Understanding Consumers’ Need to Personally Inspect Products Prior to Purchase

Lynn Dailey, Capital University
EXTENDED ABSTRACT - A primary difference between in-store and in-home shopping (i.e., internet, catalog, telephone, direct mail, television, etc.) is consumers’ ability/inability to personally inspect products prior to purchase. The inability to personally inspect merchandise is an important deterrent to in-home shopping. Despite the importance of this topic, a lack of research exists that specifically examines consumers’ need to personally inspect products prior to purchase (NPIPPP). The goal of this paper is to provide insight into understanding the factors that influence consumers’ NPIPPP.
[ to cite ]:
Lynn Dailey (2003) ,"Understanding Consumers’ Need to Personally Inspect Products Prior to Purchase", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, eds. Punam Anand Keller and Dennis W. Rook, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 146-147.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, 2003     Pages 146-147

UNDERSTANDING CONSUMERS’ NEED TO PERSONALLY INSPECT PRODUCTS PRIOR TO PURCHASE

Lynn Dailey, Capital University

EXTENDED ABSTRACT -

A primary difference between in-store and in-home shopping (i.e., internet, catalog, telephone, direct mail, television, etc.) is consumers’ ability/inability to personally inspect products prior to purchase. The inability to personally inspect merchandise is an important deterrent to in-home shopping. Despite the importance of this topic, a lack of research exists that specifically examines consumers’ need to personally inspect products prior to purchase (NPIPPP). The goal of this paper is to provide insight into understanding the factors that influence consumers’ NPIPPP.

The author defines consumers’ NPIPPP as consumers’ desire to physically experience merchandise before making a purchase. This direct experience can take the form of seeing, hearing, touching, tasting or smelling the product; therefore, to fulfill the NPIPPP, the consumer must have some type of physical interaction with the product. This need has a tremendous potential impact on in-home retailers.

Personally inspecting products prior to purchase can best be viewed as a specific form of external information search. Much research has been conducted on variables that influence external search (c.f.e., Srinivasan and Ratchford 1991; Beatty and Smith 1987; Punj and Staelin 1987; Moore and Lehmann 1980). However, this research does not adequately differentiate between personal inspection and other sources of search (i.e., mass media, interpersonal search, etc.). Personal inspection differs from other forms of external search because, by definition, the consumer has to have a direct interaction with the product. Therefore, the need to conduct personal inspection likely differs from consumers’ general need to search.

Two exploratory methods were employed to examine consumers’ NPIPPP: personal narratives and in-depth interviewing. Purposive sampling was utilized. Participants were asked to, "Describe a recent experience in which you felt a need to physically experience (see/touch/feel/hear/taste) a product prior to purchase. Describe the experience in as many details as possible including your thoughts/feelings about the product prior to purchase, during the purchase and after the purchase." Twenty personal narratives were obtained. Additionally, 20 in-depth interviews were conducted resulting 50,225 words with over 185 pages of transcribed text. A hermeneutic interpretation was utilized to analyze the data.

Perceived risk has previously been identified as a primary influence on consumers’ willingness to purchase products through in-home mediums (Lumpkin and Hawes 1985; Reynolds 1974; Gillett 1970; Cox and Rich 1964). Perceived risk is defined as the probability of any loss that can occur. As the importance of the loss increases so does perceived risk (Srinivasan and Ratchford 1991; Jacoby and Kaplan 1972; Peter and Ryan 1976). The results of this study indicate that perceived risk is a primary theme underlying consumers’ NPIPPP. Various forms of loss, including financial, time, cognitive and emotional loss, were identified as influencing consumers’ NPIPPP.

Consumers’ NPIPPP can best be explained using an interaction framework (Punj and Stewart 1987; Srinivasan and Ratchford 1991) because both product and individual attributes are proposed to influence perceived risk and thus consumers’ NPIPPP. Product attributes that were identified as influences on consumers’ NPIPPP include the following: product’s level of experiential attributes, product price, product variation, and product brand name. In addition to the product attributes, several individual attributes were also identified. The individual attributes include the following: prior experience with product, prior experience with not inspecting products, prior experience with out-of-stock conditions, knowledge of return policy, trust/distrust for retailers, and personal meaning of the product.

Information economics suggests that a trade-off exists between the costs of searching for information and the expected benefits of the information (Klein 1998; Stigler 1961). The costs to fulfill the NPIPPP include time, thinking and possibly monetary costs; whereas, the primary benefit to fulfilling this need is a reduction in perceived risk. The actual fulfillment of the NPIPPP is not straightforward. Having the need does not mean that the consumer will forgo the costs necessary to fulfill the need (Bettman 1979; Newman 1977). The study suggests that two primary variables moderate the relationship between the NPIPPP and the actual inspection of the product. These variables include the following: consumer’s enjoyment of inspecting and time availability.

The proposed model differs from general external search models because it examines a specific form of external search, personal inspection. This is an important distinction because this form of search has some unique antecedents when compared to general external search. Therefore, alternative external search sources (i.e., interpersonal, media, etc.) may not adequately fulfill consumers’ NPIPPP. In fact, personal inspection may be the only source of external search that satisfies the consumer in some situations.

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