Patterns of Information Acquisition in New Product Purchases (Abstract)

Carol A. Kohn, Purdue University
Jacob Jacoby, Purdue University
[ to cite ]:
Carol A. Kohn and Jacob Jacoby (1974) ,"Patterns of Information Acquisition in New Product Purchases (Abstract)", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 01, eds. Scott Ward and Peter Wright, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 427-430.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, 1974    Pages 427-430


Carol A. Kohn, Purdue University

Jacob Jacoby, Purdue University

The role of the consumer is most often that of a decision maker who, after first deciding what to buy, must choose from among the wide assortment of types, models, variations, and brands confronting her. Current models of consumer behavior tend to view this decision making process as consisting of several stages. However, research methodologies appropriate for investigating dynamic processes are not generally utilized.

When one of the purchase alternatives available is a new product or brand, the decision making process and concomitant behavior are somewhat different since the consumer has little information regarding the new product relative to that which she has about established alternatives. In particular, both the quantity and type of information secured, and the order in which this information is obtained can vary.

Methodologically, consider the empirical literature dealing with innovators. The typical study begins by applying various operational definitions (cf. Hart & Jacoby, 1973; Kohn & Jacoby, 1973; Robertson, 1971, pp. 5-6; 87-92) on a post hoc basis to a sample of subjects for purposes of dividing them into "innovator" and "non-innovator" subsamples. Then, either standard psychometric instruments are applied (e.g., Arndt, 1967; Coney, 1972; Jacoby, 1971) and/or, more commonly, socio-demographic and "recall" data are obtained (e.g., Rogers, 1958; Robertson, 1967) and the investigator proceeds to determine whether the two subsamples differ meaningfully along these dimensions. The notion of consumer behavior as a decision process is thus obscured and the investigator can only conjecture as to what actually happened during the temporal sequence leading to the purchase decision.

In contrast, the methodology of the present study enables the decision making process to be recorded as an ongoing, dynamic event. Given several sources (i.e., types) of product information, patterns of information acquisition -- i.e., the amount and type of information obtained, and the order in which this information is acquired -- can be compared for decision processes which resulted in the selection of a "new" vs. an "established" purchase alternative. Moreover, given that such decision processes are studied over several product categories, the information acquisition patterns of those who innovate across several products can be compared with those who tend not to be innovators at all.

While some studies show that innovators engage in more word-of-mouth communication than do non-innovators (Robertson, 1968; and Engel, Kegerreis, & Blackwell, 1469), other evidence exists to show that later adopters seek more information from personal sources (Rogers & Shoemaker, 1971) than do early adopters.

Given the belief that "process" research can facilitate the resolution of such conflicting data. the two major purposes of the present investigation were: (l) to develop a paradigm capable of capturing and studying new product purchase decisions as a dynamic ongoing process, and (2) by using this paradigm, to examine how patterns of information acquisition vary for new vs. established purchase alternatives, and for innovators vs. non-innovators.



Five different products were examined: cake mixes, frozen vegetables, electric toasters,spray deodorants, and lipsticks.


The subjects were adult females from Lafayette, Indiana (N = 51) and Toledo, Ohio (N = 35) who ranged in age from 20 to 82. Approximately 90% were married and all reported doing their own shopping.

Types and Operationalization of Information Sources

The types of information studied were: (1) actual ads from print media; (2) price; (3) actual package information; (4) comments attributed to "friends" and (5) comments attributed to sales personnel. Information was made available to the subjects via 3" x 5" index cards identified on one side by the type of source. The reverse side of the "price," "friends," and "salesperson" cards contained the actual price, purported friend's comments, and purported salesperson's comments, respectively.

The "package" cards directed the subject to look at the actual product or package. These were readily available, but initially covered and identified only by brand name. After selecting a "package" card, the subject was permitted to handle and examine the product. Copies of magazine and newspaper print ads for each brand were available, with each such ad being stored in a separate numbered file folder. The back of each "print-ad" card indicated which of the several numbered file folders to open.


The study was described as research on decision making in a consumer setting, and the procedure to be followed for each product was demonstrated using a display for a sixth "practice" product not being studied. Each subject was then given a "shopping list" (with the order of products being counterbalanced across subjects), taken into a mini-supermarket setting, and instructed to make a purchase decision in each product category. For each product, the subjects were confronted with an array of information source cards for each of several brands (cf., Figure 1).

In order to obtain any information, the subject simply picked up a card from whichever source desk she desired for whichever brand she desired. There was no limit to the number of cards she could use from any or all of the source desks for any or all of the brands. Each subject placed all of the cards she used in a separate, single pile on the display table, to which she could not later refer. When a subject felt she was ready to make a purchase decision, she wrote the chosen brand name down on her shopping list, and proceeded to the next product display area. m e same information acquisition process was repeated for each of the five products studied. Finally, the demographic data were collected and a short post-experimental interview to check for demand characteristics was conducted, after which the nature of the research was described and explained.


The data were analyzed separately for each product, as well as by combining scores across all five products. Across all products there was a main effect for innovativeness (p .0001), for the dependent variable "amount of information obtained", with the total amount of information acquired by subjects who chose an innovation being greater than that acquired by non-innovators. In addition, there was: (l) a main effect for source (p .0001) with more "price" information requested than any other type; and (2) an interaction between innovativeness and source (p .0001). This effect can be attributed primarily to the extensive use of the"friend" source by innovators about innovations. Friend analyses revealed that more personal information was acquired in the later stages of the decision making processes than in the earlier stages.


It appears that the decision making process preceding the purchase of an innovation differs in important ways from that process preceding the purchase of an established alternative. This difference lies primarily in the search for information from friends. The finding that personal source information is more frequently acquired later in the search process supports the contention that manufacturer-determined factors serve to mainly generate awareness and perhaps interest, while the more personal sources figure more prominently in the later stages of the adoption process.

The principal value of the present investigation lies in its attempt to develop and apply a "process" methodology to the study of a new product purchase decisions. No doubt this specific technique can be improved upon, and it is hoped that more attention will soon be focused on devising such improved process techniques for the study of consumer behavior.


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