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Extensive Problem Solving - Definition, Importance & Example

What is extensive problem solving.

Extensive problem solving is the purchase decision marking in a situation in which the buyer has no information, experience about the products, services and suppliers. In extensive problem solving, lack of information also spreads to the brands for the product and also the criterion that they set for segregating the brands to be small or manageable subsets that help in the purchasing decision later. Consumers usually go for extensive problem solving when they discover that a need is completely new to them which requires significant effort to satisfy it.

The decision making process of a customer includes different levels of purchase decisions, i.e. extensive problem solving, limited problem solving and routinized choice behaviour.

Elements of Extensive Problem Solving

The various parameters which leads to extensive problem solving are:

1. Highly Priced Products: Like a car, house

2. Infrequent Purchases: Purchasing an automobile, HD TV

3. More Customer Participation: Purchasing a laptop with selection of RAM, ROM, display etc

4. Unfamiliar Product Category: Real-estate is a very unexplored category

5. Extensive Research & Time: Locality of buying house, proximity to hospital, station, market etc.

All these parameters or elements leads to extensive problem solving for the customer while taking a decision to make a purchase.

Extensive Problem Solving

Importance of Extensive Problem Solving

It is very important for marketers to know the process that customers go through before purchasing. They cannot rely upon re-buys and word of mouth all the time for acquiring new customers. The customer in general goes through problem recognition, information search, evaluation, purchase decision and post-purchase evaluation. Closely related to a purchase decision is the problem solving phase. A new product with long term investment leads to extensive problem solving from a customer. This signifies that not all buying situations are same. A rebuy is very much different from a first choice purchase. The recognition that a brand enjoys in a customer’s mind helps the customer to make purchase decisions easily. If the brand has a dedicated marketing communication effort, whenever a consumer feels the need for a new product, they instantly go for it.

To help customers in extensive problem solving, companies must have clear transparent communication. It is thus very important for marketers to use a proper marketing mix so that they can have some cognition from their customers when they think of new products. With the advent of social media, the number of channels for promotion have hugely developed and they require a clear understanding on the segment of customer that each channel serves. The communication channels should lucidly differentiate themselves from other brands so that they are purchased quickly and easily.

Example of Extensive Problem Solving

Let us suppose, that Amber wants to buy a High Definition TV. The problem being, she has no idea regarding it. This is a case of extensive problem solving as the amount of information is low, the risk she is taking is high as she is going with the opinion that she gathers from her peers, the item is expensive and at the same time it also demands huge amount of involvement from the customer. Similarly, buying high price and long-term assets or products like car, motorcycle, house etc leads to extensive problem solving decision for the customers.

Hence, this concludes the definition of Extensive Problem Solving along with its overview.

This article has been researched & authored by the Business Concepts Team . It has been reviewed & published by the MBA Skool Team. The content on MBA Skool has been created for educational & academic purpose only.

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Module 4: Identifying and Understanding Customer Behavior

Increasing sales with extended problem solving, learning objectives.

  • Describe how a retailer can increase sales from customers engaged in extended problem solving

Consumers with an extended problem solving mindset put a great deal of effort into their purchase decision, gathering information through research and taking care to evaluate all options, before arriving at a decision. Because of the time and energy committed to the search, this diligence is more likely dedicated to the selection and purchase of high-consideration or high-value items like cars, electronics and appliances. Or, it may be focused on something that is new or infrequently purchased. Thus, the consumer feels compelled to do more research to ensure their needs will be satisfied.

While it may be tempting to assume that these shoppers are mostly concerned with quantitative assessment of the alternatives, motivations can also be qualitative, building on external influences like cultural norms and family influences. Yet, it should be noted that these customers are deliberate in their process and are unlikely to be swayed directly by advertising, merchandising and promotion. As such, salespeople can be important in helping the consumer arrive at a decision.

For these shoppers, a salesperson will need to be able to engage the consumer to understand what their specific needs and concerns are, relative to the purchase. That is, what are they specifically hoping to get by buying the product– not the item itself, but what benefits it will provide? Further, the salesperson will need to be able to speak to how well specific features will meet the consumer’s stated needs. And, they will need to be educated on the features & benefits of both the goods they’re selling and those of competitive items, as they will likely need to compare and contract specific differences.

Because these consumers with an extended problem solving mindset are deliberate in their shopping process, salespeople should expect that they will not “close the sale,” during their first interaction. Instead, they may need to nurture the relationship with the customer, helping them arrive at their purchase decision over time. Thus, effective salespeople will be those who engage in follow-up with the shopper, making themselves available to answer questions or provide perspective.

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  • Increasing Sales with Extended Problem Solving. Authored by : Patrick Williams. Provided by : Lumen Learning. License : CC BY: Attribution

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extended problem solving in a buying decision example

Extended Problem Solving

We know of many theories about the way consumers buy brands and debate still continues about their respective strengths and weaknesses. For example, some argue that brand choice can be explained by what is known as ‘the expectancy value model’. In this model, it is argued that consumers intuitively assign scores to two variables, one being the degree to which they expect a pleasurable outcome the other being the value they ascribe to a favorable outcome. When faced with competing brands, this model postulates that consumers assign scores to these expectancy-value parameters and following an informal mental calculation, make a selection based on highest overall scores.

We find this hard to accept, since people have limited mental processing capabilities and many brands, particularly regularly purchased brands, are bought without much rational consideration. In reality consumers face a complex world. They are limited both by economic resources and by their ability to seek, store and process brand information. For this reason we are also skeptical of the economist’s view of consumer behavior. This hypothesizes that consumers seek information until the marginal value gained is equal to or less than the cost of securing that knowledge.

The stages in the buying process, when consumers seek information about brands and the extent of the information search, are influenced by an array of factors such as time pressure, previous experience, advice from friends, and so on. However, two factors are particularly useful in explaining how consumers decide. One is the extent of their involvement in the brand purchase and their perceptions of any differences between competing brands. For example, a housewife may become very involved when buying a washing machine, because with her large family it is important that she replaces it quickly. She will show active interest in evaluating different brands and will choose the brand, which closely satisfies her needs. By contrast, the same housewife is likely to show limited involvement when buying a packet of bread as they are of little personal important and form only a small chunk of her grocery list. She may perceive minimal difference between competing brands and does not wish to waste time considering different brands.

With the appreciation of the extent of consumer’s involvement when in a purchase decision and their perception of the degree of differentiation between brands, it is possible to categorize the different decision process using the matrix shown below.

Image 12

The strength of this matrix, as I will just tell you, is that it illustrates simply the stages through which the consumer is likely to pass when making different types of brand purchases.

Extended problem solving occurs when consumers are involved in the purchase and where they perceive significant differences between competing brands in the same product field. This type of decision process is likely for high-prices brands which are generally perceived as a risky purchase due to their complexity (e.g. washing machines, cars, hi-fi music systems, home computers) or brands that reflect the buyer’s consumers actively searching for information to evaluate alternative brands. When making a complex purchase decision, consumers pass through the five stages shown in the figure.

Image 13

Stage 1 – Problem Recognition

The decision process starts when the consumer becomes aware of a problem. For example, a young man may have heard his friend’s new hi-fi music system and become aware of how inferior his own system sounds. This recognition would trigger a need to resolve the problem and, if he feels particularly strongly, he will embark on a course to replace his system. Depending upon his urgency to act and his situation (e.g. time availability, financial situation, confidence, etc) he might take action quickly or more likely he will become more attentive to information about hi-fi and buy a brand some time later.

Stage 2 – Information Search

The search for information would start first in his memory and if he feels confident that he has sufficient information already he will be able to evaluate the available brands. Often, though, consumers do not feel sufficiently confident to rely on memory alone (particularly for infrequently bought brands), so they will begin to scan the external environment (e.g. visit shops, become attentive to certain advertisements, and talk to friends). As they get more information, the highly involved consumer will start to learn how to interpret the information in their evaluation of competing brands.

Even so, consumers do not single-mindedly search for information about one particular purchase. It has been estimated that in one day people are bombarded by over 1000 different marketing messages-of which they are attentive to less than 2 percent. Consumers’ perceptual processes protect them from information overload and help them search and interpret new information.

Stage 3 – Evaluation of Alternatives

As the consumer mentally processes messages about competing brands, he would evaluate them against those criteria deemed to be most important. Brand beliefs are then formed. (e.g. Sony system has a wide range of features; it’s well priced, etc) in turn, these beliefs begin to mould an attitude and if a sufficiently positive attitude evolves, so there is a greater likelihood of a positive intention to buy that brand.

Stage 4 – Purchase

Having decided which brand to buy, the consumer would then make the purchase-assuming a distributor can be found for that particular brand and that the brand is in stock.

Stage 5 – Post-Purchase Evaluation

One the system is installed at home; the consumer would discover its capabilities and assess how well his expectations were met by the brand. He would be undertaking post-purchase evaluation. Satisfaction with different aspects of the brand will strengthen positive beliefs and attitudes towards the brand. If this happens, the consumer would be proud of his purchase and praise its attributes to his peer group. With a high level of satisfaction, the consumer would look favorably at this company’s brands in any future purchase.

In Case of Dissatisfaction

Should the consumer be dissatisfied though, he would seek further information after the purchase to provide reassurance that the correct choice was made. For example, he may go back to the outlet, where the brand was bought, and check that the controls are being used properly and that the speakers are correctly connected. If he finds sufficiently reassuring information confirming a wise brand choice, he will be more satisfied. Without such positive support, he will become disenchanted with the brand and over time will become more dissatisfied. He is likely to talk to others about his experience, not only vowing never to buy that brand again, but also convincing others that the brand should not be bought.

In Case of Satisfaction

In the event that the consumer is satisfied with the brand purchase and repeats it in a relatively short period of time (buys a system for his car of the same brand), he is unlikely to undergo such a detailed search and evaluation process.

Instead he is likely to follow what has now become a more routine problem solving process. Problem recognition would be followed by memory search which, with prior satisfaction would reveal clear intentions, leading to a purchase. Brand loyalty would ensue, which would be reinforced by continued satisfaction (should quality be maintained).

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6.3 Types of Consumer Decisions

As you read through the stages of the decision making process, did you think “Wait a minute. I do this sometimes but not all the time”? That is indicative of the different levels of involvement within the decision making process. In this section, we will examine this difference in more detail and how it may impact the marketing strategy.

Levels of Involvement in Decision Making

As you have seen, many factors influence a consumer’s behavior. Depending on a consumer’s experience and knowledge, some consumers may be able to make quick purchase decisions and other consumers may need to get information and be more involved in the decision process before making a purchase. The  level of involvement  reflects how personally important or interested you are in consuming a product and how much information you need to make a decision. The level of involvement in buying decisions may be considered a continuum from decisions that are fairly routine (consumers are not very involved) to decisions that require extensive thought and a high level of involvement. Whether a decision is low, high, or limited, involvement varies by consumer, not by product, although some products such as purchasing a house typically require a high-involvement for all consumers. Consumers with no experience purchasing a product may have more involvement than someone who is replacing a product.

You have probably thought about many products you want or need but never did much more than that. At other times, you’ve probably looked at dozens of products, compared them, and then decided not to purchase any one of them. When you run out of products such as milk or bread that you buy on a regular basis, you may buy the product as soon as you recognize the need because you do not need to search for information or evaluate alternatives. As Nike would put it, you “just do it.” Low-involvement decisions are, however, typically products that are relatively inexpensive and pose a low risk to the buyer if they makes a mistake by purchasing them.

Consumers often engage in routine, or habitual, behavior when they make low-involvement decisions—that is, they make automatic purchase decisions based on limited information or information they have gathered in the past. For example, if you always order a Diet Coke at lunch, you’re engaging in routine response behavior. You may not even think about other drink options at lunch because your routine is to order a Diet Coke, and you simply do it. Similarly, if you run out of Diet Coke at home, you may buy more without any information search.

Some low-involvement purchases are made with no planning or previous thought. These buying decisions are called impulse buying. While you’re waiting to check out at the grocery store, perhaps you see a magazine with the latest celebrity or influencer on the cover and buy it on the spot simply because you want it. You might see a roll of tape at a check-out stand and remember you need one or you might see a bag of chips and realize you’re hungry or just want them.

By contrast, high-involvement decisions carry a higher risk to buyers if they fail, are complex, and/or have high price tags. A car, a house, and an insurance policy are examples. These items are not purchased often but are relevant and important to the buyer. Buyers don’t engage in routine response behavior when purchasing high-involvement products. Instead, consumers engage in what’s called extended problem solving where they spend a lot of time comparing different aspects such as the features of the products, prices, and warranties.

High-involvement decisions can cause buyers a great deal of cognitive (postpurchase) dissonance (anxiety) if they are unsure about their purchases or if they had a difficult time deciding between two alternatives. Companies that sell high-involvement products are aware that dissonance can be a problem. Frequently, they try to offer consumers a lot of information about their products, including why they are superior to competing brands and how they won’t let the consumer down. Salespeople may be utilized to answer questions and do a lot of customer “hand-holding.”

A window with the Allstate insurance company logo.

Allstate’s “You’re in Good Hands” advertisements are designed to convince consumers that the insurance company won’t let them down.

Mike Mozart –  Allstate,  – CC BY 2.0.

Limited problem solving falls somewhere between low-involvement (routine) and high-involvement (extended problem solving) decisions. Consumers engage in limited problem solving when they already have some information about a good or service but continue to search for a little more information. Assume you need a new backpack for a hiking trip. While you are familiar with backpacks, you know that new features and materials are available since you purchased your last backpack. You’re going to spend some time looking for one that’s decent because you don’t want it to fall apart while you’re traveling and dump everything you’ve packed on a hiking trail. You might do a little research online and come to a decision relatively quickly. You might consider the choices available at your favorite retail outlet but not look at every backpack at every outlet before making a decision. Or you might rely on the advice of a person you know who’s knowledgeable about backpacks. In some way you shorten or limit your involvement and the decision-making process.

Products, such as chewing gum, which may be low-involvement for many consumers, often use advertising such as commercials and sales promotions such as coupons to reach many consumers at once. Companies also try to sell products such as gum in as many locations as possible.  Many products that are typically high-involvement such as automobiles may use more personal selling to answer consumers’ questions. Brand names can also be very important regardless of the consumer’s level of purchasing involvement. Consider a low- versus high-involvement decision—say, purchasing a tube of toothpaste versus a new car. You might routinely buy your favorite brand of toothpaste, not thinking much about the purchase (engage in routine response behavior), but not be willing to switch to another brand either. Having a brand you like saves you “search time” and eliminates the evaluation period because you know what you’re getting.

When it comes to the car, you might engage in extensive problem solving but, again, only be willing to consider a certain brand or brands. For example, in the 1970s, American-made cars had such a poor reputation for quality that buyers joked that a car that’s “not Jap [Japanese made] is crap.” The quality of American cars is very good today, but you get the picture. If it’s a high-involvement product you’re purchasing, a good brand name is probably going to be very important to you. That’s why the manufacturers of products that are typically high-involvement decisions can’t become complacent about the value of their brands.

You Try It!

Marketing Copyright © by Kim Donahue is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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extended problem solving in a buying decision example

  • List 5 business acts in Malaysia
  • Discuss with examples, types of consumers decision making.

As a consumer ourselves, we usually strive to make a better decision in every purchasing process. Be it for a basic item, convenience foods, stocking up our running low pantry or even for the sake of buying luxury and comfort items; as much as we could, we try to buy item with the best value, according to certain budget that we have and scientifically, without we realize, one buying decision is literally so much about solving one’s daily needs or perhaps to give solution to a problem that rise. One classic situation that anyone may have experienced; a running low tooth-paste would be a problem in the next morning if, you don’t buy a new one today. But when you went to the nearby convenience shop, unfortunately your ‘usual’ brand is not there.

As the introduction; the consumer decision process for different products required varying amounts of problem-solving efforts. Hence, marketers recognize three categories of problem-solving behavior; routinized response behavior, limited problem solving and extended problem solving. The classification of a particular purchase within this framework clearly influence the consumer decision process (Dave Kurtz, 2012). Examples will be used in explaining each point of the categories that were mentioned earlier.

1. Routinized response

A lot of people drink coffee in the morning. Hence, a cup of coffee before you start your day every day has been a routine for you. But, you may not want to drink any regular coffee; your preferred coffee is the Starbucks coffee. And maybe in some unusual day where Starbucks is running out of your favorite coffee flavor, you probably had to switch to other shop just because they sell your favorite. Although you can get other type of coffee from Starbucks, but it will never tasted the same like your routine coffee. Therefore, without wasting anytime, the immediate response to the situation is just to get it solves by purchasing other acceptable brand. This type of rapid consumer problem solving is referred to as routinized response behavior. The routine purchase of the same brand of coffee (for example) to some consumers is getting, perhaps, so personalize and so involved hence it reflects in one purchasing behavior. The consumers has already set evaluative criteria and identified available options. External search i.e. perhaps you could just purchase any irregular coffee flavor in that moment of morning rush hours, however, doing so is extremely for low-involvement products.

2. Limited problem solving

Limited problem solving is another type of consumer problem-solving process that consumers use when they purchase products occasionally or need information about unfamiliar brands in a familiar product category; it requires a moderate amount of time for information gathering and deliberation. For instance, consumers with sensitive skin may fall under this category of purchasing process. People with sensitive skin usually are more conscious about skin care products. Once they have a specific brand that they been using, it will take some times for the person to switch to another unfamiliar brand. Product brand such as SIMPLE skin care products are the specific product category for women with sensitive skin. The products have been more than 50 years in the global market and the products are working very well. If someone is using SIMPLE products and the products really work well on that person, for that person to switch to another brand for the same solution might requires a careful evaluation and it won’t be immediate process.

3. Extended problem solving Working women love how technology can help to ease their work in the kitchen. Especially if they can cook family favorite beef bones stew in less than an hour. Traditionally, for the stew to taste at its best taste is to cook them for more than two hours on a normal cooking stove. The short cut to this process is to cook using the pressure cooker. No doubt, the price for a unit of a pressure cooker is quite expensive and many brands sell the same product. Therefore a consumer usually wants to understand the products features and other benefits before evaluating alternatives. The lengthy external searches and high-involvement of purchase decisions is known as extended problem solving purchasing process.

Reference: David L.Kurtz. 2012. Principle of Contemporary Marketing: Classifying Consumer Problem-Solving Processes. Part 2, Chapter 5, Page 158-159. 15th Edition. United States, South-Western Cengage Learning.

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Individual Consumer Decision Making

29 Consumer Decision Making Process

An organization that wants to be successful must consider buyer behavior when developing the marketing mix. Buyer behavior is the actions people take with regard to buying and using products. Marketers must understand buyer behavior, such as how raising or lowering a price will affect the buyer’s perception of the product and therefore create a fluctuation in sales, or how a specific review on social media can create an entirely new direction for the marketing mix based on the comments (buyer behavior/input) of the target market.

The Consumer Decision Making Process

Once the process is started, a potential buyer can withdraw at any stage of making the actual purchase. The tendency for a person to go through all six stages is likely only in certain buying situations—a first time purchase of a product, for instance, or when buying high priced, long-lasting, infrequently purchased articles. This is referred to as complex decision making .

For many products, the purchasing behavior is a routine affair in which the aroused need is satisfied in a habitual manner by repurchasing the same brand. That is, past reinforcement in learning experiences leads directly to buying, and thus the second and third stages are bypassed. This is called simple decision making .

However, if something changes appreciably (price, product, availability, services), the buyer may re-enter the full decision process and consider alternative brands. Whether complex or simple, the first step is need identification (Assael, 1987).

A comparison between the "simple" and "complex" decision making process a consumer would experience depending on involvement and purchase.

When Inertia Takes Over

Need Recognition

Whether we act to resolve a particular problem depends upon two factors: (1) the magnitude of the discrepancy between what we have and what we need, and (2) the importance of the problem. A consumer may desire a new Cadillac and own a five-year-old Chevrolet. The discrepancy may be fairly large but relatively unimportant compared to the other problems they face. Conversely, an individual may own a car that is two years old and running very well. Yet, for various reasons, they may consider it extremely important to purchase a car this year. People must resolve these types of conflicts before they can proceed. Otherwise, the buying process for a given product stops at this point, probably in frustration.

Once the problem is recognized it must be defined in such a way that the consumer can actually initiate the action that will bring about a relevant problem solution. Note that, in many cases, problem recognition and problem definition occur simultaneously, such as a consumer running out of toothpaste. Consider the more complicated problem involved with status and image–how we want others to see us. For example, you may know that you are not satisfied with your appearance, but you may not be able to define it any more precisely than that. Consumers will not know where to begin solving their problem until the problem is adequately defined.

Marketers can become involved in the need recognition stage in three ways. First they need to know what problems consumers are facing in order to develop a marketing mix to help solve these problems. This requires that they measure problem recognition. Second, on occasion, marketers want to activate problem recognition. Public service announcements espousing the dangers of cigarette smoking is an example. Weekend and night shop hours are a response of retailers to the consumer problem of limited weekday shopping opportunities. This problem has become particularly important to families with two working adults. Finally, marketers can also shape the definition of the need or problem. If a consumer needs a new coat, do they define the problem as a need for inexpensive covering, a way to stay warm on the coldest days, a garment that will last several years, warm cover that will not attract odd looks from their peers, or an article of clothing that will express their personal sense of style? A salesperson or an ad may shape their answers

Information Search

After a need is recognized, the prospective consumer may seek information to help identify and evaluate alternative products, services, and outlets that will meet that need. Such information can come from family, friends, personal observation, or other sources, such as Consumer Reports, salespeople, or mass media. The promotional component of the marketers offering is aimed at providing information to assist the consumer in their problem solving process. In some cases, the consumer already has the needed information based on past purchasing and consumption experience. Bad experiences and lack of satisfaction can destroy repeat purchases. The consumer with a need for tires may look for information in the local newspaper or ask friends for recommendation. If they have bought tires before and was satisfied, they may go to the same dealer and buy the same brand.

Information search can also identify new needs. As a tire shopper looks for information, they may decide that the tires are not the real problem, that the need is for a new car. At this point, the perceived need may change triggering a new informational search. Information search involves mental as well as the physical activities that consumers must perform in order to make decisions and accomplish desired goals in the marketplace. It takes time, energy, money, and can often involve foregoing more desirable activities. The benefits of information search, however, can outweigh the costs. For example, engaging in a thorough information search may save money, improve quality of selection, or reduce risks. The Internet is a valuable information source.

Evaluation of Alternatives

After information is secured and processed, alternative products, services, and outlets are identified as viable options. The consumer evaluates these alternatives , and, if financially and psychologically able, makes a choice. The criteria used in evaluation varies from consumer to consumer just as the needs and information sources vary. One consumer may consider price most important while another puts more weight (importance) upon quality or convenience.

Using the ‘Rule of Thumb’

Consumers don’t have the time or desire to ponder endlessly about every purchase! Fortunately for us, heuristics , also described as shortcuts or mental “rules of thumb”, help us make decisions quickly and painlessly. Heuristics are especially important to draw on  when we are faced with choosing among products in a category where we don’t see huge differences or if the outcome isn’t ‘do or die’.

Heuristics are helpful sets of rules that simplify the decision-making process by making it quick and easy for consumers.

Common Heuristics in Consumer Decision Making

  • Save the most money: Many people follow a rule like, “I’ll buy the lowest-priced choice so that I spend the least money right now.” Using this heuristic means you don’t need to look beyond the price tag to make a decision. Wal-Mart built a retailing empire by pleasing consumers who follow this rule.
  • You get what you pay for: Some consumers might use the opposite heuristic of saving the most money and instead follow a rule such as: “I’ll buy the more expensive product because higher price means better quality.” These consumers are influenced by advertisements alluding to exclusivity, quality, and uncompromising performance.
  • Stich to the tried and true: Brand loyalty also simplifies the decision-making process because we buy the brand that we’ve always bought before. therefore, we don’t need to spend more time and effort on the decision. Advertising plays a critical role in creating brand loyalty. In a study of the market leaders in thirty product categories, 27 of the brands that were #1 in 1930 were still at the top over 50 years later (Stevesnson, 1988)! A well known brand name is a powerful heuristic .
  • National pride: Consumers who select brands because they represent their own culture and country of origin are making decision based on ethnocentrism . Ethnocentric consumers are said to perceive their own culture or country’s goods as being superior to others’. Ethnocentrism can behave as both a stereotype and a type of heuristic for consumers who are quick to generalize and judge brands based on their country of origin.
  • Visual cues: Consumers may also rely on visual cues represented in product and packaging design. Visual cues may include the colour of the brand or product or deeper beliefs that they have developed about the brand. For example, if brands claim to support sustainability and climate activism, consumers want to believe these to be true. Visual cues such as green design and neutral-coloured packaging that appears to be made of recycled materials play into consumers’ heuristics .

The search for alternatives and the methods used in the search are influenced by such factors as: (a) time and money costs; (b) how much information the consumer already has; (c) the amount of the perceived risk if a wrong selection is made; and (d) the consumer’s predisposition toward particular choices as influenced by the attitude of the individual toward choice behaviour. That is, there are individuals who find the selection process to be difficult and disturbing. For these people there is a tendency to keep the number of alternatives to a minimum, even if they have not gone through an extensive information search to find that their alternatives appear to be the very best. On the other hand, there are individuals who feel it necessary to collect a long list of alternatives. This tendency can appreciably slow down the decision-making function.

Consumer Evaluations Made Easier

The evaluation of alternatives often involves consumers drawing on their evoke, inept, and insert sets to help them in the decision making process.

The brands and products that consumers compare—their evoked set – represent the alternatives being considered by consumers during the problem-solving process. Sometimes known as a “consideration” set, the evoked set tends to be small relative to the total number of options available. When a consumer commits significant time to the comparative process and reviews price, warranties, terms and condition of sale and other features it is said that they are involved in extended problem solving. Unlike routine problem solving, extended or extensive problem solving comprises external research and the evaluation of alternatives. Whereas, routine problem solving is low-involvement, inexpensive, and has limited risk if purchased, extended problem solving justifies the additional effort with a high-priced or scarce product, service, or benefit (e.g., the purchase of a car). Likewise, consumers use extensive problem solving for infrequently purchased, expensive, high-risk, or new goods or services.

As opposed to the evoked set, a consumer’s inept set represent those brands that they would not given any consideration too. For a consumer who is shopping around for an electric vehicle, for example, they would not even remotely consider gas-guzzling vehicles like large SUVs.

The inert set represents those brands or products a consumer is aware of, but is indifferent to and doesn’t consider them either desirable or relevant enough to be among the evoke set. Marketers have an opportunity here to position their brands appropriately so consumers move these items from their insert to evoke set when evaluation alternatives.

The selection of an alternative, in many cases, will require additional evaluation. For example, a consumer may select a favorite brand and go to a convenient outlet to make a purchase. Upon arrival at the dealer, the consumer finds that the desired brand is out-of-stock. At this point, additional evaluation is needed to decide whether to wait until the product comes in, accept a substitute, or go to another outlet. The selection and evaluation phases of consumer problem solving are closely related and often run sequentially, with outlet selection influencing product evaluation, or product selection influencing outlet evaluation.

While many consumers would agree that choice is a good thing, there is such a thing as “too much choice” that inhibits the consumer decision making process. Consumer hyperchoice is a term used to describe purchasing situations that involve an excess of choice thus making selection for difficult for consumers. Dr. Sheena Iyengar studies consumer choice and collects data that supports the concept of consumer hyperchoice. In one of her studies, she put out jars of jam in a grocery store for shoppers to sample, with the intention to influence purchases. Dr. Iyengar discovered that when a fewer number of jam samples were provided to shoppers, more purchases were made. But when a large number of jam samples were set out, fewer purchases were made (Green, 2010). As it turns out, “more is less” when it comes to the selection process.

The Purchase Decision

After much searching and evaluating, or perhaps very little, consumers at some point have to decide whether they are going to buy.

Anything marketers can do to simplify purchasing will be attractive to buyers. This may include minimal clicks to online checkout; short wait times in line; and simplified payment options. When it comes to advertising marketers could also suggest the best size for a particular use, or the right wine to drink with a particular food. Sometimes several decision situations can be combined and marketed as one package. For example, travel agents often package travel tours with flight and hotel reservations.

To do a better marketing job at this stage of the buying process, a seller needs to know answers to many questions about consumers’ shopping behaviour. For instance, how much effort is the consumer willing to spend in shopping for the product? What factors influence when the consumer will actually purchase? Are there any conditions that would prohibit or delay purchase? Providing basic product, price, and location information through labels, advertising, personal selling, and public relations is an obvious starting point. Product sampling, coupons, and rebates may also provide an extra incentive to buy.

Actually determining how a consumer goes through the decision-making process is a difficult research task.

Post-Purchase Behaviour

All the behaviour determinants and the steps of the buying process up to this point are operative before or during the time a purchase is made. However, a consumer’s feelings and evaluations after the sale are also significant to a marketer, because they can influence repeat sales and also influence what the customer tells others about the product or brand.

Keeping the customer happy is what marketing is all about. Nevertheless, consumers typically experience some post-purchase anxiety after all but the most routine and inexpensive purchases. This anxiety reflects a phenomenon called cognitive dissonance . According to this theory, people strive for consistency among their cognitions (knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, values). When there are inconsistencies, dissonance exists, which people will try to eliminate. In some cases, the consumer makes the decision to buy a particular brand already aware of dissonant elements. In other instances, dissonance is aroused by disturbing information that is received after the purchase. The marketer may take specific steps to reduce post-purchase dissonance. Advertising that stresses the many positive attributes or confirms the popularity of the product can be helpful. Providing personal reinforcement has proven effective with big-ticket items such as automobiles and major appliances. Salespeople in these areas may send cards or may even make personal calls in order to reassure customers about their purchase.

Media Attributions

  • The graphic of the “Consumer Decision Making Process” by Niosi, A. (2021) is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA and is adapted from Introduction to Business by Rice University.

Text Attributions

  • The sections under the “Consumer Decision Making Process,” “Need Recognition” (edited), “Information Search,” “Evaluation of Alternatives”; the first paragraph under the section “Selection”; the section under “Purchase Decision”; and, the section under “Post-Purchase Behaviour” are adapted from Introducing Marketing [PDF] by John Burnett which is licensed under CC BY 3.0 .
  • The opening paragraph and the image of the Consumer Decision Making Process is adapted from Introduction to Business by Rice University which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License .
  • The section under “Using the ‘Rule of Thumb'” is adapted (and edited) from Launch! Advertising and Promotion in Real Time [PDF] by Saylor Academy which is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 .

Assael, H. (1987). Consumer Behavior and Marketing Action (3rd ed.), 84. Boston: Kent Publishing.

Green, P. (2010, March 17). An Expert on Choice Chooses. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/18/garden/18choice.html.

Consumer purchases made when a (new) need is identified and a consumer engages in a more rigorous evaluation, research, and alternative assessment process before satisfying the unmet need.

Consumer purchases made when a need is identified and a habitual ("routine") purchase is made to satisfy that need.

Purchasing decisions made out of habit.

The first stage of the Consumer Decision Making Process, need recognition takes place when a consumer identifies an unmet need.

The second stage of the Consumer Decision Making Process, information search takes place when a consumer seeks relative information that will help them identify and evaluate alternatives before deciding on the final purchase decision.

The third stage of the Consumer Decision Making Process, the evaluation of alternatives takes place when a consumer establishes criteria to evaluate the most viable purchasing option.

Also known as "mental shortcuts" or "rules of thumb", heuristics help consumers by simplifying the decision-making process.

A small set of "go-to" brands that consumers will consider as they evaluate the alternatives available to them before making a purchasing decision.

The brands a consumer would not pay any attention to during the evaluation of alternatives process.

The brands a consumer is aware of but indifferent to, when evaluating alternatives in the consumer decision making process. The consumer may deem these brands irrelevant and will therefore exclude them from any extensive evaluation or consideration.

A term that describes a purchasing situation in which a consumer is faced with an excess of choice that makes decision making difficult or nearly impossible.

A type of cognitive inconsistency, this term describes the discomfort consumers may feel when their beliefs, values, attitudes, or perceptions are inconsistent or contradictory to their original belief or understanding. Consumers with cognitive dissonance related to a purchasing decision will often seek to resolve this internal turmoil they are experiencing by returning the product or finding a way to justify it and minimizing their sense of buyer's remorse.

Introduction to Consumer Behaviour by Andrea Niosi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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  1. Extensive Problem Solving

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  2. Discuss with examples, types of consumers decision making.

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  3. Consumer Behavior

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  6. Decision Making and Problem Solving

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