighing up the benefits of the products they buy without even knowing it. They are always after that ‘better deal’.


This is known as the Consumer Decision Making Process and it operates in 5 steps:

1: problem recognition,

2: information search,

3: evaluation of alternatives,

4: purchase decision,

5: post purchase behavior.


Our level of involvement with this process depends on the level of perceived risk that comes with purchasing a product. For example buying a chocolate bar at the check out is an impulsive decision that plays more towards the ‘Hot System’. It’s an emotional and irrational decision that you don’t really have to think about. Whereas Buying a car is a cognitive decision that plays on the ‘Cold System’. To us there is a high risk of making the wrong choice and so we heavily evaluate our options and hold out for the better deal (Tsiros & Mittal 2000).


The 6 types of Perceived Risks are:

Financial Risks- product not worth the money spent,

Functional Risks- product does not meet a need/ do what it’s supposed to,

Physical Risks- product not safe,

Social Risks- purchasing product causes embarrassment,

Psychological Risk- wrong choice causes low self esteem,

Time Risk- time spent evaluating not worth it.

It is the role of the Marketer to not only generate awareness of their products but to create the perception that their products live up to consumer expectations and won’t invoke any of these risks. They are trying to make sure you do not eliminate their products from your choice pool when processing your purchase decisions ( Court et al. 2009).






Court, D,  Elzinga, D, Mulder, S & Vetvik, J 2009, ‘The Consumer Decision Journey’, McKinsey Quarterly, vol. 1, viewed 24 March 2014,


Metcalfe, J & Mischel, W 1999,  ‘A hot/cool system analysis of delay of gratification: Dynamics of willpower’, Psychological Review, vol. 106, no. 1, pp. 3 –19.


Tsiros;, M,  Mittal, V 2000, ‘Regret: A model of its antecedents and consequences in consumer decision making’, Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 26, no. 4, p. 401.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s