When consumers with limited product related consumer socialization migrate to more affluent communities and adopt new life styles later in life, they have to deal with a choice explosion that manifests as the paradox of progress and creates fertile ground for exploitation in the market place. Limited evidence could be found of how inexperienced consumers judge the quality of products as an indication of product reliability. This research was part of a larger research project that focused on major household appliances as a desirable commodity in modern households. This part of the project specifically aimed to identify the indicators (extrinsic factors) that are used to discriminate the quality of appliances during pre purchase evaluation. It was hypothesized that limited consumer socialization may result in a dependence on hedonics/ surrogate indicators of quality to compromise for the absence of appropriate product knowledge and personal product experience. A positivistic orientated research project that implemented a combination of qualitative and quantitative data collection techniques was designed to determine the quality judgment of major household appliances of more mature, previously deprived consumers in a specific geographical area. Experience with electricity and ownership of appliances were used to identify and recruit suitable individuals for participation. Supportive theory for this research included the theory of consumer socialization including product related consumer socialization, as well as the basic theory of consumer decision-making as it applies to quality judgment of major household appliances during pre-purchase evaluation. The inexperience of consumers in this part of the project was confirmed by their limited experience with electricity in their own households and limited ownership of appliances over time. A lamentable discrepancy was found between the anticipated and the reported service life figures for a list of 13 appliances. Although replacement purchases may be influenced by socio-economic variables, product characteristics and time factors, an upsetting low average service life for major appliances was calculated. Premature replacements could signify several problems e.g. irresponsible choice behaviour; poor after sales service, ignorance in terms of maintenance and care. Inexperienced consumers may for example also have unrealistic expectations. In terms of the criteria that are used to discriminate quality, BRAND NAME is apparently relied on strongly by all consumers, irrespective of their experience and socio economic status, which confirmed Dawar and Parker’s (1994) view of the existence of criteria of so-called “universal importance”. The inexperienced consumers in this part of the project revealed a significant higher reliance on surrogate indicators of quality such as PRICE, GUARANTEE and ADVERTISING. In terms of the product knowledge test that was included, the mean score for the sample was calculated to give an indication of participants’ potential to conclude informed buyer decisions in terms of knowledge of certain basic functional and performance attributes of appliances. Inexperienced consumers’ score in terms of product knowledge was alarmingly low. This confirms the theory of product related consumer socialization that proposes limited product knowledge with limited product related experience. Findings revealed a remarkable incongruity with respect to participants’ personal rating of the importance of quality in terms of the evaluation of household appliances and their apparent ability to do so. Only 3.2% of the older inexperienced consumers indicated quality per se to be of LITTLE or NO IMPORTANCE. The rest regarded it as very IMPORTANT or VERY IMPORTANT. When confronted with specific questions and tasks relating to product evaluation and quality judgment, the participants could not convince that they had the relevant product knowledge to discriminate quality in order to conclude informed, responsible buyer decisions with respect to major household appliances. In terms of the larger project, reliance on surrogate indicators during quality judgment manifested stronger among the inexperienced consumer groups. Findings also support Erdem et al (1999) who reported that materialistic values of aspirational groups generally result in dominance of social factors during product evaluation.
Dissertation (M (Consumer Science))--University of Pretoria, 2005.