Today’s marketplace is characterised by fierce competition and customer satisfaction has increasingly become important as a key element and strategy for businesses to remain competitive (Gocek and Beceren, 2012; Rad, 2011; Wang and Ji, 2009; Kincade, Giddings and Chen-Yu, 1998; Matzler and Hinterhuber, 1998). A business needs to satisfy its customers against its competitors, in order to increase its medium and long term profitability (Peter and Olson in Gocek and Berecen, 2012). Customer satisfaction will lead to a return of sales, customer loyalty and customer retention. However, providing customer satisfaction requires an understanding of the customer’s perception of quality. Consumers who wear custom-made apparel are a market segment with specific preferences that need to be satisfied. Prior to acquisition, consumers form certain quality standards and then purchase apparel products to satisfy these standards (Kincade et al., 1998). Apparel quality evaluation can be very complex as consumers use specific product dimensions, which differ in their importance by product and the individual consumer. Since custom-made apparel products do not exist at the time of ordering, the complexity can intensify because evaluation of the quality can only take place when the product is complete and during wear and care. Inability to evaluate apparel quality before purchase could later lead to customer dissatisfaction (Kincade et al., 1998). Customer dissatisfaction resulting from failure of the apparel product to meet customers’ expectations could have negative impact on customer loyalty, customer retention and profitability.
Although several studies on apparel quality have been undertaken, only a few of them (De Klerk and Lubbe, 2008; De Klerk and Tselepis, 2007; De klerk and Lubbe, 2004; Tselepis and De Klerk, 2004; North, De Vos and Kotze, 2003) were in the context of South Africa, of which none specifically focused on custom-made apparel. Therefore, an empirical research study on the female custom-made apparel customers’ expectations and satisfaction regarding custom-made apparel was conducted. The aim of the study was to explore and describe how female custom-made apparel customers evaluate the quality of custom-made apparel. The study further describes how female custom-made apparel customers appraise the performance of custom-made apparel, the emotions they experience following appraisals, the coping strategies used by the dissatisfied customers, as well as the consequent post-purchasing behaviours of satisfied customers.
The expectancy-disconfirmation paradigm and the cognitive appraisal theory were chosen as theoretical perspectives to compile a conceptual framework for the study. The research is exploratory and descriptive, as it delves into an area of study on which no previous research could be traced in South Africa. A quantitative research style was employed. A survey was conducted by using a self-administered structured questionnaire to collect data. The theoretical background from the literature review was used to compile the questionnaire. In addition, the results of the one-on-one interviews conducted with twelve participants were used to facilitate the development of the questionnaire before it was finalised. The questionnaire included statements on a four-point Likert-type scale and a nominal Yes/No scale, which assessed the customers’ expectations and satisfaction. Prior to data collection, the questionnaire was pilot-tested on a sample of fifteen respondents and necessary adjustments were made. A non-probability purposive sampling method, combined with a snowballing technique was used to recruit respondents for the study. With the assistance of some fieldworkers and the designers who provide custom-made apparel, data were collected from 209 females, who resided in the East, South and West regions of Pretoria (Tshwane). The respondents were either satisfied or dissatisfied with their latest custom-made garment/outfit. Data were captured and analysed by descriptive statistical methods.
The findings revealed that the sensory, comfort, durability and emotional dimensions are significant in determining the quality of custom-made apparel. However, the respondents were not that satisfied with the performance of some of the dimensions they rated as important, especially the sensory and the emotional dimensions. More than three quarters of the respondents who were dissatisfied with the performance of their garments/outfits blamed the custom-made apparel businesses and they believed that the designers who made their garments/outfits could have prevented the poor performance. In a similar pattern, the satisfied respondents mostly praised the custom-made apparel businesses for the satisfactory performance of their outfits. Many of the dissatisfied respondents never contacted the designers to obtain redress. Instead, most of them spread negative-word-of-mouth and stopped to patronise their businesses. The findings suggest that external attribution of blame for the product’s poor performance alone does not necessarily lead to direct complaint behavioural outcomes like contacting the business to seek redress. The entire appraisal process, including personal and situational factors played a role in determining the subsequent behavioural outcomes. The study recommends that custom-made apparel businesses encourage customer feedback, in order to get the opportunity to rectify problems and to retain existing customers, while attracting new ones. Small businesses that provide custom-made apparel have a niche to offer their customers what large manufacturers cannot. If properly managed, custom-made apparel businesses could provide employment in the informal sector of South Africa, where fewer jobs are available. The findings of the study contribute to existing theory on the subject of South African female apparel customers, particularly the female custom-made apparel customer.