Are Consumer Relationships Different?

Allison R. Johnson, University of Southern California
Matthew Thomson, University of Southern California
ABSTRACT - The distinctions of people’s behavior in their various social and consumption roles has been newly elevated in priority for consumer behavior research (Folkes, 2001). Associated with a trend to consider relationships in marketing (cf. Fournier, 1998; De Wulf, et al., 2001) has been a renewed emphasis on understanding consumer satisfaction. Research on Attachment Theory (e.g. Bowlby, 1969; 1979; 1980; Ainsworth, 1989) provides a novel framework to consider both what affects satisfaction in marketing relationships, and how people’s satisfaction varies across contexts. In this paper, we investigate and compare the role of attachment dimensions in predicting satisfaction with personal, brand, and service provider relationships.
[ to cite ]:
Allison R. Johnson and Matthew Thomson (2003) ,"Are Consumer Relationships Different?", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, eds. Punam Anand Keller and Dennis W. Rook, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 350-351.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, 2003     Pages 350-351

ARE CONSUMER RELATIONSHIPS DIFFERENT?

Allison R. Johnson, University of Southern California

Matthew Thomson, University of Southern California

ABSTRACT -

The distinctions of people’s behavior in their various social and consumption roles has been newly elevated in priority for consumer behavior research (Folkes, 2001). Associated with a trend to consider relationships in marketing (cf. Fournier, 1998; De Wulf, et al., 2001) has been a renewed emphasis on understanding consumer satisfaction. Research on Attachment Theory (e.g. Bowlby, 1969; 1979; 1980; Ainsworth, 1989) provides a novel framework to consider both what affects satisfaction in marketing relationships, and how people’s satisfaction varies across contexts. In this paper, we investigate and compare the role of attachment dimensions in predicting satisfaction with personal, brand, and service provider relationships.

Attachment Theory states that attachment styles are formed in childhood but continue to be shaped throughout a person’s lifespan. Attachment styles have been found to be meaningful determinants of adult behavior in close relationships (e.g. Bowlby, 1980). Research has converged on the use of two dimensions, Avoidance and Anxiety, to describe attachment styles. In our study, we examine the individual and joint contributions of each as predictors of satisfaction across the three relationship contexts.

Attachment Theory focuses on close personal relationships while relationship marketing strives to achieve high levels of intimacy and closeness in consumer relationships (Fournier, 1998; Fournier et al., 1998). As such, similarities between personal and consumer relationships might be informed by the underlying dimensions of attachment that influence individuals in close relationships. For example, each of the relationship types (personal, service, and brand) will be emotionally significant and partner-specific, and will confer benefits and costs. However, personal and consumer relationships vary with respect to the directness of interaction, potential for rejection, frequency of interaction, realm of potential fulfillment of goals and needs, currency of relationship, and perceived cost of exit.

Overall, we hypothesize that consumer relationship satisfaction will be predicted by attachment style dimensions, based on the similarities of consumer relationships to personal relationships. However, based on the many differences that can be identified between brand, service, and personal relationships, the pattern of prediction, or the structure of the relationship, between attachment style dimensions and satisfaction is expected to differ.

We test our hypotheses using a survey of 208 respondents, and we employ structural equation modeling to analyze results. We measure satisfaction employing both a traditional, cognitive measure of satisfaction judgements (Westbrook and Oliver, 1991) and a measure of satisfaction emotions that is included to assess more holistic, affective evaluations of the relationships (Thomson and Johnson, 2001). The measure of satisfaction emotions is also more comparable to the measure of satisfaction used in research in psychology on attachment style (e.g. Collins and Read, 1990). Structural equation modeling is the appropriate method of analysis because it allows a test of the hypothesis that the structure of the prediction of satisfaction by attachment style will vary between the relationship types. In addition, it allows for estimation of the effects of the attachment style dimensions, and their interaction, simultaneously on both satisfaction measures, while controlling for measurement error and for correlations between the attachment dimensions and the satisfaction measures.

Results confirm both hypotheses, and demonstrate that attachment style has different implications for consumer relationships than for personal relationships. Service and brand relationships were found to be more similar to each other than to personal relationships. This is true both in the significance of the differences between constrained and free parameter models, and in the patterns of the prediction of satisfaction by attachment style. Confidence in the results is bolstered by the replication of the findings of prior research relating attachment style to satisfaction in personal relationships (Collins and Read, 1990).

With respect to service relationships, we find that high scores on the Avoidance attachment dimension predict decreased satisfaction when measured as a holistic, affective evaluation. This may reflect the importance of comfort with closeness and the ability to depend on others in determining individual consumers’ emotional reactions to service relationships. One possible explanation for this is that service relationships involve a fairly high degree of closeness and disclosure with a person who is a relative stranger, at least in the beginning of the relationship, and consumers who are comfortable with that level of intimacy are likely to be more satisfied in the long run.

In examining the results with regard to satisfaction judgements, the most important finding is that the interaction of the attachment dimensions positively predicts satisfaction judgments in both types of consumer relationships, whereas the prediction for personal relationships is negative. This implies that consumer relationship satisfaction is likely to be higher than personal relationship satisfaction in certain types of individuals. It is likely that this disparity is due to the differences between consumer and personal relationships, but future research is needed to examine the reasons directly.

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