Individual and Situational Influences on Purchase Goal Specification

Stephen J.S. Holden, Ecole SupTrieure de Sciences Economiques et Commerciales
[ to cite ]:
Stephen J.S. Holden (1994) ,"Individual and Situational Influences on Purchase Goal Specification", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, eds. Chris T. Allen and Deborah Roedder John, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 589.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, 1994      Page 589


Stephen J.S. Holden, Ecole SupTrieure de Sciences Economiques et Commerciales

Goals in consumer decision processes represent a critical, but much neglected issue in consumer research. The focus on goals is motivated by a fundamental belief that a better understanding of consumer choice processes must take into account the factors influencing goal specification and the influences of goals themselves.

Huffman presented research on some external and internal influences on goal formation. She examined the influence of two external factors on goal formation: amount of external information provided (about features of the product) and the nature of the wording (experiential versus regular feature wording). Experiential wording links a stated product feature to a user-experience (e.g. a 30 foot cord allows the user to vacuum two rooms from one power point). Also examined was an internal factor, namely, the influence of imaging by the consumer on goal formation. The major measures of goal formation were feature listing, importance ratings of features, and remembering and picturing past experiences. Increasing the amount of external information provided to subjects led to an increase in the degree to which they remembered and pictured prior experiences, and led to an increase in the number of features listed as important to choice. While, the provision of experiential feature wording did not lead to increases in remembering and picturing of prior experiences, it led to increases in the rated importance of features identified. Imaging, an internal factor, failed to interact with experiential wording as was expected.

Ratneshwar, Pechmann and Shocker presented research extending the notion of consumer consideration sets as goal-derived categories. Specifically, they examined how one generic need can lead to the formation of consideration sets comprising products from different nominal product categories (i.e. noncomparable alternatives). Focusing on the generic need for a snack, Ratneshwar et al. examined the influence of both an individual level goal ("health" measured two weeks before the study) and a situational goal ("cool down" manipulated by a situation of a mild spring day versus a hot summer day) on consideration and choice in a stimulus-based task. In the stimulus-based set, there were two nominal categories (granola bars and ice creams). The major dependent variable was an across-category consideration measure developed by the authors. The first finding was that goal ambiguity (where both the "health" goal and the "cool down" goal are low in salience) and goal conflict (where both goals are high in salience) leads to greater across-category consideration. That is, the consideration sets under these circumstances are more likely to include alternatives from different nominal categories. The second finding was that under situations of goal ambiguity, there was likely to be greater use of externally provided features.

Walker and Houston explore the different goal structures underlying individual versus situational involvement. Using a greeting card decision, the influence of two different situations (wedding card and thinking-of-you situation reflecting high and low involvement respectively) and measured individual involvement effects on the means-end goal structures was measured. Using a novel adaptation of the means-end chaining technique, the major dependent measures were the content (elements) and the structure (relationships between elements) of means-end decision maps. In terms of content, under higher levels of involvement (individual and/or situational), more abstract, self-related goals appeared to dominate. However, goal structure (relationships, complexity, and integration) was apparently unaffected by the nature of individual and situational involvement.

Meyer, as discussant, initiated a discussion about the value of goals to the consumer decision-making models. One issue was that goals may be powerful predictors of individual behavior; however, due to their idiosyncratic nature, they may be of little value in predicting aggregate behavior.

The papers collectively offer a number of contributions to the study of goals. First, the session highlights the interplay of goals and decisions as a dynamic process. Goals both influence the decision process (Ratneshwar et al.) and are themselves influenced and determined by the decision process (Huffman; Walker and Houston). Second, goals may be a function of both internal, individual factors as well as external, contextual factors. Finally, the three papers represent the considerable range of methodologies that may be applied to the study of goals in the consumer decision process. In particular, Ratneshwar et al. and Walker and Houston each introduce innovative methodologies to the study of goals.