The Relationship Between Context and Variety

Susan M. Broniarczyk, University of Texas at Austin
Leigh McAlister, University of Texas at Austin
[ to cite ]:
Susan M. Broniarczyk and Leigh McAlister (1995) ,"The Relationship Between Context and Variety", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, eds. Frank R. Kardes and Mita Sujan, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 285.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, 1995      Page 285


Susan M. Broniarczyk, University of Texas at Austin

Leigh McAlister, University of Texas at Austin

Although there is a large body of consumer research on variety, it has focused on modeling varied behavior in consumer choice. The typical study infers variety-seeking behavior from brand switches in a consumer's purchase pattern in a product category. Empirical examination of scanner data has identified product categories in which variety-seeking occurs and the market structure implications for brand-switching. The purpose of this session was to move variety research the next step and examine actions that a manager can take to affect variety. The intent was to shed insight on the driving forces of consumer variety-seeking that existing models have taken as given. Specifically, the session addressed how changes in context affect consumer variety-seeking behavior and consumer assortment perceptions.

All three papers examined the effects of context on consumer variety, but examined different contexts and different measures of variety. The contexts examined ranged from the diversity offered in other product categories to category-specific characteristics such as sensory features and shelf display organization. The different measures of variety included consumer choice data, protocols for switching motivation, and perceptions of assortment offered within the category.

The first paper by Menon and Kahn discussed three experiments that tested the effect of the external context on variety chosen. The paper discussed how if the external consumption or purchase context is stimulating, it satisfies a consumer's internal need for stimulation, and thus reduces variety-seeking within a product category. For instance, consumers at a fast food restaurant may exhibit less variety in their hamburger choices if they have high variety in their accompanying soft drink choices. Overall, their results showed that variation across product categories or across consumption locations can reduce variety-seeking in a product category.

Van Trijp, Hoyer, and Inman presented a paper that examined the interactions between an individual's internal need for variety and product-specific factors in the external context on variety-seeking behavior. Using a Dutch household panel that provided underlying motives for brand switching, they distinguished between intrinsically and extrinsically motivated variety-seeking. Factors in the choice context such as product-level involvement, product differentiation, and sensory features of the product category were shown to extrinsically motivate variation in choice behavior. Furthermore, these product-specific factors interacted with individual factors on variety-seeking behavior.

The third paper by Broniarczyk and McAlister examined a different dimension of variety, namely consumer perceptions of the assortment offered by a retailer within a product category. Although consumer perceptions of assortment are an important determinant of store choice, this aspect of variety has not previously been examined in consumer research. An experiment examined the context effect of shelf display organization on consumer perceptions of assortment. Results showed that consumers had higher assortment perceptions when the shelf was organized congruent to their mental representation of the product category.

Wes Hutchinson served as the discussant and related the theme of the session, context effects in consumer variety decisions, to the broader framework of the role of focal information in the environment on consumer decision-making. This area has been relatively untapped area in variety research and has important implications for understanding consumer motivations for brand-switching and the actions managers can implement to modify consumer variety perceptions and behavior.