Involvement Beyond the Purchase Process: Conceptual Issues and Empirical Investigation

Peter H Bloch, Portland State University
ABSTRACT - Enduring product involvement is discussed as a potentially useful concept in consumer behavior. This type of involvement is an inner state of the individual that reflects a long term product interest or attachment. Enduring involvement is independent of risk-based purchase demands and can range from near zero to the high levels exemplified by product enthusiasts. An empirical study is presented which explores self-concept expression as a possible motivator of enduring involvement.
[ to cite ]:
Peter H Bloch (1982) ,"Involvement Beyond the Purchase Process: Conceptual Issues and Empirical Investigation", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 09, eds. Andrew Mitchell, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 413-417.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 9, 1982      Pages 413-417


Peter H Bloch, Portland State University


Enduring product involvement is discussed as a potentially useful concept in consumer behavior. This type of involvement is an inner state of the individual that reflects a long term product interest or attachment. Enduring involvement is independent of risk-based purchase demands and can range from near zero to the high levels exemplified by product enthusiasts. An empirical study is presented which explores self-concept expression as a possible motivator of enduring involvement.


Considerable progress has recently been made by consumer researchers in understanding the nature of product involvement and in identifying its attitudinal and behavioral correlates. As suggested by Lutz (1980) and Kassarjian (1981), however, a great deal more work is needed before the full explanatory potential of involvement can be realized. To date, involvement research has primarily focused upon possible differences between high and low involvement purchase occasions. Generally, researchers have concluded that when a purchase is considered by the consumer to be important, as in the case of high risk products, a high involvement state exists leadings to evaluative processing of relevant marketing communications and to relatively complex decision making. On the other hand, involvement researchers commonly warn that low involvement which leads to simple decision making and little or no evaluative processing of purchase-related messages is associated with most consumer purchase decisions.

A review of recent involvement research clearly shows that the scope of interest in involvement has been relatively narrow. Work has tended to concentrate on consumers' involvement in the purchase process rather than on involvement with a product, per se, a phenomenon which is not purchase-dependent. In particular, recent investigations of the construct, couched in terms of the hierarchy of effects (DeBruicker 1979; Ray 1973), prepurchase search (Clarke and Belk 1979), attribute evaluation (Parkinson and Schenk 1980; Rothschild and Houston 1977) and perceived brand differences, (Lastovicka and Gardner 1978) are insufficient to explain product involvement within a non-purchase context.


For purposes here, product involvement is defined as an unobservable state reflecting the amount of interest, arousal or emotional attachment evoked by the product in a particular individual. This definition represents a combination and synthesis of past formulations provided by Mitchell (1979), Day (1979), and Tyebjee (1978). This definition is purposefully general in nature. However, an examination of potential sources of product involvement should serve to point out that the construct may exist in two different forms. This two form perspective derives from earlier work by Rothschild (1979).

Looking first at what Rothschild has termed situational involvement (SI), consumers may experience a temporary involvement or concern with a product during its purchase when there are high stakes associated with the purchase outcome. The greater the amount at stake, one component of perceived risk (see Cox 1967), the higher will be the conSumer's level of involvement. The involvement ant its behavioral correlates such as information search and negative cognitive responses are directed at the purchase act rather than at the product itself and represent energy expended to help insure a favorable purchase outcome. Once the purchase is completed and its immediate outcome resolved, the involvement is no longer required and rapidly wanes. For example, many consumers may be highly involved with the product class of dishwashers during the purchase of one due to the high economic stakes involved. However, once the appliance is obtained, installed and working properly, any interest in the product category is likely to disappear.

Product involvement, however, can also exist on a long term basis. This second involvement form can occur even when a purchase goal is not operative and is based not on risk but on the strength of the product's relationship to individual needs, values, or the self-concept. Houston and Rothschild (1978) terms this involvement variant enduring involvement (EI). High enduring involvement is exemplified by wine connoisseurs, cat fanciers, and car enthusiasts who maintain a strong ongoing, hobby-like interest in a particular product class regardless of purchase exigencies. In addition, EI also may occur as a result of practical, role-related needs. For example, the role demands imposed on a lumberjack may elicit high enduring involvement with chainsaws and related tools. In this case, EI remains purchase-independent, but does not have a recreational flavor.

For consumers as a whole, enduring involvement with most products is low. However, for a particular individual, there may be one or two product classes where EI is high. Using the common vernacular, everyone is "into" something (i.e., some product category), but not necessarily the same thing. It should be noted at this point that when consumer behaviorists talk about high involvement products they are more than likely referring to the tendency for high situational involvement to occur among the preponderance of individuals during the purchase of such projects due to a high degree of associated risk. Furthermore, Kassarjian's (1981) high involvement consumer is not the enthusiast, but a person experiencing high SI across many product classes, that is, a careful, information-hungry purchaser. This category of consumer may or many not include the high EI person who is strongly attached to one product class and whose involvement is a persistent part of his lifestyle.

One might consider enduring involvement as a person's baseline involvement level that is built upon with situational involvement during purchase occasions where stakes are high. Therefore, during a purchase, it may be difficult to practically separate the portion of consumer arousal that constitutes SI and that which could be labeled EI. It is conceivable that additions to overall involvement levels attributable to SI also may be smaller for high EI consumers due to the possibility of an involvement ceiling effect.

Research to date has either failed to adequately distinguish between the two involvement types or has been focused on SI. The notion of EI, though mentioned in the consumer behavior literature (e.g., Corey 1971; Houston and Rothschild 1978: Hupfer and Gardner 1971) has received relatively scant empirical attention. A notable exception is the work on fashion adoption which has highlighted per sons with high fashion involvement as playing an important role in the acceptance of new clothing styles (King, Ring and Tigert 1980; Summers 1970). The lack of interest expressed by involvement researchers is surprising since newsstands are filled with dozens of magazines aimed at particular enduring involvements (e.g., Vogue, Car & Driver, Stereo Review). In addition, many consumers rely on high EI individuals as purchase advisors and opinion leaders (Summers 1970), It could even be argued that handgun controls, a topic of considerable recent interest, has been opposed over the years by persons who maintain a high level of enduring involvement with firearms.

Give the apparent value of EI as an explanatory variable in consumer behavior, one might next ask what the possible sources of this form of product involvement are. A perspective that derives from early work on ego-involvement is that product involvement reflects how closely a product is linked to a person's self-concept (e.g., Day 1970; Dolich 1969; Lastovicka and Gardner 1979; Sherif and Cantril 1947). With respect to EI, this perspective would lead to the conclusion that where a product provides self-enhancement on an ongoing basis due to its favorable perceived image, then enduring product involvement might be expected to exist.

A possibility which has not been mentioned, however, is that the involvement itself along with its associated activities may also be perceived as a route to self-expression or enhancement. In this light, EI may exist to the extent that a person believes that high involvement with a product, in contrast to product usage alone, is a vehicle for the positive expression of one's self-image. For example, a man who wishes to see himself as sophisticated and urbane may not attain sufficient attention and self-enhancement through the mere purchase and use of products such as wine or stereo components. To project an appropriate self and personal front (Goffman 1959), he may have to maintain high enduring involvement with those product classes, demonstrating a high level of expertise and interest. Being a wine connoisseur would provide self-enhancement, whereas being merely a wine drinker would not. It is this possible underpinning of enduring involvement with products that provides the focus for the present investigation.


In an effort to broaden the scope of product involvement research, a study was performed which examined the construct outside the purchase process. Specifically, the present study, derived from the conceptual base presented above, focused on self-concept expression as a possible reason for consumers' enduring involvement with a product.

This research differed from past consumer involvement studies in two ways. First, the emphasis was placed on enduring involvement, a state of the individual which persists over situations and which can range from near zero to the very high levels exhibited by product enthusiasts or connoisseurs. This focus on EI represents a break from the recent research stream that has emphasized situational involvement in the context of purchase decision making.

Secondly, this study used involvement as a dependent variable. The concentration is placed on involvement and its possible origins. Earlier studies have primarily been concerned with behavioral or information processing outcomes of differing consumer involvement levels. These two departures from past perspectives were undertaken to shed light on heretofore neglected aspects of involvement theory.


The self-concept based treatments of product involvement discussed above were distilled to produce the following general research hypothesis:

Hypothesis: The magnitude of enduring involvement is positively related to the extent to which an individual perceives such involvement as a vehicle for self-expression or enhancement.

This hypothesis was tested by a mail survey of adult residents of a medium-sized city on the west coast.

In conducting this research, two product classes were examined in order to add generalizability to the results. The two products, automobiles and clothing, were chosen because consumers typically are very familiar with these products and because it was assumed that respondents would exhibit a relatively wide range of EI levels with respect to these goods. This variance potential offered by cars and clothing contrasts with that of products such as ham radios, home computers, or wine where a low level of EI essentially means non-ownership and unfamiliarity.


A sample of 800 names was drawn at random from the city directory of a western urbanized area. Since it is probable that this sample would not contain enough subjects at the high end of the EI continuum to provide adequate response variance for either of the two products under study, it was supplemented with names of persons presumed to have high enduring involvement with either automobiles or clothing. Thus, surveys were also mailed to 350 individuals on customer mailing lists provided by both women's and men's clothing fashion boutiques and to 350 members of local sports car clubs. In order to enhance the representativeness of this judgment sample of 700, approximately one-third of the car club subsample consisted of females and one-third of the clothing boutique group consisted of males. Furthermore, the size of this judgment sample was decided upon to account for the tendency for persons with greater interest in the topic of a mail survey to respond (Tull and Hawkins 1980). Although this supplementing hinders the generalizability of subsequent research findings, it should be noted that the focus of the present study is upon greater understanding of a developing theoretical construct rather than on specific predictions for the population.

The interest issue and its effects on response tendencies is of considerable importance in an involvement study. There is potential for low involvement subjects to be seriously under-represented in survey returns due to their inherent low interest level. Because of this possible source of non-response bias, another benefit of using a two-product paradigm becomes apparent given that EI is a product-specific phenomenon for the two products in question. Where strong interest or involvement motivates a person's response, the returned questionnaire will also contain responses for the other product which may well be indicative of low involvement. The low involvement responses for one product come "piggy-backed" on the return motivated by the high involvement with the other product. Therefore, interest-based response bias should be somewhat mitigated .

To stimulate response to the seven page questionnaire, a follow-up postcard reminder was used. Of the 1,500 surveys mailed out, 455 were returned providing a 30 percent overall response rate. After editing, a usable sample of 438 responses were retained for analysis.


The survey instrument assessed subjects' enduring product involvement along with a set of self-concept measures, which are discussed below. The instrument also cont lined additional sec ions outside the scope of this report and thus are not discussed here.

Two product-specific, multi-item indexes, developed in two pre-tests, were used to assess respondents' enduring involvement. Since EI, as defined, represents an unobservable state of the individual, these indexes centered on the manifestations of enduring involvement. The content of the measures reflected the available literature on involvement and drew most heavily from three sources: (1) the fashion involvement index proposed and tested by Tigert, Ring and King (1976) as part of their work on fashion adoption, (2) the indexes developed by Kinnear ant Taylor (1973) ant Webster (1976) to assess ecological concern, a concept which reflects an ongoing involvement with ecological issues ant practices, ant (3) Tyebjee's (1979) multi-item index designed to tap a person's degree of involvement with the product class of beer.

The specific measures described below employed a summated scoring procedure with each item being worth 1-5 points.

Automobile Involvement (Range of points is 8-40)

*Self-rated knowledge of automobiles

*Information dissemination about automobiles

*Interest in the topic of automobiles

*Automotive magazine readership

*Frequency of pleasure driving

*Frequency of attending motor races

*Frequency of visiting automobile dealers outside of purchase occasions

*Frequency of automotive maintenance


Clothing Involvement (Range of points 5-25)

*Self-rated knowledge of clothing fashions

*Information dissemination about clothing fashions

*Interest in the topic of clothing fashions

*Fashion magazine readership

*Frequency of browsing in clothing stores

The first four items of each index were designed to capture several involvement dimensions mentioned in the consumer literature: (1) knowledge (Barnes 1981; Tigert, Ring ant King 1976; Tyebjee 1979), (2) opinion leadership (Corey 1971; Dichter 1966; Tigert, Ring ant King 1976), (3) interest (Day 1970; Tyebjee 1979), ant (4) information search (Corey 1971; Summers 1970). The indexes also contained items relating to various product-specific activities generated via open-end pretest questions. Alpha reliability coefficients over the entire sample of 438 persons were .88 and .86 for the automobile ant clothing instruments, respectively. Given the abbreviated length of these two measures, the alphas were considered to be very satisfactory.

The independent variable in this study is the extent to which enduring involvement is perceived as a vehicle for self-expression. In operationalizing this variable, the distance (or lack of it) between a respondent's self-image and the perceived image of the "typical" high involvement consumer for the given product class was determined. Where the distance is small, it is assumed that the involved state (symbolized by the high involvement other) serves as a means for self-concept expression. Where the distance is large, however, the respondent does not perceive a strong linkage between his self-concept and EI. The distance between the two perceived images, which shrinks as use of the involved state for self-expression increases, is expected to bear a negative relationship with involvement scores.

This measurement perspective is derived from the attitude research of Locander and Spivey (1978) who used a self-concept based distance measure to examine the extent to which a particular activity (e.g, tennis) served a value-expressive function. In the present study, respondents were asked to rate on semantic differential scales the "typical person who is highly interested and involved" in each of the two products. A straight adaptation of the Locander/Spivey approach would have entailed the calculation of differences between each subject's rating of the high involvement other on each of a set of scales and the subject's self-assessment on the same set of scales. It could be argued, however, that such difference scores would be artifactually low particularly for high EI respondents. This would result from the tendency of subjects to project themselves into the profile of the involved others. In order to avoid this possible confound, difference scores were computed using aggregate (mean) ratings of the typical high involvement consumer on each of the relevant scales.

The seven-point scales used in this study were developed in open-end pretests. These pretests elicited a profile of 9 scales for automobiles and 14 for clothing, each scale tapping a possible facet of the self-concept. Another difference from the Locander/Spivey methodology involved the use of absolute differences ( |dj |) rather than squared differences (dj2) as a way to deal with negativity. As suggested by Cronbach and Gleser (1953), this change was made to avoid magnifying measurement error.


According to the research hypothesis, negative relationships were expected between the distance measures and involvement scores. In testing this relationship, both bivariate and multivariate analyses were performed. First, in the bivariate case, product-moment correlations were calculated for each |d | score ant the relevant involvement index. A summated distance score across all the semantic differentials for a given product (D = EQUATION) was also computed and correlated with involvement scores. Because of the presumed inverse relationship discussed above, correlations between distance measures and the indexes were expected to carry a negative sign. Separate analyses were carried out for each of the two products.

To further examine the research hypothesis, multiple regression analyses (one per product) were also performed. In these two analyses, only the individual |dj | scores were used to predict enduring involvement. A multivariate approach was included in this study to allow an investigation of the extent and valence of the relationship between involvement scores and the self-concept measures considered in concert. In addition, since EI need not involve every aspect of a person's self-concept, a regression approach allows a weighting which should reflect the dimensions of the self affected for most people.


Results of the bivariate correlation and multiple regression analyses for the automobile case are shown in Table 1. Seven of the ten correlations were statistically significant with the strongest relationship obtained for the summated D measure which accounted for 10 percent of the variance in involvement scores. Relatively strong relationships were also observed for the materialistic/nonmaterialistic, masculine/feminine, and attention-seeking/ quiet scales. These results in part reflect the possible sex typing of involvement ant further suggest that car enthusiasts view their involvement as a way to express their reliance on material goods as a source of satisfactions masculinity, ant their need for attention. In the correlation analyses, all demonstrated relationships were in the hypothesized direction.



Results of the multiple regression analysis for the automobile case provided limited additional support for the study hypothesis. Adjusting for degrees of freedom, a multiple R of .38 was obtained indicating that the nine distance measures taken together accounted for 14 percent of the variance in the automobile involvement scores. This predictability is close to that provided by the D measure which also looked at the nine semantic differentials together, albeit in a simpler fashion. The beta weights corresponding to the materialism dimension, the masculinity/femininity dimension, and the attention-seeking/quiet dimension were the only ones which were significant. The lack of significant betas for the other scales, despite significant bivariate correlation results is likely due to multicollinearity among the scales. Thus it appears that in the case of enduring involvement with automobiles, the research hypothesis receives at least modest support.

Parallel analysis were conducted for clothing involvement. Bivariate correlation results shown in Table 2 indicate a very strong relationship for the drab/stylish scale. Relatively strong relationships were also observed for the summated D measure, the attention-seeking/quiet scale, the up-to-date/old fashioned scale and the attractiveness scale. These findings indicate clearly, if unsurprisingly, that clothing-involved persons feel more fashionable, attractive and prone to receive attention as a result of their particular enduring involvement.



The companion multiple regression analysis also shown in Table 2 provides additional support for the self-concept underpinnings of clothing involvement. In this case, an adjusted R of .55 was obtained, indicating that the 14 distance measures together accounted for nearly a third of the variance in the criterion involvement index. Tests of the beta weights for significance provided results which were highly consistent with those of the simple correlations.

The above analyses lend support to the hypothesis that consumers use enduring involvement as a vehicle for self-expression. Being highly involved with a product that carries an appropriate symbolic, meaning provides a way to project and enhance part of one's self-image. For the case of EI with clothing, the hypothesis received much stronger support, however, than was found in the automobile analyses. This could be a result of a greater diversity of stereotypes for the car enthusiast relative to that for the clothing-involved person. The one consistent outcome across both product categories was the usage of EI to express the attention-seeking facet of the self. This consistency may be attributable to the tendency in recent years for people to evaluate and categorize themselves and others on the basis of what they are "into." Further investigations will have to be conducted, however, to determine whether involvement's usage as a means of attracting attention is a general phenomenon or pertinent only to conspicuous, socially-significant products such as clothing fashions and cars.


The conceptualization of enduring involvement presented here frees involvement from its traditional purchase setting confines. In past work, product involvement has only been examined as an influence on purchase effort or information processing. Involvement as it might exist beyond purchase occasions and separate from perceived risk notions has clearly been under-researched.

Furthermore, this work has sought to provide explicit recognition of enthusiast consumer segments and their place in the study of involvement. Within the sphere of consumer research, the recent emphasis has strongly been on low involvement, thus obscuring the importance of those consumers who possess very high levels of ongoing product involvement


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