The purchase funnel: Introduction and Description

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The purchase funnel

The purchase/purchasing funnel is a model which describes the theoretical customer journey from the moment of the first contact with your brand to the ultimate goal of a purchase.

This model is important when marketing your business as it provides a method of understanding and tracking the behavior of an average customer throughout the sales process. This can help with the following:

  • Planning marketing campaigns
  • Highlighting areas in order to improve your conversion rate (from potential to actual customers)
  • Evolving the sales process
  • Designing customer relationship management (CRM) system

The shape, number of stages and duration of the process can vary depending on both the consumer and the nature of the product, as well as many other factors. Many different versions have been published, but the fundamental stages remain the same. A funnel shape is used as is describes the natural loss of potential customers at each stage – many people may be aware of a particular brand, but this does not mean they’ll purchase the product.

Note: The purchase funnel focuses on the decision making a path of a typical consumer. This is a different evolution of the sales funnel, which describes the typical active process a salesman can take in order to close a potential deal.

The modern purchase funnel:

purchase funnel

1. Pre-awareness

At this stage, the consumer has had no previous contact with your brand.

2. Awareness

People can be made aware of your brand with or without the desire to purchase. Awareness can be based on a communications message, word of mouth or independent discovery.

Purchase intent trigger

The moment at which the consumer starts thinking about a purchase could be triggered by an event, a change in circumstances, a pay rise, a need, or even an advertising message.

3. Research & familiarity

At this point, the potential customer has decided they want or need a product similar to yours. They are likely to start reading reviews, learning the features, making comparisons, asking for opinions, and using the internet to research their options in detail. This phase of the process can be lengthened or shortened depending on the value of the product – people are unlikely to spend time researching economy baked beans.

4. Opinion & shortlist

A decision on the most likely purchases, this could be in the form of a written list, a mental note, or bookmarked websites.

5. Consideration

Deciding between the most likely purchases, taking test-drives, going to product demonstrations, asking the opinion of people who have already purchased.

6. Decision & purchase

A final decision on the brand and product and whether they can afford it. Then take the plunge, online or in a more face to face environment.

7. Brand/product advocate (or saboteur)

Once the consumer has bought, they will very quickly form an opinion on the product. Were there hidden costs? Did it scratch easily? Did it use too much petrol? Did it go mouldy quickly? If the opinion is especially positive they may spread the news of your brand via word of mouth promotion and positive reviews. This process is made especially easy on the internet.

8. Repurchase intention

It’s an established marketing fact that existing customers are significantly easier to convert than a completely new prospect, so bear this in mind when designing your marketing strategy. At some point in the future, it is likely that the product will need to be replaced or upgraded. If they are pleased with their purchase, there is a high likelihood they will consider buying from you again, but the battle isn’t won yet.

Preconceptions and experience

Did the previous buy provide an excellent user experience, or break after a month? If it broke, customers may defect to your competitors. If your customer was happy, they may re-enter the funnel at Stage 3 – Familiarity.


Although the customer probably has a good idea about your brand, they will want to familiarise themselves with your current product range, and with your competition.

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