Perceived Risk As a Hint For Better Consumer Information and Better Products: Some New Applications of an Old Concept

Konrad Dedler, University of Hohenheim
Ingrid Gottschalk, University of Hohenheim
Klaus G. Grunert, University of Hohenheim
ABSTRACT - This paper addresses several aspects of deriving a standard for a workable information system. Basic elements of the approach presented are the analysis of consumer information demand derived from perceived risks, as well as the examination of the information supply by business and neutral sources by content analysis. Some illustrative empirical results from a study on consumer information strategies in the German automobile market are presented.
[ to cite ]:
Konrad Dedler, Ingrid Gottschalk, and Klaus G. Grunert (1981) ,"Perceived Risk As a Hint For Better Consumer Information and Better Products: Some New Applications of an Old Concept", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 08, eds. Kent B. Monroe, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 391-397.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 8, 1981      Pages 391-397

PERCEIVED RISK AS A HINT FOR BETTER CONSUMER INFORMATION AND BETTER PRODUCTS: SOME NEW APPLICATIONS OF AN OLD CONCEPT

Konrad Dedler, University of Hohenheim

Ingrid Gottschalk, University of Hohenheim

Klaus G. Grunert, University of Hohenheim

ABSTRACT -

This paper addresses several aspects of deriving a standard for a workable information system. Basic elements of the approach presented are the analysis of consumer information demand derived from perceived risks, as well as the examination of the information supply by business and neutral sources by content analysis. Some illustrative empirical results from a study on consumer information strategies in the German automobile market are presented.

INTRODUCTION

Basically, there is no controversy about the general importance of consumer information in achieving an efficient competitive market system. All kinds of public consumer information programs, whether in Europe or in the United States, start right out from this assumption (e.g. FTC 1979). However, not all measures of consumer information policy have proved to be effective. Consumer researchers have investigated such inefficiencies mainly on the grounds that information not tailored to the information processing capabilities of consumers might not be very helpful for them after all. But information does not only have individual effects to be investigated at the level of the individual consumer, but a host of more indirect effects which result from the interaction of consumers and suppliers in the market. The nature of these effects resulting from a raise in the level of information in a market has not received much attention in the literature.

In this paper we went to present an integrated framework which makes it possible to trace both kinds of effects. From this we shall conclude that the complex interrelationship of positive and negative effects of information policy calls for the concept of a "workable information system", and for means of measuring this workability. We then develop such a measurement concept, using perceived risk as a central unit of analysis. Problems in applying this concept are discussed and illustrative results from a study of the German automobile market are presented.

THE EFFECTS OF INFORMATION POLICY AND THE NEED FOR A "WORKABLE" INFORMATION SYSTEM

Information Policy and Welfare: A Consumer-Oriented Approach

Most people would probably agree that the basic aim of consumer information policy is to enhance consumers' welfare. It seems therefore appropriate to evaluate effects of information policy from a consumer-oriented viewpoint, which conceptualizes welfare as the aggregated utility consumers derive from the consumption of goods and services, We can broadly distinguish two ways in which information policy can enhance welfare in this sense:

- on a first level welfare is enhanced if the new information enables consumers to improve their purchase decisions, i.e. helps more consumers to choose among the available alternatives the one that suits best their individual preferences;

- on a second level more information can raise welfare by inducing changes in the supply of goods and services so that these conform better to the preferences of the consumers.

Later we will have to say more about how these levels interact and how changes at the second level are induced. Here it is important to note that the kinds of effects in question involve not only consumers but also suppliers. changes in consumer demand at the first level will most certainly lead to reactions on the supply side, and changes at the second level presuppose effects on the supplier side. Hence, although we take a consumer-oriented stand in analyzing the effects of information policy, such effects always involve the supplier side as well, and all effects of information policy are therefore also relevant from the viewpoint of competition policy. Thus, the interaction between consumers and suppliers is crucial for the analysis.

How informationally induced changes in the relations between consumers and suppliers can affect welfare can be demonstrated by means of a simple model. Using a multi-attribute framework, we assume that consumer i considers some attributes as important in evaluating some particular product. Then his informedness concerning this particular market can be characterized by

EQUATION    (1)

If there is a total of m brands in this market, we have

<  ICi  <  m.pi   (2)

Usually, the consumer will not attain maximal information due to information cost (C) and his own propensity to acquire information (ACi).Thus, we have

ICi = f(C,ACMi,m,pi)   (3)

The informedness of suppliers can be characterized in a similar way. We assume that consumers can be divided according to their preferences into some segments, and that the total number of attributes used by consumers in evaluating the particular product in question is q. Then the informed-ness of a supplier j can be written as

EQUATION    (4)

If the total number of consumer segments in this particular market is n, then

<  ISj  <   n.q   (5)

It seems that the informedness of suppliers is pertly dependent on the informedness of consumers. If consumers know a lot about the brands in the market and how these relate to their needs, it is easier for them to voice complaints, it is easier for suppliers to do market research, and it is easier for institutions of consumer policy to channel information about unsatisfactory products. Hence we can view the aggregated consumer informedness (IC) and the supplier's individual propensity to acquire information (ASj) as the basic determinants of his informedness:

ISj = f(IC, ASj, n, q)   (6)

Whenever some consumers do not know how the m brands in the market score on the pi attributes important to them, or whenever some suppliers do not know which combinations of attribute values are preferred by the n consumer segments, some consumers will experience a welfare loss. This is because they do not realize utility U* that would be associated with a brand that conformed perfectly to their individual preferences, but some lower utility U. The welfare loss.DU = U* - U can be split up into two parts:

DUi = di + vi    (7)

where:

di = welfare loss resulting from the fact that a consumer i chooses among the available brands not the one coming closest to his subjective ideal brand

vi = welfare loss resulting from the fact that none of the brands available is completely like the subjective ideal brand.

It is plausible to assume that the first type of welfare loss depends on the consumer's informedness,

di = f(ICi)   (8)

and the second on the suppliers' aggregate informedness (IS) and the number of brands in the market (m):

vi = f(IS, m)   (9)

This simple framework can now be used to trace some possible effects of lowering C, the cost of information. We define "cost" in a very broad sense here, so that most measures of information policy, like providing additional information, improving the quality of information, increasing the availability of existing information etc., can be viewed as special cases of "lowering cost".

Direct Information Effects and Market Effects

We distinguish two types of effects: those resulting directly from changes in the information flow (one-party effects), and those resulting from reactions of the market to such changes. For each possible effect we will list its prerequisites, possible obstacles, and ways these can be handled by public policy.

We have two direct information effects. One stems from changes in consumer behavior, the other from changes in supplier behavior. Both can increase consumers' welfare.

Lowering C may induce some consumers to acquire more information, thus raising ICi for these consumers. This may enable them to make a better choice among the brands available, thus lowering di. This effect has two prerequisites:

- a lower C must induce at least some consumers to increase ICi. This is obviously not always the case. We know many examples where newly presented information was not used by consumers (e.g, Carman 1972; Monroe & LaPlaca 1972; Lenahen, Thomas. Taylor & Call 1973). Usually. this can be explained by deficiencies either in information content, which does not conform to the consumer's information needs (Grunert & Saile 1978), or in format, which does not conform to the consumer's information processing capabilities (Bettman & Kakkar 1977). Careful design of measures of information policy can circumvent these obstacles;

- a higher ICi must actually result in a lower di, i.e. the consumer must be able to use the additional information in his decision in an efficient way. This, too, is not always the case. We have some experimental evidence that with increasing mounts of information consumers resort to simpler decision rules (Payee 1976; Park 1978), thus giving away possible welfare gains from a better choice. Again, careful design of the information, which takes into account how people integrate information and how this is influenced by the information format, may circumvent this obstacle.

Lowering C may also have direct informational effects on suppliers. This occurs if C raises IC, which in turn raises ISj for some suppliers. That is, due to the increased informedness of consumers some suppliers know more about these consumers' preferences, for the reasons indicated above, causing them to change their products. It is also possible that the mere existence of neutral consumer information detrimental to a supplier's product may cause him to change the product. These changes in the brands on the market may cause lower m, for some consumers and hence increase welfare.

Apart from the constraint that a lowering of C must not necessarily result in a rise of IC as stated above, we have two more prerequisites for the supplier effect to occur and increase welfare:

- a rise in aggregate consumer informedness must actually result in better informedness of the suppliers about consumers' preferences. Poor market research on part of the supplier may inhibit this. Information policy could help greatly here by institutionalizing communication channels between consumers and suppliers, so that the latter can take advantage of the expertise of the former,

- suppliers must be motivated to use an increase in ISj to design products which are in better accordance with the preferences of consumers. This is not necessarily so. If a supplier has acquired monopoly power to an extent that disregarding the wishes of consumers is no longer punished by the market, the welfare effect will not occur. This, however, is a problem for competition policy, which can try to enhance competitive pressure in the market and/or facilitate market entry so that unwarranted monopoly power cannot endure.

If these direct informational effects occur, the other members of the market will probably react to the new developments. This is the cause for market effects. To discuss possible market effects, it is useful to start with a general process model of the functioning of a competitive market, which was developed to explain the dynamics of competition resulting for example from a pioneering supplier taking a lead in offering a new or improved product (Herdzina 1973):

- in the action phase some supplier offers a new, improved product,

- in the substitution phase, consumers react by substituting the new product for others, thus creating increased demand and some degree of monopoly power for this supplier;

- in the reaction phase, competing suppliers react by offering improved products as well;

- in the resubstitution phase some consumers go back to their old suppliers now also offering improved products.

As a result, the monopoly power of the innovator has been eroded, but the supply has improved. Applying this general scheme to information policy, we find that both direct informational effects mentioned above trigger this whole process and hence cause market effects: if consumers change their demand due to an increased ICi this constitutes a substitution phase with subsequent reactions, and if suppliers change their supply due to an increased ISj this constitutes an action phase. In the course of the process additional welfare effects will result:

- consumers who, in spite of the decrease in C, did not acquire more information and continued to buy the same brand, will find that this brand is no longer available and buy a substitute. Depending on the kind of information deficit of the consumer, his preferences, and the way products are improved, this will result in decreases in di and/or gi for these consumers;

- suppliers who did not change their product in response to the informational measure may be forced to do so because of demand reactions of the consumers. This again nay lead to a decrease in gi for some consumers.

The realization of these effects presupposes, of course, a proper functioning of the competitive process. We tried to outline how this process can be stimulated by information policy measures. However, it is important to consider that the described effects depend on the kind of information strategies involved. Inadequate provision of information could affect the functioning of the competitive process even detrimentally.

Pursuing an "inadequate" information policy could for instance mean either to single out special product attributes, like prices, or to inform on selected groups of suppliers exclusively, as is often done in comparative testing magazines.

The possible negative effects on competition of stressing only a special attribute of a product have been demonstrated on the market for used cars, referred to as a market for "lemons". In the absence of information on further product attributes, as for example low defect rates, price becomes the exclusive indicator for the quality of the product. Then, it is a reasonable choice for sellers to refrain from costly, price-raising prepurchase repairs and sell lower-priced "lemons" instead (Akerlof 1970, FTC 1979). Corresponding to this result, information policy which even enlarges the consumers' incomplete evaluation of products could mean to contribute to a deteriorating quality of supply and to a paralyzing of sellers' competition on quality.

Comparative testing of products can be undertaken by "neutral'' institutions, i.e. by organizations, which are neither organizationally nor financially dependent on suppliers, and the results thus derived can be used for information policy strategies. If however comparative testing selects large suppliers and national brands to the detriment of small and local suppliers consumers would be informed on parts of the existing supply only. This could induce monopolizing tendencies and bring about results which are similar to those discussed in the context of advertising effects, There, it is stressed that information by advertising can increase either the heterogeneity of supply or the concentration towards large suppliers, both effects entailing possible welfare losses by an increase in monopoly power and/or a decrease of brands supplied (Grunert & Stupening, in press).

"Adequate" consumer information policy which aims at improving the competitive market system has to avoid partial or one-sided information measures like the ones mentioned. It rather should try to alleviate consumers' choice among different products by comparable and understandable massages. Consumer information policy should try to choose an information content and format that:

- facilitates comparison on all attributes of competing products which are deemed relevant by individuals,

- analyzes all brands available, instead of particular market segments,

- adapts the information to the information processing capabilities of consumers,

- enables the consumers to react more rapidly to changes in product prices and qualities, thus spurring efficient competition.

The "Workable" Information System

If the host of effects, constraints, and policy variables described in the preceding section allow any strong conclusion, it is the one that maximal information is not an aim to be pursued by information policy, since the welfare effects are so complex that a simple maximization postulate is inappropriate. Information policy is therefore undergoing a development similar to the one competition policy underwent a few decades ago, when it abandoned the concept of perfect competition as a policy goal in favor of a "workable" competition (Clark 1940). It seems that the concept of "workability" can be used for information policy as well: not a system of perfect information of consumers and suppliers is sought for, but a "workable information system" that tries to take advantage of the possible benefits of informed consumers and suppliers without neglecting welfare detriments resulting from inefficient or exaggerated use of information measures.

This means that information policy, just as competition policy, has to find ways in which the "workability" of an information system can be measured and evaluated. We want to propose that the workability of an information system can be assessed in three steps:

- by analyzing the motivational determinants of information supply and demand. This can be termed information demand analysis;

- by analyzing the information presently available in a market. This can be termed information supply analysis,

- by analyzing whether consumers and suppliers are actually able to obtain in the market the information they need to make informed choices. This can be called information performance analysis.

These concepts will be elaborated in the remainder of the paper. We will concentrate on information for consumers and only hint at information for suppliers from time to time.

ASSESSING THE WORKABILITY ON THE BASIS OF PERCEIVED RISK; CONCEPT AND APPLICATIONS

"Perceived Risk" as a Unit of Analysis

As we tried to show in the preceding section, information is not a homogeneous good. Thus, in trying to assess the workability of an info--tins system, the question is not how much information this system does process but rather what this information is about. In order to make this a meaningful question, we must develop a unit of analysis with which to measure information content.

The basic purpose of consumer information is to enable the consumer to compare products, to find out which brand is best [or him. Since usually a product has several characteristics that give rise to utility, the information must be about several product attributes. Indeed, this is what most consumer information is about. However, in order to be "information" to a consumer, two additional prerequisites must be fulfilled: the consumer must consider the attribute to be important, and he must be ignorant about the values the various brands have on this attribute. The well known concept of perceived risk comes in handy here: attribute information is helpful for the consumer in making his product choice only if this attribute is a perceived risk for him, i.e. he does not know the value some brands have on this particular attribute, but he knows that he would dislike some of the possible values the attribute can take. We thus use the term perceived risk in a multi-attribute fashion here. there can be many perceived risks associated with a particular product (e.g. Humphreys & Ingene 1980).

Information Demand: Consumer's Motivation

If a consumer perceives risks he is motivated to acquire information. Whether he will actually do so depends on a host of factors, the most prominent one being probably the expected availability of the information and the cost of obtaining it. But while a consumer motivated to acquire some information might actually do so or not depending on situational factors, an information supplied for which the consumer is not motivated will never be acquired and hence is useless and a waste of resources. Therefore, it makes sense to start with the motivational side, and use it later as a criterion in evaluating the supply side.

We propose to assess the motivational side by means of a risk analysis. This includes the following steps:

- a first consumer survey to obtain a list of possible risks consumers associate with a particular product,

- editing this list with the help of consumer experts,

- a second consumer survey to establish the relative importance of the risks for various consumer segments.

In our study of the German automobile market, the first consumer survey used an open-ended questionnaire, including questions about experiences with cars, reasons for buying a car, and main uses, The purpose was to find as many attributes as possible which at least some consumers perceive as "risks" in the sense described above. For this reason, the number of respondents surveyed was not fixed in advance. Instead, the survey was stopped when it was found that additional respondents did not contribute any new "risks" to the list. This was achieved after interviewing 60 respondents, approximately equal halves of which came from urban and rural areas. Since the aim at this stage is only to obtain a list of risks as comprehensive as possible, the sample does not have to be representative.

Experts are needed because automobiles are complex products and the answers of consumers cannot always be taken at face value, risks perceived by consumers may no longer exist for the brands now on the market, or two risks worded differently by two respondents may actually refer to the same thing. For this reason, the advice of experts was sought and the list of risks edited accordingly. The resulting list contained 84 items.

Another important contribution of the experts results from the fact that for many risks there is no information directly available to reduce them, but rather the consumer has to use certain indicators. For example, there is no way to measure directly whether a car will rust. But if certain parts of the car body are galvanized, we can take this as an indicator that rust will be less probable. Relating indicators to risks and separating valid from invalid indicators requires considerable technical expertise and can be done only with the help of product experts.

The second consumer survey is necessary because the list of risks is a conglomerate of answers from respondents. Probably no single consumer will consider all risks of the list as important. His motivation to acquire information will probably only extend over a few risks. Therefore it is important to know the relative importance of the risks, and to identify segments of consumers according to the risks they stress. The second consumer survey tries to achieve just this. A representative sample of 500 drivers is asked to rate the relative importance of the risks. To obtain maximally differentiated answers, the method of magnitude scaling is used (Wegener 1980). Table 1 shows the results of a pretest, where 19 respondents rated a subset of 40 risks.

The results from such a risk analysis are important in assessing the workability of an information system, because they serve to approximate the total set of information consumers may be motivated to acquire. Of course, an individual consumer will be motivated to acquire only a small subset of this. But this subset is bound to vary as the consumer learns about other risks or puts the product to new uses. Therefore, the totality of possibly experienced risks serves as a useful yardstick. Especially, it makes possible to single out the information that is less likely to be helpful for consumers.

TABLE 1

AVERAGE RATING OF 40 SELECTED RISKS

Information Supply: Business and Neutral Sources

The results of the risk analysis can now be used to analyze the information supply, inasmuch is it suitable to reduce the risks experienced by consumers?

Neglecting personal communication, product information is supplied by business and neutral sources, the former being far more prominent. The main business sources are sales brochures, sales talks, and advertisements. While the evaluation of sales talks poses a number of methodological problems (which are currently being investigated), sales brochures and advertisements can be analyzed by quantitative content analysis.

In our automobile market study ample of sales brochures and advertisements was obtained according to the following criteria:

- the analysis referred to the information supply in 1978;

- only information from manufacturers having a market share of more than 0.9% was included, and only about models not exceeding or falling short of certain thresholds for price and cylinder capacity. This served to delimit the market;

- within these limits, all sales brochures available from manufacturers (totaling 39 documents) were included in the analysis. However, 5 documents ware dropped later for technical reasons

- as for advertisements, 5 magazines and 4 newspapers ware selected by systematic criteria. From these, issues were selected randomly, resulting in a total of 395 advertisements. Discounting duplicates, a sample size of 261 was obtained.

A content analysis involves splitting the documents into units of analysis and sorting these into categories. In this case, the sentence was used as the unit of analysis. The category system reflects two dimensions:

- which risk, if any, is alluded to in the sentence

- how this risk is dealt with.

We distinguish four ways in which a risk can be dealt with:

- the risk itself is referred to in an objectively verifiable way. Example: "this car makes 35 miles per gallon";

- the risk itself is referred to, but in a way not objectively verifiable. Example: "this car has a very good mileage";

- an indicator for the risk in question is referred to in an objectively verifiable way. Example: "the aerodynamics of this car are described by an air resistance value of 0.4",

- an indicator for the risk in question is referred to in a way not objectively verifiable. Example: "the car has a very aerodynamic body".

For 84 risks and 4 ways of dealing with a risk, this results in a total of 336 categories.

A pretest with manual coding for some selected ads and risks showed severe reliability problems, so that we decided to attempt a computer-assisted content analysis using the program TEXTPACK. Computer-assisted content analysis requires that

- all documents be transcripted to machine-readable forest;

- all categories are defined in an extensive way, i.e. by a comprehensive list of words or word-combinations which, when they appear in a sentence, constitute evidence that this sentence belongs to a certain category.

Construction of the category system thus becomes a complex interactive process in which word functions are defined, tested with the data, and redefined until the validity of the category system seems satisfactory. This possibility of recoding the data as often as seems necessary to construct good categories is a main advantage of computer-assisted content analysis, along with the fact that problems of reliability are completely eliminated.

Some sample results are shown in tables 2 and 3. They show the average numbers of sentences in sales brochures and advertisements dealing with four of the more important risks in the four different ways described above.

The results show that generally the information situation in sales brochures concerning these four risks is quite satisfactory. Most sales brochures carry information about all four risks. There are, however, differences in how this is done. Objectively verifiable information is readily available for the risks concerning fuel consumption and baggage boot. This is not the case for the risks concerning the crushable zone and corrosion, where objective measurement procedures are not as popular as for the other two risks. As for corrosion, there is at least considerable information about indicators. Concerning the crushable zone, however, quite a number of sales brochures does not carry any objectively verifiable information.

Quite obviously, an advertisement can carry much less information than a sales brochure due to space limitations. On the other hand, this space limitation could serve as an incentive to present in a concise and condensed way some of the information consumers want most urgently. The data in table 3 do not bear this out. In spice of the obvious importance of these four risks, a majority of the ads in the sample does not carry any information about them. The relative coverage of the four risks, however, appears to be similar to the sales brochures.

TABLE 2

COVERAGE OF SELECTED RISKS IN A SAMPLE OF 34 SALES BROCHURES

TABLE 3

COVERAGE OF SELECTED RISKS IN A SAMPLE OF 261 ADVERTISEMENTS

Analyzing the information supply like this on the basis of perceived risks can have a number of applications:

- it can be used to compare the information supply in comparable markets, to see how different information supplies affect the workability of the market;

- it can be used to obtain hints where the development of new, standardized measurement procedures would be especially helpful for consumers, like a procedure to measure a car's susceptibility to rust;

- it can be used to guide the development of neutral consumer information, showing where this information is most badly needed.

Of course, existing outlets of neutral consumer information are also part of the information supply and can be analyzed and criticized by the same means. The most important form of neutral consumer information is probably the product test. The results of the risk analysis can be used to assess whether the criteria used in such tests are in accordance with what consumers would like to hear.

Even a quick glance at product tests shows that this is not unequivocally the case. Many times, the test engineers seem to measure the criteria most conveniently to measure, which are not necessarily the same that consumers are interested in. Drawing on the results from a review of automobile tests in the two major German automobile magazines, these tests seem to be wanting in the following ways:

- some of the published "tests" do not even seem to merit this name; they consist merely of some casual observations made while driving the car;

- some results presented are simply copied from the manufacturers' sales brochures,

- some results could more conveniently be obtained by the consumer himself by inspecting the product;

- many risks are either not dealt with at all or are dealt with indirectly by measuring indicatore whose relation to the risks is not clear.

Thus, the limited resources available for tests seem to be partly wasted to present results which can be obtained elsewhere, at the cost of information that consumers could obtain only in such tests. Such information concerns mainly

- long time usage effects, like susceptability to corrosion;

- technical properties relevant to risks which cannot be assessed by the consumer himself;

- technical properties which could basically be noted by the consumer, but only in special situations (like handling capabilities in winter weather).

Especially for the long time effects, adequate measurement procedures may not even be available at present. This would be an important task for basic research into comparative testing. Table 4 shows some data concerning the coverage of some selected risks - two for each of the three categories just named -in all "tests" published in 1979 in two major German automobile magazines. The results show that many risks are covered only rarely or not at all.

TABLE 4

COVERAGE OF SELECTED RISKS IN A CHOICE OF 133 AUTOMOBILE TESTS

Information Performance: The Gap between Supply and Demand

Information demand and supply together determine inasmuch the information flow in the market is suitable to allow the actors in the market to make informed decisions. If we compare the totality of risks experienced by consumers with the information supplied by suppliers and neutral sources, the resulting gap can be said to be an indicator of the information performance in this market.

This, however, is only one possible indicator for information performance, Other possible indicators would be information usage or decision quality, which also reflect the gap between supply and demand. The direct measurement of the gap by comparing information supply and information demand is quite cumbersome and can be recommended to obtain a basis assessment of the information situation in a market. If the effect of remedial measures of information policy on information performance is to be measured, indicators like information usage or decision quality, which are less costly to obtain, are more adequate. This, too, can be done on the basis of a risk analysis, as has been shown elsewhere (Grunert 1980).

TOWARDS AN IMPROVED INFORMATION SYSTEM

An improved information system, in our view, is one where consumers get more information suitable to reduce risks per-calved by them, and where suppliers get more information about risks perceived by consumers, resulting in a ions-run net welfare increase for consumers. In the preceding section we have tried to show how the workability of an information system can be measured and how the results obtained can be used to hint at ways for improvement.

The examples we gave all referred to consumer information and ways to improve it. But obviously information for the suppliers is as important. If suppliers do not have adequate knowledge about the wants of consumers, no consumer information program can bring about an efficient allocation of resources. Of course, suppliers try to obtain this kind of information by market research. But market research differs widely in quality, favors the big firms, and deals with questions formulated by suppliers, which might bypass certain wants of consumers. We think that institutions of consumer policy have a vast field for action here, obtaining and canalizing information from consumers, no matter whether complaints about current products or wants for future products, and offering it to all suppliers in the pertinent market. A workable information system involves functional information flows in both directions - a fact that consumer policy has not always realized.

REFERENCES

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