What is Extensive Problem Solving, Limited Problem Solving and Routinised Response Behaviour

The choices we make as consumers all have some kind of consequence, and some will say that when making a decision we are actually choosing between consequences, or outcomes. As such outcomes differ in their level of importance, not all consumer decision making situations receive (or require) the same degree of information search.

If all purchase decisions required extensive effort, then consumer decision making would be an exhausting process that left little time for anything else. On the other hand, if all purchases were routine, then they would tend to be monotonous and would provide little pleasure or novelty. On a continuum of effort ranging from very high to very low, we can distinguish three specific levels of consumer decision making: extensive problem solving, limited problem solving, and routinised response behaviour. As a rule of thumb, decisions can be grouped into these categories depending on the importance of the outcome, and thus the importance of not choosing the wrong alternative.


Extensive problem solving

When consumers have no established criteria problem for evaluating a product category or specific brands in that category or have not narrowed the number of brands they will consider to a small, manageable subset, their decision making efforts can be classified as extensive problem solve . At this level, the consumer needs a great deal of information to establish a set of criteria on which to judge specific brands and a correspondingly large amount of information concerning each of the brands to be considered. Extensive problem solve usually occurs when buying products that are expensive, important and technically complicated, and implies long time commitments (e.g. a car, an apartment, a high definition television).


Limited problem solving

At the limited problem solve level , consumers have already established the basic criteria for evaluating the product category and the various brands in the category. However, they have not fully established preferences concerning a select group of brands. Their search for additional information is more like ‘fine tuning’; they must gather additional brand information to discriminate among the various brands. This level of problem solve commonly occurs when purchasing an updated version of a product the consumer has bought before, such as replacing a mobile phone with a new one, buying a food processor or replacing an old laptop with a new one.


Routinised response behaviour

At this level, consumers have experience with the product category and a well established set of criteria with which to evaluate the brands they are considering. In some situations, they may search for a small amount of additional information; in others, they simply review what they already know. Buying a refill of laundry detergent, toothpaste or hand soap are all examples of products consumers purchase more or less based on routine.

Just how extensive a consumer’s problem solve task is depends on how well established his or her criteria for selection are, how much information he or she has about each brand being considered, and how narrow the set of brands is from which the choice will be made.
Just how extensive a consumer’s problem solve task is depends on how well established his or her criteria for selection are, how much information he or she has about each brand being considered, and how narrow the set of brands is from which the choice will be made.


Clearly, extensive problem solving implies that the consumer must seek more information to make a choice, where as routinised response behaviour hardly ever implies a need for additional information. All decisions in our lives cannot be complex and require extensive search and consideration we just cannot exert the level of effort required. Some decisions problem have to be ‘easy ones’.