What Is Lewis’s Purchase Funnel?

By Scott Anderson Miller

In 1898, Elias St. Elmo Lewis developed what was called the Purchase Funnel. It was based on the idea that for a sale to occur, every consumer must take the same steps toward a purchase. No matter what the product; no matter who the person is, the journey is the same.

Lewis’s Purchase Funnel was revolutionary because he was one of the first to map a consumer’s purchase path. The Purchase Funnel consists of four steps taken in sequence, which lead the consumer down a path toward a purchase:

  1. Awareness

  2. Interest

  3. Desire

  4. Action (Purchase/Donation/Subscription)

Here’s an example: Suppose that you’re at the grocery store waiting in line to check out. You notice a point-of-sale rack filled with different brands of chewing gum (awareness). You think to yourself that you’d like some gum (interest). You usually buy the green spearmint sticks but today you notice an oddly-shaped package with cubes of gum. Although it’s not the brand you normally buy, you think it looks good and wonder if it will taste as good as the packaging makes it look (desire). The price for the new gum is the same as your regular brand, you notice, and so, what the heck . . . You hand it to the check-out clerk to scan with your other groceries (action — in this case, a purchase).

The original Purchase Funnel, as seen here, is functional in that it helps marketers understand the basic steps that connects a person with a product. It accurately maps a simple, quick commoditized purchase for which the market presents limited options.

Lewis's Purchase Funnel.

Lewis’s Purchase Funnel.

So, Lewis’s Purchase Funnel is a useful starting point. Every one of your customers became aware of your existence. At some point they demonstrated interest; they shopped based on a desired option that you offered, and ultimately they purchased from you.

Numerous variations on this concept have cropped up since Lewis’s time. A popular variation breaks the steps down even further — into sub-steps such as Top of Funnel (ToFu), Middle of Funnel (MoFu), and Bottom of Funnel (BoFu). (See the following figure.) These substeps are as follows:

  1. Awareness (ToFu)

  2. Opinion (ToFu)

  3. Consideration (MoFu)

  4. Preference (MoFu)

  5. Shopping (BoFu)

  6. Purchase (BoFu)

    The slightly-evolved Purchase Funnel.

    The slightly-evolved Purchase Funnel.

The steps shown here account for more steps in a consumer purchase, but it still assumes a linear, logical path. Additionally, there is a definitive termination with the end purchase. The Purchase Funnel is common language for many marketers.