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Thursday, Jun. 28, 2007 at 5:37 am

The 5 W’s of Purchase Behavior

By Bryan Eisenberg
June 28th, 2007

journalistIn expanding the question about relational-transactional purchasing by asking the question of WHAT makes people buy, a fellow deep thinker from the Wizard Academy shared that we should also add in the essential “reporter” questions:

I’d lump them into four categories: Who … Why … What … When-Where-How. Who, Why & What are big driving issues, while you can lump the other three (When, Where, How) together as the sort of mechanics of purchasing.

WHO we are (or think we are and desire to be) deeply influences WHAT we buy. Our “tribes” and “identities” are wrapped in and around our buying impulses. The other aspect of WHO is Who influences us. We care more about the opinions of people we know than we do from some ad. From the list, this might include: Prestige or Aspirational purchase – Name Recognition – Fad or Innovation – Niche Identity – Peer Pressure – Ego Stroking -
WHY we buy … this is the emotional stuff, Maslow’s pyramid, our inner individual needs that drive us. The list of intensely emotional triggers include: Emotional Vacuum – Scarcity – The “Girl Scout Cookie Effect” – Fear – Reciprocity or Guilt – Empathy – Addiction – Indulgence -
WHAT we buy … Buying a new car is a different experience than buying groceries. A car is a big purchase that in many ways is an extension of our identity. A redneck kid from West Texas will be drooling over a 4-wheel drive 3/4 ton pickup truck while the 30 year-old career girl in California is thinking her car not only has to match her “style,” it has to be green.

1. Basic Needs (food, staples, repairs, etc.)
2. Lifestyle items (beer, eating out, clothing… anything you buy that’s an extension of you and your lifestyle)
3. Luxury purchase (Rolex, big screen TV, vacation travel, etc.)
4. Major purchase (house, car, long-term health care, big investments)
5. Crisis needs (medical emergency, disaster, addictions)


When we buy … Is it an impulse buy? Is it a recurring purchase.  Is it a major purchase like a house or car that is really a buying event that only happens a few times in a persons life? Young people have different needs (and buying power) than old farts (like me).

Where we buy … This has changed with the internet. We go window shopping online and quite often just click and get it. UPS and FedEx are as vital to online shopping as Amazon.

How we buy … Credit cards have turned us into a retail junky nation. Virtually anyone can get a card and spend their life savings drinking lattes from Starbucks.

W-W-H buying factors include: Convenience – Replacement – Lower Price – Great Value – Compulsory Purchase – Event – Holiday – The big When-Where-How companies are Wal-Mart and McDonalds.

All of these come into play in our buying. The question for marketers is where do they fit? Where can you leverage this in your marketing?

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Comments (5)

  1. I read through that and at the end found myself thinking “What?”

  2. I found the article useful as an MBA student.

    What made me like the article is actually the way the author used an inside out paradigm of Steven Covey. When I Buy I look at what actually is that need I would like to address and there forth decide on whether it fits with who I am, no wonder luxuries are for those with more money because inside them is those good looking products fitting with their status.

    where we buy no longer is an issue to me cause in our area products may be sold at prices which are almost similar. Adding value to the way a product is sold to a consumer plays a vital role in why people come back and buy.

    In our area people usually do not make decision on buyimng but are influence by wanting to have the same thing the other person has.

  3. Strong content and I agree with the author. As we see more division in demographics, changes, information, outlets, various incomes levels(welfare, low-income,low middle class, middle class, upper middle class, rich and super rich), will make buying behavior harder to predict.

  4. this article is very helpful in understanding the maslow’s theory

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Bryan Eisenberg, founder of FutureNow, is a professional marketing speaker and the co-author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books Call to Action and Waiting For Your Cat to Bark and Always Be Testing. You can friend him on Facebook or Twitter.

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