An Assessment of the Moderating Effects of Market Mavenism and Value Consciousness on Price-Quality Perception Accuracy

Donald R. Lichtenstein, University of Colorado
Scot Burton, Louisiana State University
[ to cite ]:
Donald R. Lichtenstein and Scot Burton (1990) ,"An Assessment of the Moderating Effects of Market Mavenism and Value Consciousness on Price-Quality Perception Accuracy", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 17, eds. Marvin E. Goldberg, Gerald Gorn, and Richard W. Pollay, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 53-59.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 17, 1990      Pages 53-59

AN ASSESSMENT OF THE MODERATING EFFECTS OF MARKET MAVENISM AND VALUE CONSCIOUSNESS ON PRICE-QUALITY PERCEPTION ACCURACY

Donald R. Lichtenstein, University of Colorado

Scot Burton, Louisiana State University

Conceptual definitions of market mavenism and value consciousness found in the consumer behavior literature suggest that consumers who possess higher levels of these two traits should be more informed regarding marketplace prices and quality than consumers who possess lower levels of these two traits. On this premise, hypotheses regarding the relationship between market mavenism, value consciousness, and price-quality perception accuracy are offered and tested. Contrary to the hypotheses, however, support was not found for the contention that consumers who possess higher levels of market mavenism (H1) or higher levels of value consciousness (H2) perceive price-quality relationships with more accuracy than consumers who possess lower levels of these two traits

A topic that has received great attention in the consumer behavior literature is the relationship between price and consumer quality perceptions. While many studies have found evidence of a positive price-perceived quality relationship (e.g., Lichtenstein, Bloch, and Black 1988; Lichtenstein and Burton 1989; Peterson and Wilson 1985), research evidence suggests that this relationship is person and product-dependent (i.e., it varies across individuals and products being judged (e.g., Lichtenstein and Burton 1989; Monroe and Krishnan 1985; Peterson and Wilson 1985; Zeithaml 1987)).

Another stream of research dealing with the topic of price and quality concerns the relationship between price and "objective" quality (i.e., quality as it "actually" exists in the marketplace). These studies have relied almost exclusively on quality ratings from Consumer Reports magazine for their measures of objective quality. Findings from this research suggest that the overall relationship between price and objective quality is low, but that it varies from strongly positive to strongly negative across product categories (cf. Gerstner 1985; Morris and Bronson 1969; Oxenfeldt 1950; Riesz 1978, 1979).

As part of a large data collection designed to integrate the price-perceived quality and price-objective quality research streams (i.e., assess how well consumers' price-quality perceptions correlate to price-objective quality relationships) that is reported in Lichtenstein and Burton (1989), it was of interest to ascertain if price-quality perception accuracy was moderated by the degree of market mavenism (Feick and Price 1987) and value consciousness (Lichtenstein, Netemeyer, and Burton 1989; Zeithaml 1988). Although research evidence suggests that the relationship between price and perceived quality varies across individuals (e.g., Peterson and Wilson 1985), little research has assessed if the accuracy of these perceptions also varies across individuals (i.e., do the price-quality perceptions of some individuals correspond to price-objective quality relationships more strongly than the perceptions of others?) Based on conceptualizations of market mavenism (Feick and Price 1988) and value consciousness (Lichtenstein et al. 1989; Zeithaml 1988), it seems plausible to suggest that consumers who are market mavens or value conscious perceive price-objective quality relationships with greater accuracy than those consumers who are not market mavens or value conscious. Peterson and.Wilson (1985) suggest that if individuals who differ on variables related to price-perceived quality relationships can be identified and segmented from one another, perhaps more of the variance, the relationship between price-perceived quality and price-objective quality can be explained. The present study represents an attempt to accomplish this goal.

Market Mavenism

Market mavens have been defined as "individuals who have information about many kinds of products, places to shop, and other facets of markets, and initiate discussions with consumers and respond to requests from consumers for market information" (Feick and Price 1987, p. 85). Feick and Price state that characteristics of market mavens include possession of a wider variety of marketplace information, more attentiveness to the marketplace in general, more engagement in generalized, as opposed to product-specific search, and a higher propensity to use a variety of sources to find out about new products in the marketplace, e.g., readership of Consumer Reports magazine. Because price and product quality are two of the most salient pieces of marketplace information, it seems plausible to suggest that, relative to those of lower market mavenism, across product categories those of higher market mavenism should possess more, and more accurate, price and quality information, and hence, be in a position to more accurately assess the relationship between the two. [Hypotheses are tested by assessing the degree to which respondents' rankings (perceptions) of the strength of individual product category price-quality relationships (across 18 product categories) correlate to the rankings of the strength of price-quality relationships across the 18 individual product categories. It is explicitly recognized that because market mavenism manifests itself in higher levels of generalized marketplace knowledge, the market maven may not hold more accurate price-quality perceptions within a particular product category. However, across product categories, those of high market mavenism are expected to hold more accurate price-quality perceptions than those of low market mavenism.

H1: The correlation between price-perceived quality and price-objective quality across product categories is higher for those of higher market mavenism than for those of lower market mavenism.

Value Consciousness

Definitions of value appear to focus on two factors: price and quality. For example, Monroe and Petroshius (1981) define value as the ratio of quality to price. Zeithaml (1988, p.14) defines perceived value as "the consumer's overall assessment of the utility of a product based on what is received and what is given" in a purchase transaction. If one assumes that price and product quality are the most salient "give and get" components in a purchase transaction, then Zeithaml's definition of value is consistent with that of Monroe and Petroshius in their focus on price and quality. Because of this focus on price and quality for the value conscious consumer, high value conscious consumers should be in a better position to perceive price-objective quality relationships more accurately than low value conscious consumers.

H2: The correlation between price-perceived quality and price-objective quality across product categories is higher for those of higher value consciousness than for those of lower value consciousness.

METHOD

Product Selection

One limitation of previous price-perceived quality studies is that only a limited range of products has been investigated and justification for products chosen is usually not provided (Monroe and Krishnan 1985). The present study was conducted using eighteen product categories. The product categories were chosen based on the following criteria: (1) an equal split of durable and nondurable products; (2) for both durable and nondurable product categories, three products have a positive price-objective quality correlation shown to be stable over time, three have a zero price-objective quality relationship shown to be stable over time, and three have a negative price-objective quality relationship shown to be stable over time [In order to find product categories which satisfied these criteria, correlations between price and quality ratings for over 100 product categories rated at least twice by Consumer Reports magazine within the last 10 years were computed.]; and (3) substantial variation in the price range across the product categories (cf. Monroe and Krishnan 1985).

Based on these criteria, the eighteen product categories shown in the Table (column B) were selected. As indicated in column C, nine of the product categories were durables and nine were nondurables. As can be seen in column D (ignore for the moment the values in the parentheses in column D), for both the durables and nondurables, three of the product categories had stable positive price-objective quality relationships, three had stable (essentially) zero price-objective quality relationships, and three had stable negative price-objective quality relationships.

Description of Sample and Measures Used

Respondents in the study were 152 shoppers at a supermarket in a medium-sized midwestern SMSA. Specifically, two research assistants were positioned at different exits of a large supermarket. As shoppers exited the store, they were asked to participate in a survey by taking home a questionnaire to complete and return in a postage-paid envelope. Of the 700 surveys distributed, 152 were returned (response rate = 21.7%). Sixty-four percent of the respondents were female, the median age category was 3544, the median education category was some college, the median household size was two people, and the median income category was $25,000-$34,999.

For each of the eighteen product categories, respondents' price-quality perceptions were assessed by their level of agreement with the statement 'The higher the price of the product, the higher the product quality" (7=strongly agree, l=strongly disagree) (Lichtenstein and Burton 1989; Peterson and Wilson 1985). Market mavenism was operationalized using the six-item scale developed by Feick and Price (1987). Example items include "People ask me for information about products, places to shop, or sales," and "My friends think of me as a good source of information when it comes to new products or sales" (7=strongly agree, l=strongly disagree) (scale mean=23.48, standard deviation=8.84, range-6-39, alpha=.87). Value consciousness was operationalized using the seven-item scale of Lichtenstein et al. (1989). For example, two of the items were "When purchasing a product, I always try to maximize the quality I get for the money I spend," and "I always check prices at the grocery store to be sure I get the best value for the money I spend" (7=strongly agree, l=strongly disagree) (scale mean=41.96, standard deviation=6.43, range=1949, alpha=.77). Finally, a single seven-place scale item was used to assess perceptions of the usefulness of information provided by Consumer Reports magazine ("The information provided in Consumer Reports magazine is useful" (7=strongly agree, l=strongly disagree) (mean=5.5, standard deviation=1.57)). Although no hypothesis was offered concerning this item, because Consumer Reports magazine is considered to be among the most reliable sources for product quality and price information (Gerstner 1985), and because the measures of price and quality employed in this study were based on Consumer Reports, it appears plausible to suggest that those who consider this information more useful should have more accurate price-quality perceptions.

RESULTS

Results comparing price-perceived quality relationships with price-objective quality relationships are shown in the Table. In columns A and B of the Table, the price-perceived quality rankings from highest (10-Speed Bicycle) to lowest (Club Soda) are presented. The product type, either durable or nondurable, is shown in column C. The Spearman rank-order correlation between price and objective quality (computed from Consumer Reports magazine data) for each of the product categories is shown in column D [These objective price-quality correlations reported in the Table are actually average correlations based on two different years of ratings by Consumer Reports. The individual correlations which comprise these averages, and the years from which the correlations were calculated, are reported in Lichtenstein and Burton (1989).]. For purposes of hypothesis testing, these price-objective quality correlation values were recoded to a 3-2-1 rank-order format. Positive price-objective quality correlations were recoded to a 3, near zero correlations were recoded to a 2, and negative correlations were recoded to a 1. These recoded values are reported in the parentheses in column D. The rationale for this recoding is that many of the product categories have very similar price-objective quality correlations, and small differences in these correlations would be inappropriately accentuated given the use of rank-order correlations. Hence, the more conservative approach employing the recoded values was used. The mean perceived price-quality scores across the total sample of respondents for the eighteen product categories are reported in column E. (These mean scores in column E are the basis for the order of rankings in columns A and B.) Mean price-perceived quality ratings based on median splits of the market mavenism, value consciousness, and Consumer Reports perceived usefulness scales are reported in columns F, C, and H, respectively. Spearman rank-order correlations between price-objective quality (using the recoded values in column D) and price-perceived quality rankings (columns E through H) are reported in rows A, B, and C in the bottom portion of Table 1 for the total sample of respondents (under column E) and for the subsamples of respondents based on the median splits (columns F through H).

The hypotheses are tested in two different ways. First, the correlations at the bottom of the Table 1 are assessed for their consistency with the hypotheses. (Higher positive correlations mean a stronger relationship between price-objective quality rankings and price-perceived quality rankings, and, hence, more accurate price-quality perceptions.) Next, results of t-tests between mean price-quality perceptions of the subsamples produced by the median splits are examined for each individual product category to assess their consistency with the hypothesized relationships.

For the total sample of respondents, the Spearman correlations at the bottom of the Table (under column E) suggests that respondents did perceive price-quality relations with a modest degree of accuracy. [The correlations in Row A at the bottom of the Table represent the rank-order correlations between the mean price-quality perceptions and the price-objective quality relationships (using recoded values), and hence, are based on a sample size of 18. Consequently, the power of the statistical tests are very low, and therefore statistical significance is not used here as a criterion for testing hypotheses. Similar procedures have been followed in price-objective quality research where the number of brands tested in product categories usually ranges from about 5 to 20, and these small sample sizes normally lead to nonsignificant results. Consequently, even though significance levels associated with the correlation coefficients are sometimes provided in these studies, as a rule, researchers have not relied upon them in evaluating results (cf. Gerstner 1985; Geistfeld 1977; Morris and Bronson 1969; Oxenfeldt 1950; Riesz 1979; Sproles 1977).] Further, nondurables were perceived with a slightly higher degree of accuracy than durables.

The first hypothesis postulates that the correlation between price-perceived quality rankings and price-objective quality rankings across product categories is higher for those of higher market mavenism than for those of lower market mavenism. The correlations at the bottom of Table 1 (under row F) do not provide support for H1. To further assess H1, the direction and significance of mean differences was examined. Support for H1 is provided when those of high market mavenism have higher mean price-quality perceptions than those of low market mavenism for product categories which have a positive price-objective quality relationship, and lower mean price-quality perceptions for product categories that do not have a positive price objective-quality relationship. By looking at the consistency of direction of means with that hypothesized for the market mavenism scale (see superscript e), only 6 of the 18 mean differences were in the hypothesized direction. Upon further inspection of the direction of mean differences, those of high market mavenism perceived stronger price-quality relationships than those of low mavenism across all eighteen product categories. It appears that the only reason that 6 were in the hypothesized direction was because there were six product categories that had positive price-objective quality relationships. Contrary to expectations, these results indicate that the degree of mavenism is totally unrelated to price-quality perception accuracy.

By looking at the correlations at the bottom of the Table relevant to value consciousness (under column G), it also appears that these data offer no support for H2. High value conscious consumers did perceive price-quality relationships across all 18 product categories slightly better than those of low value consciousness (.34 as opposed to .25), but the difference is too small to be taken as support for H2. Further, only 5 of the 18 mean differences are in the hypothesized direction (2 of these 5 differences were significant, one at the 0.05 level and one at the 0.10 level). [Because the hypotheses are directional, these significance levels reflect a one-tailed test of significance. Consequently, large differences in the means that are in the unhypothesized direction, which would normally have been significant for a two-tailed test, are not reported as significant for the present analysis.]

TABLE

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PERCEIVED AND OBJECTIVE PRICE-QUALITY RELATIONSHIPS

Although no hypothesis was offered for the effect of the perceived usefulness of information provided in Consumer Reports magazine on price-quality perception accuracy, similar analyses to those reported above were conducted for this single-item scale (see bottom of Table under column H). From the Spearman correlations, it appears that those who perceive Consumer Reports magazine as providing more useful information do perceive price-quality relationships with greater accuracy than those who perceive the information as less useful. When the correlations are segmented by product type (durable vs. nondurable), support for this contention appears stronger. However, inspection of the 18 mean differences reveals that only 10 are in the hypothesized direction, a finding which can be explained by chance alone. Further, even though the correlations may suggest that those who perceive Consumer Reports magazine as providing more useful information do perceive price-quality relationships with more accuracy than those who perceive the information as less useful, this finding must be strongly qualified. The price-quality objective correlations were based on Consumer Reports data, and, hence, consumers who perceived the information as more useful may have read the information, and therefore been presensitized to the study stimuli. Had the price-objective quality ratings been taken from some other source, it is unknown how those who perceive Consumer Reports data as more useful would have fared vis-a-vis those who perceived it as less useful.

DISCUSSION AND LIMITATIONS

The purpose of this paper was to assess if market mavens and value conscious consumers hold more accurate perceptions of the relationship between price and quality than other consumers. Hypotheses postulating higher degrees of price-quality perception accuracy for higher levels of these two traits were not supported by the data.

To our knowledge, this is only the second study which investigates possible moderating relationships of person-related factors on price-quality perception accuracy. In the first such study, Lichtenstein and Burton (1989) investigated whether price-quality perception accuracy varied as a function of if the respondent held a "price-perceived quality schema" or a "no price-perceived quality schema" or not, the degree of product involvement, product experience, perceived product knowledge, and a range of socioeconomic and demographic factors. Although measures of some of these variables were of unknown validity (e.g., the involvement, product experience, and perceived knowledge measures were single-item scales), none of the person-related factors showed any moderating impact on price-quality perception accuracy. Findings from the present study augment the findings of Lichtenstein and Burton (1989) by adding market mavenism and value consciousness to the list of person-related variables for which a moderating relationship on price-quality perception accuracy has been hypothesized and assessed, but with negative findings.

The failure to find a moderating relationship may be due to any of several factors. First, market mavens and value conscious consumers simply may not hold more accurate price and/or quality perceptions. While market mavens may be aware of new products and brands earlier, more apt to provide marketplace information to others, more apt to use diverse sources for providing information, more apt the enjoy shopping, more apt to pay attention to advertising, more apt to use (Feick and Price 1987) and swap coupons (Price, Feick, and Guskey-Federouch 1988), these characteristics simply may not translate into more accurate perceptions of marketplace prices and quality. Another possibility is that market mavens and value conscious consumers do hold more accurate price and quality perceptions, but they do not (or cannot) perform the cognitive algebra required to estimate product category price-quality relationships. In any event, results of this study suggests that the characterization of Price et al. (1988, p.354) of market mavens as "smart shoppers" may deserve some qualification.

Particularly interesting was the finding that market mavens perceived stronger price-quality relationships across all 18 product categories than did non-mavens. Perhaps market mavens have a higher degree of trust in the marketplace and believe in the old adage "you get what you pay for." Whatever the reason, given the preponderance of evidence which suggests that, overall, the relationship between price and quality in the marketplace is very weak (cf. Gerstner 1985), if the purchase behavior of mavens is consistent with their perceptions, there is a good chance that they will make many poor purchases.

Certain caveats are in order regarding interpretation of the findings of this study. First, as noted by many researchers (cf. Curry and Faulds 1986; Gerstner 1985; Lichtenstein and Burton 1989; Riesz 1978; 1979; Sproles 1986), to the degree that taste and preferences differences across consumers result in consumers valuing different attributes, the validity of any quality rating as applicable across consumers can be questioned. However, Curry and Faulds (1986, p. 143-144) conclude that, based on a review of the objective quality ratings for 385 product categories over a six year period, "the empirical evidence presented in this article suggests that published quality scales have not been affected substantially by a particular agency's (e.g., Consumers Reports) choice of (attribute) weights . (consequently) although quality is a complex construct and its measurement is difficult, academic research should continue to integrate this construct into (its research)." Further, Gerstner (1985) notes that although there are limitations in using any measure of quality as "objective," Consumer Reports is the leading consumer magazine and its quality ratings are considered reliable by many people. Finally, others have argued for the validity of the measures of "objective quality" (cf. Oxenfeldt 1950; Riesz 1978) while still others have relied on Consumer Reports price-quality ratings for choosing products to serve as experimental stimuli (cf. John, Scott, and Bettman 1986; Rao and Monroe 1988).

Other limitations include the use of single-item measures for the price-quality perceptions measure and the use of a convenience sample. However, it should be noted that the convergent validity of the single-item price-perceived quality measure employed in this study with a very dissimilar measurement method was recently supported (cf. Burton and Lichtenstein 1989). The product classes employed in the present study were chosen from those rated by Consumer Reports magazine. Because Consumer Reports does not rate certain types of products (e.g., jewelry, perfume), the generalizability of these product categories to others is unknown. Finally, because of the possible bias brought about by presensitization of readers of Consumer Reports magazine to the specific product categories employed in this study, no formal hypothesis was offered for the moderating effect of the Consumer Reports variable. That is, it is recognized that because price-objective quality relationships used in this study were based on price and quality ratings from Consumer Reports magazine, to the degree that consumers who believe the information provided by Consumer Reports magazine perceive price-quality relationships more accurately, there is a potential confound. That is, they may only perceive price-quality relationships for the particular products rated by Consumer Reports more accurately, and not price-quality relationships in general (i.e., product categories not rated by Consumer Reports magazine). Hence, even though study results suggest that those who find Consumer Reports information useful perceive price-quality relationships more accurately, no generalizations are made from these data.

FUTURE RESEARCH

In summary and in light of the above noted limitations, a question that still remains is "are there certain groups of consumers who can assess price-quality relationships more accurately than others?" If such a group exists then, relative to other consumers, these individuals should be in a position to make purchases which represent better values for the money. From a consumer welfare perspective, identification of such a group, and determination of factors underlying their greater price-quality perception accuracy, may provide insight into education programs which aid consumers in becoming better shoppers.

It is assumed that those with greater levels of product knowledge assess price-quality relationships more accurately because their assessments are based on this knowledge rather than on price level. The present study attempted to identify two groups of consumers who had higher levels of product knowledge, and thus, more accurate price-quality perceptions. The negative findings may be due to the fact that these two groups did not have higher levels of confidence knowledge (Cox 1962), or, alternatively, the negative findings may have been due to measurement problems. Regarding the former, knowledge is a complex construct. To know that a stereo has certain specs is one type of knowledge (predictive knowledge), to know how to use those specs to evaluate stereo quality requires a deeper type of knowledge (confidence knowledge). Future research should focus on differentiating these two types of knowledge in price-quality perception studies.

Regarding price-quality perception measurement, issues arise regarding the validity of measurement procedures employed in this and other price-quality perception studies. Like knowledge, quality is a very complex construct and means different things to different consumers (Zeithaml 1988). Future research may attempt to assess the basis for quality perceptions for the target population prior to investigating if these consumers believe price and quality are related. For example, we may find Eat variations in price-quality perceptions across segments of consumers are partially a function of the way consumers define quality. Another issue regarding price-quality perception measurement pertains to the issue of if product quality is best measured on an attribute level basis (cf. Lichtenstein, Bloch, and Black 1988), or on a global basis as done in the present paper. Taking this issue one step further, if product quality is best assessed on an attribute level basis, how should the measure be treated with respect to its relationship to price? Should the attributes be combined into a single quality score and then related to price, or should price-quality perceptions be calculated on an attribute by attribute basis. Research addressing these and similar issues should further our ability to assess the accuracy of consumers price-quality perceptions.

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