Three Papers on Consumer Satisfaction/Dissatisfaction: a Comment

George H. Haines, Jr., University of Toronto
ABSTRACT - This paper discusses three papers on Consumer Satisfaction/Dissatisfaction. It reviews the three papers contributions to research on this topic. Some comments on implications for future research are presented. The hypothesis is presented that consumer satisfaction/dissatisfaction is an important variable in determining how market operations affect the quality of human life.
[ to cite ]:
George H. Haines, Jr. (1979) ,"Three Papers on Consumer Satisfaction/Dissatisfaction: a Comment", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 06, eds. William L. Wilkie, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 450-452.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 1979      Pages 450-452


George H. Haines, Jr., University of Toronto


This paper discusses three papers on Consumer Satisfaction/Dissatisfaction. It reviews the three papers contributions to research on this topic. Some comments on implications for future research are presented. The hypothesis is presented that consumer satisfaction/dissatisfaction is an important variable in determining how market operations affect the quality of human life.


The first paper, Consumer Response to Dissatisfaction With Durable Products, presents data on consumer satisfaction developed by the survey method. The data are presented clearly. The second paper, Dissatisfaction Attributions and Consumer Complaint Behavior, uses responses from a mail survey to study whether attributions of responsibility act as a mediator between a consumers' reaction to a product and the behavioral response that follows. The third paper, Conceptual and Methodological Issues in Consumer Satisfaction Research, reviews existing survey and experimental research in consumer satisfaction and proposed that Thibaut and Kelley's (1959) comparison level theory could serve as a theoretical model for consumer satisfaction research.


This paper, in a logical sense, follows the preliminary results reported in Ash (1977) and Day and Bodur (1977). These earlier papers discussed in detail the key scales used (see Ash (1977, p. 255)), preliminary results of a comprehensive study of consumer satisfaction with durable products, and consumer response to dissatisfaction with services and intangibles. The present paper gives a clear presentation of empirical data on consumer dissatisfaction with durable products. One disappointment has to be that the data presentation is not clearly and concisely linked to the previous theoretical framework (Day and London, 1977) developed by one of the authors. Explicitly providing such linkage would have aided a reader substantially in getting the entire picture of this research project.

The reported statistics on sample size also deserve comment. I should like to thank Professor Ralph Day for discussing the matter with me. The paper states the initial sample size was 600 dwelling units, and that the overall response rate was 80%. This would mean that 480 questionnaires were returned. However, there were four different questionnaires. The results in this paper are based solely on the durable goods questionnaire, not on the entire 480 returned questionnaires. If one were to suppose that the 480 were divided equally among the four questionnaires, then 120 durable goods questionnaires would have been returned, with 119 of them useable. Actually, this was not quite so, but even so, the first impression one might get from this paper that somehow a very large number of returned questionnaires were not usable is inaccurate. It appears the sampling procedure used generates an acceptably high response rate, and almost all respondents are indeed able to answer the questions asked.

The data in Tables 1-4 show that in many instances reported consumer dissatisfaction is a rare event, somewhat akin, perhaps, to the famous nineteenth century example of cavalry officers being kicked to death by their horses. This is not to say that consumer reports of dissatisfaction are Poisson distributed: in fact, there seems to have been no studies on this. It is to say that these data suggest the hypothesis that for many products consumer dissatisfaction may be Poisson distributed. One clear area for future research would be to investigate this hypothesis and its implications from a sampling point of view.


This paper takes an old theory - attribution theory -and employs it in the analysis of complaint behavior. The authors are also careful to frame the study in the beginning with a statement of why consumer complaints should be studied. The authors conclude by stating that "the preliminary results reported in this paper indicate the importance of the use of an attribution theory framework for explaining consumer complaint behavior on post-purchase dissatisfaction". The study presented in this paper shows that there is a relation (both theoretical and empirical) between attributions about dissatisfaction and complaining behavior. Nothing in this paper precludes complaining behavior influencing attributions about dissatisfaction, and the authors have provided no test for causality. It is also noteworthy that, unlike the four point satisfaction-dissatisfaction scale used in the Day papers, the data used here appear to be zero-one, which exacerbates the usual problems of associating verbal labels with factors. This paper appears to be an excellent example of the use of factor analysis to generate empirically based hypotheses, both because of the well reported empirical work and the inherent appeal of the conceptual notions employed.


The third paper really has two parts. The first part is a careful, tightly written review of empirical research designed to "unravel the determinants of consumer satisfaction/dissatisfaction''. Toward the end of this section, the authors put forward the proposition that "satisfaction as a construct...may simply be one measure of an attitude". They follow this with the statement that "If satisfaction with a product is essentially the same as attitude toward a product (then)...", Although the role of purchase circumstances was noted earlier, this statement suggests a narrow view of satisfaction. The data in the Day and Ash paper would lead one to suspect that satisfaction with a product is not the same as attitude toward the product. Nor dm the data reported in the Krishnan and Valle paper lend support to this hypothesis. As with economists studying market behavior, the effects of channels of distribution are underestimated. The retailer and/or agent the consumer deals with appears to have a great deal to do with consumer satisfaction.

The last part of this paper attempts to resurrect the Thibaut and Kelley book. The authors gloss over rather lightly Thibaut and Kelley's claim that their notion of comparison level refers to interpersonal relationships, or (at its most general level) tasks (see Thibaut and Kelley, pp. 21-33 and 95-97). They acknowledge that they are going beyond the theory they reference when they extend the comparison level concept of Thibaut and Kelley to satisfaction with products.

The fundamental fact about Thibaut and Kelley's approach, however, is that it is a framework for organizing data and research more than it is a theory. The cost-benefit paradigm of the book is so general that it could never be disproved: any observations one could ever make about human interaction can be explained, after the event, in terms of the framework presented in Thibaut and Kelley. Thus, although the authors are certainly correct in stating that this framework "may provide a ...... basis for understanding post-consumption satisfaction/dissatisfaction with products and services", they have failed to provide a convincing argument that their framework represents a theory. A theory must be capable of being disproved (in some sense). The authors have certainly set a major challenge for themselves in claiming it is possible to convert this framework, originally primarily designed to organize the research on social psychology of groups into a coherent pattern, into a theory of consumer satisfaction. The last section of this paper, however, presents no clear proof that they have met this challenge. One suspects that by the time they have produced such a theory they will have moved, by necessity, rather far away from the Thibaut and Kelley framework. If they are to have a theory instead of a framework, then this is what will have to happen.


The central issue these papers raise is why should we be interested in consumer satisfaction. It is tempting to think that a generation of people who grew up listening to "Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones have all decided to try to find out why one cannot obtain satisfaction in market activities. However, there seems to be no research I am aware of about the influence of societal problems posed in popular music upon research efforts ten years later. Certainly the issue of "why study satisfaction'' is not a new one (Czepiel and Rosenberg, 1978). The classical answer to this question seems to be that presented by Krishnan and Valle: we should study the phenomenon so as to help companies cope with it, and so as to help governments to regulate our lives. However, it is possible to study this phenomenon from a more general point of view. We really seem to be exploring the effects of market operations on the quality of human life. Many people, I am sure, do this from an optimistic position that knowledge about alternative institutions and functions and their effects on satisfaction can aid in the creation of a better world, where better means the design and implementation of market systems which improve the quality of human life. There is no doubt that this is an important research area,

The periodic market breakdowns in the United States (.and some other countries) where consumers go out and loot and burn the stores in their neighborhoods are all too well known. Their effects are all too obvious. The issue that seems to have received less study than it deserves is what are the longer run effects of consumer dissatisfaction, and can something be done about it? That is, the argument is that research on consumer satisfaction ought also to end in helping consumers, as well as companies, governments, and quasi-governmental organizations, some of which impinge on our lives without having any market to discipline their behavior.

Well, what are the longer run effects of consumer dissatisfaction? This was one issue explored in some past work which should be reviewed here (Alexis, Haines, and Simon, forthcoming).

The data used in this analysis consisted of results from two surveys conducted in Rochester, New York. The first survey, conducted in the summer of 1966, was used to develop a cross-sectional regression equation to explain family expenditures for food. The independent variables were family income, family size and composition, race, and mobility. The second survey, conducted in the summer of 1969, also provided data on all these variables. The data also included information on the family decision process, and the families enjoyment of food shopping. Detailed analysis of these results is presented in Alexis, Haines, and Simon, 1972a.

The data on enjoyment of shopping activities is particularly important in the present context. Respondents were asked "How would you rate your feelings about shopping for food?". The possible answers were Really enjoy, Don't mind, Dislike, Don't know, No answer.

How were these data analyzed? The cross-sectional regression equation based on a sample of 270 respondents in the 1966 survey was used to predict family expenditures on food in the 1969 survey. It was first shown (Alexis, Haines, and Simon, 1972a) that this equation predicted the results more accurately than a naive forecasting scheme. The predictions were then compared to the actual reported expenditures in 1969. Each family was classified as to whether they spent more than would be predicted (or less) on their weekly food shopping. Also, each family was classified as to whether their weekly expenditures were predictable. Ninety-five percent prediction intervals were calculated, and each family unit was classified as to whether its actual expenditures lay within the prediction interval or outside of it. This was the predictability criterion. There were one hundred and twenty-seven respondents used in this analysis.

The analysis model of James Coleman (1964) was then used to examine whether systematic deviations existed in (a) the predictability of family expenditures, and (b) the tendency of a family to be an overspender. Enjoyment of shopping and the nature of the family decision making process were the independent variables. Detailed analysis of the results has been presented in Alexis, Haines, and Simon 1972b.

What was found? A general summary of the results would be that not enjoying shopping tends to make expenditures both unpredictable and larger than average. Consumers who report dissatisfaction with shopping tend to do, in comparative terms, a poor job at it. The results support the hypothesis that consumer dissatisfaction creates a feedback loop which perpetuates consumer dissatisfaction. One could certainly argue that the results presented by Day and Ash would not disagree with this proposition.

The issue is, supposing this hypothesis to be true, what can be done about it? Here is the greatest need for future research in consumer satisfaction/dissatisfaction. We need to know whether, in fact and in general, consumer dissatisfaction alters consumer behavior to ensure future dissatisfaction, and if so, how such a destructive feedback loop could be ameliorated. It is not enough to just study consumer behavior in this area so as to alter the behavior of firms and of governments. We must not forget that consumers are an integral part of the marketplace also.


Marcus Alexis, George H. Haines, Jr., and Leonard S. Simon, Black Consumer Profiles: Food Purchasing in the Inner City, Ann Arbor: Division of Research, University of Michigan, forthcoming.

Marcus Alexis, George H. Haines, Jr., and Leonard S. Simon, "Consumption Behavior of Prisoners: The Case of the Inner City Shopper", Alan R. Andreasen (ed.), Improving Inner-City Marketing, Chicago: American Marketing Association (1972a) pp. 61-94.

Marcus Alexis, George H. Haines, Jr., and Leonard S. Simon, "Neighborhood Effects, Family Decision Making Patterns, and Consumption Expenditures", in: Fred C. Allvine (ed.), Combined Proceedings, American Marketing Association, 1971 Spring and Fall Conferences, Chicago: American Marketing Association, 1972b.

Stephen B. Ash, "A Comprehensive Study of Consumer Satisfaction With Durable Products", in: H. Keith Hunt (ed.), Advances in Consumer Research Vol. V, Ann Arbor: Association For Consumer Research, 1978, pp. 254-262.

James S. Coleman, Introduction to Mathematical Sociology, New York: Free Press, 1964.

Larry A. Czepiel and Larry J. Rosenberg, "The Study of Consumer Satisfaction: Addressing The 'So What' Question'', in: H. Keith Hunt (ed.), Conceptualization and Measurement of Consumer Satisfaction and Dissatisfaction, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Marketing Science Institute, 1978, pp. 92-119.

Ralph L. Day and Muzafer Bodur, "Consumer Response to Dissatisfaction With Services and Intangibles", in H. Keith Hunt (ed.), Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. V, Ann Arbor: Association For Consumer Research, 1978, pp. 263-272.

Ralph L. Day and E. Laird Landon, Jr., "Toward A Theory of Consumer Complaint Behavior", in Arch Woodside, Jag-dish Sheth, and Peter Bennett, (eds.), Foundations of Consumer and Industrial Buying Behavior, New York: American Elsevier, 1977, pp. 425-37.

John W. Thibaut and Harold H. Kelley, The Social Psychology of Groups, New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1959.