Consumer Reactions to Stylistic Extension of a Product Line: the Theoretical Relevance of Two &Quot;Anchoring&Quot; Theories

Kathy L. Pettit, Washington State University
ABSTRACT - Previous fashion research has focused on innovation and/or the innovator. From the retailer's standpoint this emphasis may be disproportionate inasmuch as the majority of his/her sales comes from existing (non-innovative) items. Two psychological anchoring theories are proposed which are potentially relevant in predicting
[ to cite ]:
Kathy L. Pettit (1986) ,"Consumer Reactions to Stylistic Extension of a Product Line: the Theoretical Relevance of Two &Quot;Anchoring&Quot; Theories", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 13, eds. Richard J. Lutz, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 381-386.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 13, 1986      Pages 381-386


Kathy L. Pettit, Washington State University


Previous fashion research has focused on innovation and/or the innovator. From the retailer's standpoint this emphasis may be disproportionate inasmuch as the majority of his/her sales comes from existing (non-innovative) items. Two psychological anchoring theories are proposed which are potentially relevant in predicting

changes in product perceptions and purchasing propensities of previously-offered goods under conditions of product-line extension induced by stylistic innovation. A particular example is presented concerning the addition of the new ultra-wide women's belt. Limitations of the theories are discussed and a potential research methodology is proposed for testing the theoretical predictions.


It can be acknowledged that when fashion for an item appears to be moving in a particular direction, at least some retailers respond by carrying innovative versions of the existing product (Wicks 1982). Such innovations, in which the "alteration of a product is involved, rather than the establishment of a new product," are often called continuous innovations (Robertson 1971, p. 15).

The offering by a retailer of these continuous innovations is often a necessity in terms of being competitive. According to Hirschman and Stampel:

The essence of intratype competition (retail) involves convincing consumers to buy a non unique product from a supposedly unique seller that, in reality, shares many characteristics with other stores-of the same type (1980, p.21).

Thus, by offering the most "up-to-date" items a retailer may succeed in gaining patronage from other retailers by appearing to be unique and, therefore, preferable.

The study of the diffusion of innovation has received widespread attention within a variety of disciplines, and has grown rapidly within the marketing discipline since the 1960s. Research has been conducted by both commercially- and academically-employed marketers, and the S-shaped diffusion curve has become a well-known phenomenon within the discipline (Rogers 1962 and 1976).

However, inherent within such research is, from the standpoint of the clothing retailer, a (perhaps) disproportionate emphasis on innovation and/or innovators. Specifically, to the retailer revenues from the existing product-line are likely to be his mainstay; sales from continuous innovations, in the short-run, are usually a welcome bonus (Wicks 1982). Thus, an important and interesting side-issue concerning innovations is the effect they have on perceptions and purchasing propensities of various previously-offered items within a product-line. Some background considerations of two potentially relevant psychological "anchoring theories" will be discussed, which may prove useful in predicting such effects of product-line extension. Later, specific predictions of each theory concerning the effect of addition of the new ultra-wide women's belt to the product line will be given. Finally, potential methodology for testing the various predictions will be presented.


Anchoring theories were first developed to explain shifts in psychophysical judgements. Psychophysical judgments are those in which an individual is asked to rate objects which vary along a physical dimension (e.g., weight) in terms of a subjective psychological dimension (e.g., light versus heavy). In psychophysical experiments certain stimuli which are external to the individual tend to serve as relatively strong judgmental anchors. That is, the range of the present objects along the physical continuum and/or the midpoint of the object series, as well as a "standard" (reference) object within the series, have been shown to affect psychophysical judgments (Helson 1947; Parducci and Marshall 1962; Postman and Miller 1945; M. Sherif, Taub and Hovland 1958; Volkmann 1951).

Eater, anchoring theories were applied to psychosocial judgments which underlie attitudes and attitude change. Psychosocial judgments can be distinguished from psychophysical judgments by both of the following:

1) The predetermined evaluative nature of categories is less inherent to the individual in psychosocial judgments than in psychophysical rating tasks, and

2) As a result, greater discrepancies among judgements of individuals are observed in psychosocial tasks than in purely psychophysical rating tasks.

Typically, in psychosocial judgments tasks individuals have been asked to judge the favorability of statements about an attitude object(s). Certain anchors external to the individual, usually stimulus range (Ostrom and Upshaw 1968; M. Sherif and C. Sherif 1969) and midpoint, (Helson 1964) have again been shown to produce judgmental shifts. However, internal anchors such as the individual's own attitude or advocated position along a continuum of object-related statements (Helson 1964; Manis 1964; Ostrom and Upshaw 1968; M. Sherif and C. Sherif 1969; C. Sherif 1980; Upshaw 1977), his/her cultural membership (C. Sherif 1963), his/her prepurchase expectations (Olson and Dover 1979) or an instrumental value (Pettit 1983) have also been found to affect judgments.

When a consumer judges a product it can be argued that both psychophysical and psychosocial rating tasks are involved. For instance, when a woman judges the subjective width of a belt the task is predominantly psychophysical in nature. That is, a consumer is presented with a physical property of an object--its objectively measurable width--and asked to "translate" that cue into a psychological judgment such as wide, medium, or narrow. Such a judgment is characteristic of psychophysical rating tasks in that items of objectively wider dimensions are nearly uniformly rated as wider by all consumers.

However, when a shopper evaluates a product in terms of its appeal, or assesses her own propensity of purchasing the item, the judgment task becomes more psychosocial in nature. That is, consumers may have very idiosyncratic assessments of either the appeal of a particular item or their own likelihood of purchasing it. Thus, to a greater extent than with judged width, the appeal of the items lies in the minds of individual consumers.

It is rather easy to see in the belt judgment problem being proposed that the range of widths of belts available on the rack could serve as the relevant external judgmental anchors. However, what sort of internal anchor could reasonably be expected to affect width and/or purchasing propensity judgments? Early adoption propensity has been conceptualized as being functionally related to the need-fulfillment potential of a product, product accessibility, the income sufficiency of the consumer, and the innovation disposition of the consumer (Kotler and Zaltman 1976). The question remains, however, whether the consumer is actually aware of her own innovation disposition.

Support for the notion of awareness of one's own innovation disposition comes from a variety of sources. First, self-image and self-concept is becoming increasingly recognized as a relevant predictor of human behavior (Archer 1980; Arkin 1980; Bem 1965; Enzle 1980). Markus (1977 and 1980) has identified several self-schemas which:

...Develop from the repeated similar categorization and evaluation of behavior by oneself and others, and result in a clear idea of the kind of person one is in a particular area of behavior. Such (cognitive) structures enable individuals to understand their own social experiences and to integrate a wide range of stimulus information about the self into meaningful patterns. They also direct attention to behavior that is informative of these aspects of the self (Markus 1980, p. 111).

A schematic, as opposed to an aschematic individual, views the particular dimension (e.g., fashion-conscious versus fashion-unaware) as important to herself. Furthermore, schematics for a particular dimension, for instance fashion-consciousness, may exhibit varying polarities, of which they are aware. Within marketing contexts self-image was shown to be successful in developing managerially-useful fashion lifestyle segments (Gutman and Mills 1982), and included such measures as "traditional-" versus "modern-", and "taking changes-" versus "playing it safe-" self-descriptors. Gutman and Mills have identified three distinct fashion lifestyles segments of "fashion-conscious" or "fashion-involved" shoppers which, collectively, comprised about one-third of their samPle and included:

1) Leaders (14.0%): Individuals who scored high on such factors as fashion leadership, interest, and importance, and low on anti-fashion attitude, ...and who accepted the "establishment views" on fashion demonstrated by their strong involvement with mainstream (e.g., designer) fashion looks,

2) Followers (8.3%): Individuals who exhibited a similar profile to leaders, but with an obviously lower score on the leadership dimension, and with a tendency to emulate the leaders and

3) Independents (10.4%): Individuals who are also fashion-aware but differ from the first two groups in their strong anti-fashion attitudes, ...and who are interested in fashion, but resent designers and other fashion experts in the "fashion establishment" dictating tastes to them (Gutman and Mills 1982. P. 75).

Further support is found in the research of Crask and his colleagues who reported that "Modern males display a greater degree of fashion consciousness as well as a greater desire to differentiate themselves through their dress than do traditional males" (Crask et al. 1977, p. 244). Modernness of masculine lifestyle, as well as fashion-consciousness, was again determined through self-designation techniques.

Finally, upon reviewing the literature both within and outside of the domain of fashion. Darden and Reynolds conclude:

Studies which have employed two or three operations (self-designation, sociometric and key informants' ratings) with the same respondents have consistently found positive correlations between the operations (Abelson and Rugg 1958; Rogers and Burdge 1962; Rogers and Svenning 1969). These findings indicate that each of the methods is equally valid (Rogers and Shoemaker 1971). (Darden and Reynolds 1972, p. 324)

Thus, within the context of the present paper the position will be taken that: 1) innovation disposition is an important element of innovation propensity, 2) fashion-conscious individuals comprise a sizeable segment of the apparel retailer's market, particularly for upper-end specialty stores, 3) fashion-conscious consumers may be leaders (innovation-prone), followers (innovation-reluctant) or more moderate in their innovation disposition, and 4) that through the change agent role of retailers (Hirschman and Stampel 1980) consumers are aware in advance of the purchasing occasion of the "appropriate" physical attributes of a garment for consumers of their innovation disposition. Precise predictions of the two selected anchoring theories, based on the above assumptions will be Presented below.


Adaptation-level Theory is centered around the assumption that every stimulus is perceived and judged in relation to some point of perceived neutrality (Helson 1947 and 1964). The "psychological zero" represents the organism's level of adaptation (AL) for the presented stimulus. The individual is characterized as maintaining some sort of running average of all the stimulus intensities to which she is exposed. She compares a new stimulus to this internal anchor to arrive at a judgment. Helson defines AL as the weighted logarithmic mean of three classes of stimuli. The first, "focal stimuli," are those which the individual is currently attending and judging. These focal stimuli are compared to "contextual stimuli." Helson further acknowledges "residual stimuli" which account for any unexplained variation.

In the present case of a woman judging the subjective widths of belts on a shopping spree, the actual items available on the rack would be presumed to be the focal stimuli. Contextual stimuli might include the purpose of purchase and the store environment. Individual differences in the backgrounds of various shoppers, such as education, occupation, and age might be regarded as the relevant residual stimuli.

The latter classification of stimuli becomes relatively more important when one considers the effects of promotional efforts made to convince a shopper of the "appropriate" width for her. Thus, a shopper usually knows prior to purchase what will be worn by the "up-to-date" woman, versus the more traditional sort. In the present belt-width rating task, AL Theory would predict that an extremely innovation-reluctant individual (traditional) would have an adaptation level (internal anchor) toward the narrow-width end of the continuum. Presumably, she would have had more product experiences with narrower belts, either directly (own purchases) or indirectly (seeing her reference group members wear narrow belts). The latter prediction is consistent with the Selective Exposure Hypothesis, as revised by Sears and Freedman (1965). Therefore, because she would judge items within the presented product-line relative to her own prevailing adaptation level, the theory predicts that the innovation-reluctant consumer will judge all items within the line as subjectively wider than will a shopper of more moderate innovation propensity. Conversely, an innovation-prone consumer will judge all belts within the line as subjectively narrower than will other shoppers, due to her prevailing AL toward the wide extreme of the continuum.

The direct effect of changing the range of widths of belts within the product-line (external anchors) should be an adjustment of AL. If wider belts are available on the racks or T-stands, along with other belts of previously-offered widths, the prevailing AL of all consumers should be shifted toward the wider end. This should indirectly result in all belts being judged as more narrow.

Thus, AL Theory would predict that both the innovation disposition of the consumer and the range of widths of belts offered in the product-line will affect her judgments of the width of various items. Indirectly, shifts in perceived width of the belts may induce adjustments in purchasing propensities for various items. No interactive effect, however, of innovation propensity and range of belt widths available in the product-line is predicted by Adaptation-Level Theory. Figure 1 presents a graphical representation of the AL Theory predictions concerning judgments of widths of an (objectively) intermediate-width belt




A second alternative,--Assimilation-Contrast Theory, has been developed to explain apparent shifts in judgments of objects as predominantly a function of the proximity to one's "latitude of acceptance" (internal anchor) along some objectively measurable dimension of the judged object. Sherif and his co-workers (C. Sherif 1976 and 1980; M. Sherif and Hovland 1961; C. Sherif, M. Sherif and Nebergall 1965) postulate that judgments of items within a presented series will be displaced in different directions, depending upon the proximity of each item to previously encountered acceptable items. He believes that an objectively measurable continuum can be divided into various latitudes of relative subjective acceptability to a particular individual. The "latitude of acceptance" contains the most strongly advocated position along the continuum, as well as (possibly) other acceptable positions. Additionally, Sherif postulates that there exists a "latitude of rejection" which contains unacceptable items or positions. Other positions along the continuum, containing items neither acceptable nor unacceptable, are defined as belonging to the "latitude(s) of noncommitment."

In the present case concerning judgments of various belts within a product-line, latitudes of acceptance, rejection, and noncommitment may be defined by the widths within the product-line which the consumer finds acceptable, unacceptable, or neutral. Thus, as a result of both direct and indirect product experiences, as well as the promotional activities of women's apparel firms, the latitude of acceptance would be expected to be toward the wide end of the continuum for the innovation-prone consumer, and toward the narrow end for her innovation-reluctant counterpart.

When an individual is presented with items to judge, the model predicts that she will "assimilate" those items which lie within, or slightly beyond, her latitude of acceptance. By this it is meant that the judgment of the item should be displaced toward the judge's own preferred position. On the other hand, those items which lie relatively distant from one's latitude of acceptance are expected to be contrasted That is, a displacement away from the judge's advocated position is predicted. Thus, for an innovation-prone consumer the perceived discrepancy between an objectively moderately-wide belt and her preferred width is predicted by A-C Theory to be underestimated relative to the judgments of the discrepancy between the same item-widths by a consumer of more moderate innovation disposition. In the case of an objectively narrow belt the innovation-prone shopper would be expected to "contrast" the item, or overestimate its discrepancy from her own preferred width, relative to the judgment of the same two widths by a consumer of moderate innovation disposition. Conversely, the innovation-reluctant consumer is predicted to assimilate those items toward the narrow end of the product line, and contrast the wider belts, relative to the judgments of the more moderate shopper.

The effects on judgments of intermediate-width belts by innovation-prone and innovation-reluctant consumers is further complicated by extension of the product-line through the addition of a new, wide (extreme) item. The reaction of the innovation-prone consumer to the addition of an extremely wide belt to the product-line is to assimilate its width with that of a belt of her preferred width prior to the purchase occasion. Thus, the effect on the previously preferred, moderately-wide belt under such conditions of product-line extension would be predicted to be an increase in the perceived width of the previously offered belt, due to its assimilation with the new product For the innovation-reluctant shopper, the effect on the moderately-wide belt, induced by inclusion of the new, extremely-wide item, will be a reduction of perceived width of the intermediate belt. Such a shift in judgment would be predicted to come about as a result of a contrasting of the previously-offered item with the new one. Figure 2 depicts graphically the predictions of Assimilation-Contrast Theory concerning perceived width.



Thus, the Assimilation Contrast Model would predict a significant shift in perceptions of widths of particular belts, induced by both the innovation disposition of the consumer and the extension of the product-line through the addition of a wide (extreme) item. Significant effects were also predicted for both variables by the Adaptation-Level Model. In the case of A-C Theory, shifts in both directions (wider and more narrow) are expected for intermediate-width goods depending on their proximity to the individual's previously-preferred belt width. However, the predictions of Adaptation-Level Theory involve only unidirectional shifts arising from the innovation disposition of the consumer. In the terminology of Sherif's theory, the Adaptation-Level model can only account for "contrast" effects.

Furthermore, unlike Adaptation-Level Theory, the Assimilation-Contrast Model predicts an interactive effect of range of widths of the belts presented and the innovation disposition of the consumer. As originally postulated by Sherif, this prediction was not made concerning relatively purely psychosocial judgments. However, due to the inseparability of psychophysical and psychosocial judgments for certain objects, such a prediction was added to the theory (C. Sherif, C. Sherif and Nebergall 1965). Support for this notion was found in a study involving "valued stimuli" (products), which were judged by American Caucasian and American Indian children (C. Sherif 1963).


When a new style or fashion of an item is introduced, it can be anticipated that at least some sales of the new item will normally be realized. If one could assume that total sales within a product category (women's belts) were fixed, then it would follow that sales of items of the originally-offered items would decrease. Thus, the retailer who decided to add an innovative product to the line (e.g., the new ultra-wide belts) would know to order fewer items of previous styles (narrow and intermediate-width belts).

However, demand for items that appear to be functional substitutes does not always conform to expectations rendered by such an assumption. Monroe states that "complementarily is likely to exist even if products are functionally substitutable" (1979, p. 12), a conclusion which was empirically supported by Urban (1969) concerning complementarily among brands within a product-line.

Why might this occur? One reason may be that product involvement may increase. As a result, women may wear belts more frequently or may wish to have more varieties of belts from which to choose to accompany particular garments. Furthermore, in his/her role as a change agent, the retailer may lead the consumer to decide that a previously-purchased item is obsolete in terms of fashion, and should therefore be removed from her wardrobe. However, another reason for altered purchasing propensities of certain items, based on perceptual shifts predicted by the anchoring theories, may also be responsible.

If one assumes that an innovation^prone shopper knows prior to the actual purchasing occasion that she wishes to purchase a wide belt, and the addition of a new ultra-wide belt alters her perceptions of the width of other belts, it should in some way alter her propensities of purchasing all items. Similarly, the innovation-reluctant consumer who wishes to purchase a narrower belt would be expected to adjust purchasing behavior of various items in response to width-perceptual shifts.

Thus, the differing predictions of the two anchoring theories concerning width perceptions become relevant in determining purchasing intentions toward the non-innovative items. Adaptation-Level Theory would predict that the addition of the ultra-wide belt would result in all customers--innovation-prone, moderate, and innovation-reluctant--to perceive the intermediate-width belts as more narrow than they previously did. The effect on sales would be predicted to be: 1) a slight decrease for the moderate consumer, 2) a more dramatic decrease for the innovation-prone consumer, and 3) an increase for the innovation-reluctant group. If approximately equivalent numbers of shoppers of each innovation disposition are among the retailer's customers, the net effect from the perceptual shifts would be a decrease in sales of the intermediate-width, previously-offered items. Figure 3 presents the effect on sales which would result from the perceptual shifts predicted by Adaptation-Level Theory.



However, if the Assimilation-Contrast Model predictions obtain regarding width-perceptual shifts induced through the addition of the new item, the net effect may reverse (see Figure 4).



Specifically, due to the prediction of an interactive effect of innovation disposition and range of widths of belts in the product-line, a different conclusion must result. As with AL Theory, the Assimilation-Contrast model predicts that addition of the ultra-wide belt will result in a narrowing of the perceived width of the (obJectively) intermediately-wide belts among moderate shoppers. Again, this would be expected to result in a slight decrease in sales of that item among the moderate group. However, for both the innovation-prone consumer, who now judges the intermediate-width belt as wider (assimilation effect), and the innovation-reluctant shopper, who perceives the same item as narrower when compared to the ultra-wide item, an INCREASE in purchasing propensity of the intermediate-width item would be predicted to result. Thus, the new effect on sales predicted by the Assimilation-Contrast Model would be positive, assuming equivalent group sizes of the three consumer types.


The previous discussion has been totally centered around the theoretical relevance of either of two psychological "anchoring" theories. Until the predictions of either theory can be empirically demonstrated in this type of fashion innovation problem, no conclusion concerning retailing strategy would be appropriate.

The cases in which either theory is potentially relevant are limited to particular types of fashion innovation. The above discussion is confined to the domain of extension of a series of items for which an objectively measurable continuum of values is present. Thus, these theories could be applicable for such types of innovations as skirt length, fullness of slacks, pointedness of the toes of shoes, or even "boxiness" of automobiles. However, they would not be useful in predicting such things as popularity shifts in particular styles of furniture (e.g., Early American versus Mediterranean).

Furthermore, the presented predictions of the two theories concerning effects on sales are centered around the assumption that consumers are fashion-conscious and know the "appropriate" style for individuals of their innovation disposition. Width-perceptual shifts might occur for consumers who were fashion-unaware, but the effect on purchasing propensities would be less predictable. Thus, if empirically validated, the theoretical predictions of the supported model would be most relevant for particular stores whose major clientele was fashion-conscious, regardless of relative percentages of innovation-prone or -reluctant customers.

Additionally, the effects of other factors, such as changes in product-category involvement, were not included in the above analysis. It is not believed that changes in perception of physical attributes of a product would be the only factor which might affect purchasing propensities of originally-offered items. Rather, the proposed effects should be treated as tentative contributory influences on sales responses.


Previous researchers have identified a series of self-designation questions which have been shown to provide a reliable and valid measurement of fashion-consciousness or -involvement. As such, consumers can be classified as fashion leaders (innovation-prone), followers (innovation-reluctant) or independents (Gutman and Mills 1982, p. 72). Future research is suggested in which consumer subjects are measured on fashion-consciousness, as well as asked to rate various items within a presented product-line in terms of both psychophysical and psychosocial judgments (e.g., dependent measures of subjective belt width, preference, and likelihood of purchase estimates). In order to minimize bias and demand characteristics, half of the subjects should be asked the fashion-consciousness questions prior to judgments of the stimulus items; half should provide the dependent measures prior to their responses to the self-designation items. Finally a mixed effects model is proposed in which consumers of each type are asked to rate several individual items (within subjects factor) within a single product-line (between subjects factor)--which is either narrow or extended through the inclusion of an extreme item. Thus, subjects would rate the innovative fashion item (if present), as well as several other "original" items which differed objectively along the innovation continuum (e.g., belt width). Other attributes of the items within the line should either be counterbalanced or made as equivalent as possible (e.g., same color, similar closure types, etc.). If the predictions of either theory were empirically validated, it could lead t: a greater understanding and prediction of consumer responses to innovative offerings of retailers.


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