Consumer Response to Dissatisfaction With Durable Products

Ralph L. Day, Indiana University
Stephen B. Ash, University of Western Ontario
ABSTRACT - Data were obtained from a sample of 119 households on instances of dissatisfaction, reasons for being dissatisfied, and the nature and extent of any subsequent complaining behavior for each of 63 categories of consumer durables. Substantial differences across categories were found in the fraction of users reporting dissatisfaction, reasons given for dissatisfaction, and subsequent action or inaction.
[ to cite ]:
Ralph L. Day and Stephen B. Ash (1979) ,"Consumer Response to Dissatisfaction With Durable Products", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 06, eds. William L. Wilkie, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 438-444.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 1979      Pages 438-444

CONSUMER RESPONSE TO DISSATISFACTION WITH DURABLE PRODUCTS

Ralph L. Day, Indiana University

Stephen B. Ash, University of Western Ontario

ABSTRACT -

Data were obtained from a sample of 119 households on instances of dissatisfaction, reasons for being dissatisfied, and the nature and extent of any subsequent complaining behavior for each of 63 categories of consumer durables. Substantial differences across categories were found in the fraction of users reporting dissatisfaction, reasons given for dissatisfaction, and subsequent action or inaction.

INTRODUCTION

The literature of consumer satisfaction, dissatisfaction and complaining behavior is growing rapidly but still offers spotty coverage of the full range of products and services. Because unique aspects of particular products and services contribute to the wide variations in dissatisfaction which are observed over product categories, the need for comprehensive coverage is obvious. This paper presents some previously unreported results from a study which tested methods for collecting data in a single study over the full range of products and services. In an effort to develop a workable set of classes which would encompass all specific consumer products and services, about 200 categories were established. These were organized into three major sections; durables, non-durables, and consumer services. Some results have already been reported: analysis of satisfaction scale results for services (Day and Bodur, 1977); complaining behavior for services (Day and Bodur, 1978); and analysis of satisfaction scales for durables (Ash, 1978). This paper presents some analysis of the complaining behavior data from the durables section.

Most previous empirical studies have focused on the identification of correlates of consumer satisfaction, dissatisfaction, and complaining behavior. Early efforts were directed toward demographic correlates (Mason and Himes, 1973; Gr°nhaug, 1977; Warland et al., 1975; Liefeld et al., 1975; Thomas and Shuptrine, 1975). In recent papers, writers have directed their search for correlates of complaining behavior toward psychographic variables (Westbrook, 1977; Wall et al., 1977; Zaichkowsky and Liefeld, 1977). However a few studies have attempted to conceptualize and model the consumer complaint process (Day and Landon, 1977; Landon, 1977; Gr°nhaug, 1977). The framework for dealing with data on complaining behavior developed by Day and Landon (1977) and applied by Day and Bodur (1978) will guide the presentation of results below.

OBJECTIVES

The original goal of the study was to design and test a research method to provide the kinds of information needed by public policy decision makers in monitoring and evaluating consumer satisfaction and dissatisfaction over the total range of consumer products and services (Day and Landon, 1976). However, as the study has evolved, the focus has shifted more toward providing descriptive data and insights which will be useful in conceptualizing the consumer evaluation process including any post-evaluation behaviors. This paper has the following specific objectives:

(1) To compare levels of consumer dissatisfaction over various classes of durable products;

(2) To determine which durable products appear to have caused the greatest amounts of dissatisfaction among users;

(3) To identify recurring reasons for dissatisfaction with durable products;

(4) To describe how consumers who report dissatisfaction attempt to resolve their complaints through alternative courses of private and public action;

(5) To compare complaining behavior patterns over various classes of durable products.

Hopefully, study of these results will provide information and insights which will be useful in designing future research on complaining behavior.

DATA COLLECTION

The data analyzed in this paper were obtained with self administered questionnaires using the drop off-pick up method to a probability sample of 600 dwelling units in Bloomington, Indiana during the fall of 1976 (Day and Bodur, 1977). The questionnaires obtain data on consumer satisfaction/dissatisfaction and complaint behavior on an "aided recall" basis. The product categories are divided into three major classes of goods and services and are utilized in four questionnaires: (1) non-durables; (2) durables; (3) services and intangible products; and (4) a combined version containing the entire 200 classes. Each of the three separate questionnaires further sub-divide the product or service categories with a full set of complaining behavior questions at the end of each subsection. The results reported here were obtained from data covering the 63 categories of durable products which were sub-divided into four classes: (1) housing and home furnishing durables; (2) home appliances and personal care items; (3) entertainment, recreation and education durables; and (4) cars and other transportation durables. A two-stage area sampling plan was employed to gather the data. The questionnaires were delivered by MBA and advanced undergraduate students enrolled in marketing research courses. The overall response rate was approximately 80%. A total of 119 usable separate durable products questionnaires were obtained.

The questionnaire first required respondents to indicate whether or not they had purchased any items from the category during the three year recall period. Those who had were then asked to provide an indication of the relative importance of that category and of their degree of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with items contained in it. At the end of each section, respondents indicated if they had been highly dissatisfied by items contained in any of the categories in it. Those reporting extreme dissatisfaction then indicated the number of times they had experienced it. They were then asked to identify the category which was most unsatisfactory and to report the specific name of the item. Those reporting dissatisfaction completed a set of questions identifying their reasons for dissatisfaction and what steps were taken, if any, to resolve their dissatisfaction.

To facilitate discussion, the results are sub-divided into three classifications: (1) the number of instances of dissatisfaction; (2) reasons for dissatisfaction with durables; and (3) post-dissatisfaction responses.

Levels of Consumer Dissatisfaction

Tables 1 through 4 contain summaries of all durable product categories and show proportions of use and dissatisfaction for the various items. One can see wide variation in the proportions of the sample population using the various products. There is also a wide range in the fractions of users who report dissatisfaction. The highest rates of reported dissatisfaction for any of the 63 items occurred with products used by comparatively small proportions of the sample; for example, 28.6% of the purchasers of pool tables/card tables reported dissatisfaction (Table 3) and 25.0% of the purchasers of used pickup or panel trucks were dissatisfied (Table 4). The highest rates of dissatisfaction for categories in widespread use were related to new and used automobiles (Table 4). The high levels of dissatisfaction with new and used cars confirm conventional complaint statistics. However, product categories with high rates of dissatisfaction among users but with lower proportions of use typically do not show up in complaint statistics.

A previous paper on the services section of the study examined whether the extreme negative responses on the satisfaction scale (quite dissatisfied) are predictive of the frequency of reported dissatisfaction provided at the end of each section of the questionnaire (Day and Bodur, 1978). All Spearman rank correlation coefficients between the two sets of responses were significant beyond the .001 level. In the durables data, the number of "quite dissatisfied" responses shown in the last column of Tables 1-4 and the frequency of reported dissatisfaction in each section were as follows: housing and home furnishings (Table 1), rs = .32; home appliance and personal care products (Table 2), rs = .91; entertainment, recreation and education durables (Table 3), rs = .93; cars and other transportation durables (Table 4), rs = .90. Except for the housing and home furnishings section, all correlations were significant beyond the .001 level, reinforcing the earlier results. A speculative reason for the lack of association between scale responses and reported dissatisfaction for housing and home furnishings is that buyers may be dissatisfied with their choices on the basis of taste or visible design features rather than poor quality or substandard performance.

Sources of Consumer Dissatisfaction

Consumers who reported high dissatisfaction with a particular durable product were asked to consider an inventory of possible reasons for dissatisfaction and to indicate which reason(s) accounted for their dissatisfaction. If several reasons were checked, the respondents were requested to indicate which one was the most important. Table 5 summarizes the reasons for dissatisfaction given in each of the four sections of durable products.

The most frequently cited reason for dissatisfaction was "The quality of materials was inferior." In percentage terms, this reason ranked highest in all sections except entertainment, recreation and education durables. The percentage of respondents who checked this item ranged from 56.5% for entertainment, recreation and education durables to 75.0% for housing and home furnishings. The second most frequently checked reason for dissatisfaction was "The quality of workmanship was inferior." The percentage of respondents who cited this reason for dissatisfaction ranged from 18.8% for home appliance and personal care products to 60.9% for entertainment, recreation and education durables.

Table 5 reveals varying patterns in the frequency of other reasons cited for dissatisfaction. For example, problems with warranties were mentioned frequently for cars and other transportation durables but were infrequently mentioned for most other durable products. These results parallel earlier findings with respect to services (Day and Bodur, 1978) to the extent that dissatisfaction with the "quality of materials" and the "quality of workmanship" overshadowed the other possible reasons for dissatisfaction. However, statements about warranties were checked infrequently for services but were checked quite often for durables showing that reasons for dissatisfaction may vary widely over classes of products and services. Table 5 shows that respondents who reported dissatisfaction with durable products tended to be more concerned about product quality issues than with issues related to marketing practices. This was also the case for services (Day and Bodur, 1978)

Post-Dissatisfaction Responses

To determine the reasons why many respondents who reported dissatisfaction with various items failed to take any action to resolve their dissatisfaction, subjects were asked to indicate which of four possible reasons best explained why they had taken no action. Table 6 summarizes these responses and shows that about four-fifths of the replies fell into two categories: "I didn't think it was worth the time and effort" and "I didn't think that I could get anyone to do anything about it." These results parallel earlier findings (Gr°nhaug, 1977) which showed that some consumers seek redress or complain only when they are reasonably confident of obtaining a favorable outcome.

Table 7 summarizes the types of private and public action taken by dissatisfied respondents who sought redress or complained to resolve their dissatisfaction. The total number of private and public actions taken by respondents are shown in the right hand column and a breakdown of the specific responses within the two basic categories is shown in the middle of Table 7. Total actions taken (160) were evenly split between private and public actions. Table 7 shows that 65.0% of the private actions involved decisions to switch brands or warning others about the unsatisfactory consumption experience. Over 80% of public actions involved asking the seller for repairs, replacement or refund or otherwise complaining to the seller. Overall, public actions were evenly split between redress seeking and complaining with the former accounting for 48.8% of the total. A notable finding is that about one-half of the reported actions were of a "private" nature and would not normally be brought to the attention of business firms or consumer protection agencies.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS

This paper has reported some results of analysis of consumer responses to dissatisfaction with durable products using data obtained from a probability sample of 119 households in Bloomington, Indiana. The focus of this paper was on post-evaluation responses and three sets of results were analyzed and discussed: the proportions of highly dissatisfied users, the frequency of reasons for dissatisfaction with various items, and patterns of post-dissatisfaction responses. The results showed widely varying proportions of dissatisfied users over the 63 categories of durable products as well as wide variations in the fraction using particular durables. This suggests that complaint statistics based on simple counts will fail to reveal even exceptionally high rates of dissatisfaction with products which are less widely used. Reasons for dissatisfaction also varied across the four sections of durable products and concern about product quality or performance tended to overshadow other possible causes of dissatisfaction.

The results reported here parallel and reinforce those reported previously for the services part of the Bloomington study (Day and Bodur, 1978). Analysis of the third section which covers nondurables is nearing completion. Together the three parts will provide a unique set of data spanning the full range of consumer products and services. Hopefully, improvements and extensions of the methodology used in the Bloomington study will soon be applied to a large national sample of consumers to provide a base line for evaluating relative levels of satisfaction as well as a rich data base for researchers on consumer satisfaction, dissatisfaction, and complaining behavior.

TABLE 1

USE AND DISSATISFACTION: HOUSING AND HOME FURNISHINGS

TABLE 2

USE AND DISSATISFACTION: HOME APPLIANCE AND PERSONAL CARE PRODUCTS

TABLE 3

USE AND DISSATISFACTION: ENTERTAINMENT, RECREATION AND EDUCATION DURABLES

TABLE 4

USE AND DISSATISFACTION: CARS AND OTHER TRANSPORTATION DURABLES

TABLE 5

REASONS FOR DISSATISFACTION

TABLE 6

REASONS DISSATISFIED RESPONDENTS GAVE FOR TAKING NO ACTIONS

TABLE 7

SUMMARY OF ACTIONS TAKEN IN RESPONSE TO DISSATISFACTION

REFERENCES

Stephen B. Ash, "A Comprehensive Study of Consumer Satisfaction With Durable Products," in H. Keith Hunt, ed., Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. V, Association for Consumer Research, 1978, pp. 254-62.

Ralph L. Day and Muzaffer Bodur, "A Comprehensive Study of Satisfaction With Consumer Services," in Ralph L. Day, ed., Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction, and Complaining Behavior, Division of Research, Indiana University, 1977, pp. 64-74.

Ralph L. Day and Muzaffer Bodur, "Consumer Response to Dissatisfaction With Services and Intangible Products," in H. Keith Hunt, ed., Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. V., Association for Consumer Research, 1978, pp. 263-72.

Ralph L. Day and E. Laird Landon, Jr., "Collecting Comprehensive Consumer Complaint Data by Survey Research," in Beverlee B. Anderson, ed., Advances for Consumer Research, Vol. III, Association for Consumer Research, 1976, pp. 263-68.

Ralph L. Day and E. Laird Landon, Jr., "Toward A Theory of Consumer Complaining Behaviour," in Arch Woodside, Jagdish Sheth and Peter Bennett, eds., Foundations of Consumer and Industrial Buying Behaviour, American Elsevier, 1977, pp. 425-37.

Kjell Gr°nhaug, "Exploring Consumer Complaining Behaviours: A Model and Some Empirical Results," in William D. Perreault, ed., Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. IV, Association for Consumer Research, 1977, pp. 159-63.

E. Laird Landon, Jr., "A Model of Consumer Complaint Behavior," in Ralph L. Day, ed., Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction, and Complaining Behavior, Division of Research, Indiana University, 1977, pp. 31-35.

J. P. Liefeld, F. C. H. Edgecombe and L. Wolfe, "Demographic Characteristics of Canadian Consumer Complaints," Journal of Consumer Affairs, 9 (Summer 1975), 73-80.

Joseph B. Mason and Samuel H. Himes, Jr., "An Exploratory Behavioral and Socioeconomic Profile of Consumer Action About Dissatisfaction With Selected Household Appliances, Journal of Consumer Affairs, 7 (Winter 1973), 121-27.

John A. Miller, "Data Reduction Techniques and the Exploration of Satisfaction Segments," in Ralph L. Day, ed., Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction, and Complaining Behavior, Division of Research, Indiana University, 1977, pp. 103-14.

William R. Thomas and F. Kelly Shuptrine, "The Consumer Complaint Process: Communication and Resolution," Business and Economic Review, 21 (June 1975), 13-22.

Marjorie Wall, Lois E. Dickey and W. Wayne Talarzyk, "Predicting and Profiling Consumer Satisfaction and Propensity to Complain," in Ralph L. Day, ed., Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction, and Complaining Behavior, Division of Research, Indiana University, 1977, pp. 91-101.

Rex H. Warland, Robert O. Hermann and Jane Willits, "Dissatisfied Consumers: Who Gets Upset and Who Takes What Action," Journal of Consumer Affairs, (Winter 1975), 148-63.

Robert A. Westbrook, "Correlates of Post Purchase Satisfaction With Major Household Appliances," in Ralph L. Day, ed., Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction, and Complaining Behavior, Division of Research, Indiana University, 1977, pp. 85-90.

Judy Zaichkowsky and John Liefeld, "Personality Profiles of Consumer Complaint Letter Writers," in Ralph L. Day, ed., Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction and Complaining Behavior, Division of Research, Indiana University, 1977, pp. 124-29.

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