Image Credit: Roy Rachamim
Aimee Millwood
Director of Content at Yotpo
July 13th, 2016

UGC’s Impact on The Consumer Decision Making Process

Many people think that the most important stage in a sale is when a customer hands over the money.

Table Of Contents

But actually, when it comes to how to influence consumer behavior, every single step in the consumer decision-making process plays an important role.

For businesses to maximize profit, it’s imperative that they pay attention to every stage in the buying process.

Consumers don’t just decide to buy.

Their buying behavior is determined by many different factors.

And too many businesses focus on optimizing certain steps – improving check out, acquiring customers through SEO or PPC, etc. – without looking at the big picture.

It’s true – maximizing the value you get back from each step of the buying process isn’t easy, because each part alone takes tons of work to get right.

But user-generated content (UGC) is a powerful tool that can help you easily amplify results at every step along the way.

User-generated content is valuable throughout the entire buying journey.

Instead of burning yourself out trying to improve everything, focus on how small changes can get you big wins.

Here’s how to use UGC to increase eCommerce sales from the moment a customer becomes aware of your brand until the point where they become your best brand advocate.

UGC can affect buying behavior

Understanding the Stages of the Customer Decision Making Process

Before we launch into how user-generated content can help, let’s quickly review the process and walk through each of the steps.

It’s important to note that this process has many different names: buyer journey, buying cycle, buyer funnel, consumer purchase decision process, etc.

But all the names essentially refer to the same thing: The journey a customer goes through when making a sale.

Consumer decision-making process definition: The process by which consumers become aware of and identify their needs, collect information on how to best solve these needs, evaluate alternative available options, make a purchasing decision, and evaluate their purchase.

So, here’s a breakdown of what happens in each step:

  1. Need recognition (Awareness): The first and most important stage of the buying process, because every sale begins when a customer becomes aware that they have a need for a product or service.
  2. Search for information (Research): During this stage, customers want to find out their options.
  3. Evaluation of alternatives (Consideration): This is the stage when a customer is comparing options to make the best choice.
  4. Purchasing decision (Conversion): During this stage, buying behavior turns into action – it’s time for the consumer to buy!
  5. Post-purchase evaluation (Re-purchase): After making a purchase, consumers consider whether it was worth it, whether they will recommend the product/service/brand to others, and what feedback they would give.

Now, to show you how these stages of the buying process play out in real life, here’s a consumer buying process example that outlines each of the steps and shows why user-generated content is critical to maximizing results during each stage.

1. Need recognition (Awareness)

The need recognition stage of the consumer decision making process starts when a consumer realizes a need.

Needs come about because of 2 reasons:

  1. Internal stimuli (normally a physiological or emotional needs), such as hunger, thirst, sickness, sleepiness, sadness, jealousy, etc.
  2. External stimuli (an advertisement, the smell of yummy food, etc.)

Think about it: Why does someone start looking for a new camera?

Likely, their old camera isn’t working well anymore, or they simply want a nicer camera.

Maybe they have a vacation coming up. Or maybe they want to give the camera as a present to their sister, who just had her first child.

How in the world is this related to a physiological need?


Without a camera, they won’t be able to document special moments; therefore, they have an emotional desire to save these moments so that they are happy and not sad.

This emotional desire is the internal stimuli in this situation. Sure, a camera isn’t a life necessity keeping them from surviving, but it does solve a core emotional need.

Even if the core cause is vanity or convenience, at the most basic level, almost all purchases are driven by real or perceived physiological or emotional needs.

The causes for these stimuli can be social (wanting to look cool and well dressed) or functional (needing a better computer to do work more effectively), but they’re caused by physiological needs.

We buy groceries because without food in the house, we’ll be hungry. We buy new clothes because we’ll be cold, or we feel like everyone else has the latest handbag of the season, and we don’t want to be left out.

Every single purchase begins with recognizing a need.

And what happens after someone identifies a need? They begin looking for a solution!

Which brings us to the next step in the customer journey: searching for information…

2. Search for Information (Research)

Now that the customer has realized a need to get a new camera, it’s time to find solutions to his problem.

In this stage, it’s imperative that you are visible to the consumer searching for an answer.

As soon as a consumer recognizes a need and begins to search for an answer – you must be there to help!

And where do consumers generally go to look for answers today? Google!

The biggest way you can optimize your online business during the need recognition and awareness stage is by making sure you show up in search results.

Here’s where consumer generated media can help.

First, let’s start with reviews. Reviews can help your store get seen in search results by increasing the likelihood of your store showing up for long-tail keywords.

Reviews improve SEO because they give your online business a steady source of keyword rich, relevant content.

So when someone opens up their laptop and starts searching for a new camera, reviews will help you be there:

Reviews help customers find you during the search for information stage

The proof is in the data. Online businesses that use reviews see an increase in search traffic.

Just check out the organic traffic growth over 3 months for 500 sites after they added reviews.

How reviews increase SEO

The amount of information a customer needs to search for depends on how much he already knows about the solutions available, as well as the complexity of choices.

For example, let’s say there’s someone looking for a camera as a gift, and he has no idea which type of camera he wants, or what features he needs.

He will need more information than someone who already knows exactly the type of camera he wants to buy, but just needs to find the right product and the right way to purchase it.

The amount of searching necessary is entirely dependent on the situation, and it can vary widely.

So how do customers search for information?

By using internal information (their previous knowledge of a product or brand) as well as external information (information about a product or brand from friends or family, reviews, endorsements, press reviews, etc.).

This is where branding and word-of-mouth marketing are important – brands that have built up a positive reputation and are familiar to the customer will come to mind before brands they’ve never heard of before.

This is probably one of the most important stages for user-generated content.

When trying to search for solutions to their need, recommendations from friends and family, online testimonials, and customer reviews will have big influence.

Think about it: If the customer has little internal information, external information will play an even bigger role.

And when it comes to external information, the closer or more trusted a source is, the bigger weight the information is likely to have on the consumer’s decision.

During this stage, you want to show customer reviews and other types of UGC, like customer photos, on your social channels so customers can see social proof that people they trust also vouch for your brand.

User generated content drives engaged social traffic

Adding reviews and user-generated content brings more engaged traffic.

The data shows that traffic from social that comes as a result of reading reviews stays longer and navigates further into the site.

Adding social proof increases engagement during the consumer buying journey

During the Search for Information stage, reviews increase engagement

Want to learn more ways to use reviews to improve results from social? Get our free guide.

Additionally, you can leverage reviews in Google Rich Snippets and Product Listing Ads so that if a customer searches in Google, you’ve added credibility to your listing.

Rich snippets help you during the consumer decision making process

When customers are searching for information, improving your Product Listing Ads can pay off

Businesses that show reviews in their search results stand out from the competition.

Top Takeaways:

  • After customers realize a need, they search for solutions
  • During this stage, you need to be seen by the customer
  • You need to be at the top of search results and stand out from the competition
  • Reviews can help you increase your SEO, improve CTR by displaying review stars in search results, and grab customers while they’re in the need recognition and searching for answers stages
  • This is the most important stage because if a customer can’t find you, he can’t buy from you

3. Evaluation of Alternatives (Consideration)

Now that the consumer has done research, it’s time to evaluate their choices and see if there are any promising alternatives.

During this phase, shoppers are aware of your brand and have been brought to your site to consider whether to purchase from you or a competitor.

Consumers make purchase decisions based on which available options best match their needs, and to minimize the risk of investing poorly, they will make sure there are no better options for them.

Their evaluation is influenced by 2 major characteristics:

  1. Objective: Features, functionality, price, ease of use
  2. Subjective: Feelings about a brand (based on previous experience or input from past customers)

Your goal is to convince customers you’re the best choice. And the most effective way to do that is to keep them on your site longer and find ways to earn their trust.

You only have one shot – so you need to make the most of it. Of course, it’s important that your site is informative, your prices are competitive, your value is clear, etc.

But if you’re identical to a competitor in every single way, the word of previous customers is what will set you apart.

In this stage, use reviews and user-generated content examples on your site to increase engagement and boost customer trust.

The first place you need to have reviews is on your home page, so as soon as customers land on your site, they see content from past buyers.

You also need to display reviews on your product pages, so customers looking for information can see trustworthy input from past buyers.

Reviews on product pages improve conversion

Additionally, using reviews in a home page carousel reduces bounce rate while increasing time spent on site and page views.

The boost in engagement increases the likelihood that customers will learn more about your store and leave your site with a positive memory of your brand.

Reviews also help kick start the navigation to other product pages. Make sure to get reviews on wide variety of products (uniformity – get reviews on all products) in order to increase click throughs from category pages into product pages.

Also, community questions and answers are another powerful type of user-generated content that can help answer shoppers’ questions so that they have no reason not to buy from you.

Community Q&A helps boost engagement during the consideration stage.

Top Takeaways:

  • Just because a customer finds you, doesn’t mean they’ll buy from you
  • Consumers will evaluate options to choose the best purchase decision
  • During this stage, reviews can help you increase engagement
  • More engagement = more chance to convince customers you’re the best choice
  • Leverage social proof in the form of reviews & user-generated content builds trust
  • Reviews & user-generated content help you stand out from the competition

4. Purchasing Decision (Conversion)

Alright, now it’s money time. This is the stage when customers are ready to buy, have decided where and what they want to buy, and are ready to pull out their credit cards. 

But wait! Not too fast. You can still lose a customer at this stage.

This is the stage when the purchasing experience is key – it’s imperative to make it as easy as possible

Many businesses choose to display reviews in check out pages.

This can be effective if done correctly. You need to focus on building trust, but don’t distract the customer from completing the purchase.

If you want to display user-generated content in the check out, use site reviews rather than customer photos or product reviews, and make sure they aren’t clickable. 

How to Use Reviews in Check Out Pages:

  • Focus on building trust & not distracting
  • Use site reviews rather than user-generated photos or product reviews
  • Make sure reviews aren’t clickable to keep customers on site

5. Post-Purchase Evaluation (Re-purchase)

In this stage of the consumer purchase decision process, consumers reflect on their recent purchase. They think about how they feel about it, if it was a good investment, and most importantly, if they will return to the brand for future purchases and recommend the brand to friends and family.

In this stage, reviews are a valuable source of feedback for a brand.

You should always be striving to improve – and asking customers for reviews about their experience in a post-purchase email not only gives you insight into your performance, but it also gives you valuable user-generated content to leverage to attract future customers.

In other words, you can turn your customers into a valuable marketing tool. Get authentic reviews from your customers and use this to improve the buying cycle for other potential shoppers.

It’s important to remember that customers have already given you something very valuable: their money!

So you don’t want to ask for too much when requesting feedback. In order to encourage customers to write reviews, make it as easy as possible for customers to leave feedback:

Ask for reviews after purchase to increase customer retention.

You can also use this stage to turn one-time buyers into return customers.

Data from over 2,000 stores shows that 27.5% of customers who see promoted products in post-purchase review request emails end up converting – and these customers are valuable.

Return customers account for 1/3 of a store’s total income on average, so make sure you’re not missing out on this super valuable method to increase your eCommerce conversion rate by turning shoppers into repeat buyers.

Coupons help bring back customers during post-purchase evaluation.

How to Use Reviews Post Purchase: Top Takeaways:

Recap: Summarizing the Consumer Decision-Making Process

There you have it – how reviews can help you at every stage of the consumer purchase decision process, from the moment a customer realizes their need to their post-purchase evaluation.

To recap, here are the main things you should know about each step:

  1. Need recognition or awareness stage: This is when a consumer realizes a need for something, which then leads to a purchase. Think of it as the first seeds of a sale.
  2. Search for information: This is when a consumer starts looking for knowledge about how to acquire a product or service to solve his problem. During this stage, user-generated content is key for a few reasons:
    • Reviews improve SEO, which helps brands get discovered when a consumer looks for information on search engines.
    • Review stars are a form of social proof that helps paid search ads stand out from the rest, increasing the likelihood a customer will come to your site.
    • Consumers often look to their friends for information and trust past shoppers more than brands. Sharing reviews and photos from past buyers on social media is a valuable way to bring engaged traffic from these channels.
  3. Evaluation of alternatives: During this stage, consumers are sizing up their options. The best way online businesses can make sure they come out on top is by showing off great reviews, customer photos, and community Q&A across their site, on the homepage, in carousels, and on product pages.
  4. Purchasing decision: Okay, the customer is ready to pull out their wallet! But during this stage, businesses can still lose customers. Continue to build trust by displaying testimonials of your businesses’ service on the checkout page.
  5. Post-purchase evaluation: This is the stage that determines whether or not customers will come back and what they say to others. Make sure to ask for reviews after purchases, and use this opportunity to build repeat business by offering upsells or coupons in the review request email.

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