Five stages comprise the consumer buying decision process: problem recognition, information search, alternative evaluation, purchase decision and post-purchase behavior. Each of these stages can be a deliberate action such as researching product options or a subconscious thought like recognizing the juice in the refrigerator has almost run out. A merchant or business must understand the steps a customer goes through to make a purchase. A merchant can influence a customer's purchase by providing targeted information, advertisements or guidance.
Thus, by studying the consumer behavior before and during purchase helps in production scheduling, designing, pricing, positioning, segmentation, advertising and other promotional activities.
One potential benefit of online surveys is the use of “conditional branching.” In conventional paper and pencil surveys, one question might ask if the respondent has shopped for a new car during the last eight months. If the respondent answers “no,” he or she will be asked to skip ahead several questions—., going straight to question 17 instead of proceeding to number 9. If the respondent answered “yes,” he or she would be instructed to go to the next question which, along with the next several ones, would address issues related to this shopping experience. Conditional branching allows the computer to skip directly to the appropriate question. If a respondent is asked which brands he or she considered, it is also possible to customize brand comparison questions to those listed. Suppose, for example, that the respondent considered Ford, Toyota, and Hyundai, it would be possible to ask the subject questions about his or her view of the relative quality of each respective pair—in this case, Ford vs. Toyota, Ford vs. Hyundai, and Toyota vs. Hyundai.