Some Observations and Questions That Might Be Helpful in Future Research

Zarrel V. Lambert, Auburn University
[ to cite ]:
Zarrel V. Lambert (1979) ,"Some Observations and Questions That Might Be Helpful in Future Research", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 06, eds. William L. Wilkie, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 611-613.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 1979      Pages 611-613

SOME OBSERVATIONS AND QUESTIONS THAT MIGHT BE HELPFUL IN FUTURE RESEARCH

Zarrel V. Lambert, Auburn University

INTRODUCTION

'Tis an appropriate season to be a discussant this time of year because the role is akin to that of a Monday morning quarterback. One can say the team should have passed more or a different research design should have been employed. A discussant, somewhat like a Monday morning quarterback, does not have to make hard decisions before the data are collected, analyzed, and problems perhaps become apparent. In addition to having hindsight, a discussant may raise conceptual and methodological questions which the researchers had difficulty answering in advance due to length restrictions on their papers. A discussant's role, like a critic's, is a comfortable one.

More seriously, a positive and productive purpose in discussing research papers is to offer observations and raise questions, perhaps both conceptual and methodological, that may be helpful to future investigators who read the papers prior to formulating their research. My remarks are made with this purpose in mind, and it is hoped they will not be interpreted in such fruitless terms as praise and criticism.

Dissimilarities of the three papers seemed more apparent than commonalties. Those by Golden et al. and Hirsch-man et al., of course, were data based, whereas Pessemier's was mainly conceptual. The principal perspective of the major research questions appeared to differ between the two empirical papers. The work by Golden et al. seemed to emanate primarily from conceptual questions with applied or managerial implications less in the forefront. By comparison, the research by Hirschman et al. appeared centered largely around managerial questions pertaining to segmentation of credit card users, with conceptual implications more in the background. Because this characterization of the papers is a gross simplification, the authors and others have complete liberty to disagree.

Because the papers seemed to be quite different, they will be discussed individually, instead of collectively, in alphabetical order of the first author's name.

SEX ROLE SELF-CONCEPT BY GOLDEN ET AL.

Factors in general that influence product perceptions obviously have considerable conceptual and managerial significance. Those pertaining to sex in particular are of current interest and may remain topical for some time if there is continued emphasis on breaking down traditional sex stereotypes. One of this paper's more important contributions is to introduce the possibility that product perceptions may be associated with a person's sex role self-concept.

The paper focuses on reporting statistical findings and devotes scant attention to discussing two key concepts: (1) sex role self-concept; and (2) treatment of femininity and masculinity as separate independent dimensions. This may leave some readers who are unfamiliar with these concepts with unresolved questions in their minds. Some readers, for example, who envision femininity/masculinity as bi-polar anchors on a single dimension might begin arguing with the measurements obtained by the study's dual scales before turning to the cited references pertaining to this concept.

The emphasis on statistical results also may cause some readers difficulty in relating these findings back to the major research assumptions and objectives. The introductory paragraphs seem to indicate that cause-and-effect relationships are not being implied between sex role self-concept, self-esteem, and feminine/masculine product perceptions. However, several of the stated research objectives might be interpreted as suggesting causal relationships. For example, the second objective was: "To determine the individual and combined effects of sex, use and self-esteem upon sex-typing of products." Little attention is given to explaining whether the statistical results reveal associations or cause-and-effect relationships. If it is the latter, then supporting conceptual and/or methodological arguments would be helpful.

Also there was some difficulty in my case in locating direct test results for the first research objective which was "to investigate the congruency between sex role self-concept and sex-typing of products."

The authors, given-their knowledge about the various concepts involved in the research, could assist readers by discussing conceptual and/or managerial implications of the statistical results. Otherwise readers who may be less familiar with the concepts might overlook significant implications. For instance, what do the observed differences in self-esteem across the four sex role self-concept classifications mean? Other questions pertaining to implications of the findings for pocket knife, the first product examined, include:

1. Why do feminine product perceptions differ between males and females, and masculine perceptions do not? What are the conceptual and/or managerial implications?

2. Similarly why do feminine perceptions vary between users and nonusers, and masculine perceptions do not? Why would users of pocket knives see the product as being more feminine than nonusers?

3. What inferences can be drawn from the statistical results indicating self-esteem "becomes an important variable" in interaction with others in the case of masculine perceptions but is much less so for feminine perceptions?

4. What is the meaning of the finding that females with a masculine sex role self-concept perceive a pocket knife to be less masculine than males of any sex role?

Several other such questions may be raised with respect to pocket knife.

Similar questions about implications can be posed in the case of other studied products. For example, what inferences can be drawn from observing that females perceive cuff links to be more masculine and more feminine than do males, or that males perceive hair spray as more masculine and more feminine than do females?

Also it might be asked why relationships involving sex role self-concept, sex, self-esteem, and use vary across the product sex types? Do the notions of sex role self-concept and self-esteem operate in a product specific manner, or do they hold for various products? What do the results of this study suggest?

A high priority question to resolve prior to undertaking further research, it seems to me, is whether consumers visualize products on a single bipolar feminine/masculine dimension or on two independent feminine and masculine dimensions as operationalized in this investigation. A study could be designed specifically to answer this question.

The authors state in their conclusions that sex image of products is a bi-polar construct. It was unclear, at least to me, how this conclusion emanated from their data which were collected using separate scales for femininity and masculinity. And if this was the case, why the research analyses examined feminine and masculine product perceptions separately as if they were different dimensions.

The dual versus single dimension question must be answered in order to ascertain whether differences in feminine and masculine product perceptions as well as corresponding relationships with other variables observed in this study were artifacts of dual scales. Such artifacts conceivably could have occurred if dual scales were extremely foreign to the way subjects normally envisioned products.

Another significant research question is whether product perceptions in terms of sex are related (1) to sex role self-concept of the individual or (2) to the sex of persons "most often thought of as using the product." Both relationships were suggested by the current investigators who indicated the latter warranted further investigation.

If the latter relationship exists, then a question arises whether sex role self-concept is a causal variable with respect to product perceptions. Additional questions may be asked about conceptual and/or managerial implications of three-way associations, if they are observed, involving sex role self-concept, perceived sex of typical users, and product perceptions.

Assuming the preceding questions are resolved, research attention might be focused on brand perceptions within product classes. Brand perceptions might differ markedly within a product class that generally has a certain sex image. Cologne, deodorant, and hair spray are examples of such possibilities. Research questions would include whether the variables and relationships relevant across products to sex perceptions also held across brands. The conceptual and managerial implications of the research findings, of course, would need to be identified and defined.

CREDIT CARD USAGE BY HIRSCHMAN ET AL.

One of the study's important contributions was to examine card usage while controlling "external" factors of multiple card possession and retailer acceptance of these alternative cards. Research measuring credit card usage in general terms, aggregated across a variety of purchases and retailers, ignores many situational factors such as retailer acceptance of cards and frequency of buying from each retailer that undoubtedly influence card usage rates.

To ask consumers which card is "usually" used, is to ask them to aggregate their preferences in specific situations, considering retailer acceptance, and to express the summations in terms of which card is used most often. Parenthetically, one might wonder about the ability of consumers to accurately sum across situations and perhaps question the usefulness of aggregate data.

Once research controls are introduced to ensure all respondents possess alternative cards and the retailer will accept each, card usage or preference becomes tied to the prevailing situation. Thus, the comparison of bank and store card user profiles in this study in actuality asks if there are correlates of respondents' card preferences when buying from the particular retailer chosen as the data collection site. Their card preferences in this situation may or may not be similar to those prevailing when purchasing from another retailer.

Given the highly situational nature of the research data, intuitively one might expect demographic factors to have little, if any, discriminating or predictive ability. As the authors indicate, banks and stores are apt to use similar criteria in issuing credit cards. The fact that all respondents were patrons of a particular store probably introduced additional homogeneity into the data because a store's clientele usually has some homogeneity. Consequently, this study's first hypothesis pertaining to demographics assumes the characteristics of a preliminary test prior to turning to a more substantive question concerning correlates of card preferences in this particular situation. Parenthetically, interpretation of the statistically significant variation in income would be hazardous for numerous reasons including its lack of significance when shopping frequency at the store was controlled, as noted by the authors.

There seem to be some unresolved conceptual and managerial questions about the results pertaining to hypotheses 2 and 3. What is the relative significance of mobility factors vis-a-vis perceived importance of card attributes? Would the results have been substantially different if attribute importance ratings had been added to the discriminant function before the mobility factors?

The authors noted that 31% of bank card users were nonresidents visiting the city. Length of residency also appeared to be significantly less for bank card users. The amount of absolute difference in residency, however, was not clear.

Many nonresidents and short-term residents might be expected intuitively to have a much lower shopping frequency and lower average monthly credit charges at the store than longer term residents. Would these factors make a difference in the importance attached to certain card attributes such as consolidate billing and utilize additional credit plan? As mentioned earlier, would the mobility factors retain their statistical significance if attribute importance ratings were added to the function first?

In either event, which is more meaningful from the segmentation perspectives of bankers and retailers, to know card attribute importance ratings or to know consumers' location (resident/nonresident) and length of residency?

Another question is what differences would exist between the profiles of bank and store card users if shopping frequency and average monthly charges at the store were controlled.

One possible reason for consumers to have both bank and store cards is to enlarge their line of credit. At least some may think it is easier to obtain two cards with $500 ceilings, say, than one with a $1000 limit. Persons living within the area who buy frequently from the store would be in a more advantageous position to exploit this opportunity to extend their credit than nonresidents. Thus, one might ask if perceived importance of the card attribute "utilize additional credit plan" is associated with residence location.

In considering avenues for future research, one might ask what was learned through the current study and what are significant unresolved conceptual and managerial questions? Several have already been mentioned.

A major research priority, it seems to me, is to sort out the factors that may co-vary with those examined in this study. Such factors would include shopping frequency and average monthly charges. Then it would be important to identify conceptually as well as statistically the most meaningful variables from the standpoint of segmentation.

A longitudinal study might be undertaken to examine if and how card attribute importance ratings and card preferences change over time among consumers who move into the store's area, while again controlling for purchase frequency and monthly charges.

It must be remembered that such analyses are apt to be highly situational, pertaining perhaps to a specific store as in this instance. Thus, further research would be needed encompassing other retailers and purchase situations perhaps before generalizations could be safely drawn about credit card usage preferences.

CONTINGENCY DATA ANALYSIS BY PESSEMIER

This paper makes a valuable contribution in that it summarizes in one place several alternative psychological models of individual judgment and corresponding procedures for identifying and assessing determinant attributes. Its principal concern obviously is with contingency data. Needless to say, it is conceptually based and data free.

Sometimes different results, which at first glance suggest differing interpretations, occur when alternative analytical procedures are applied to the same data base. Consequently, some investigators interested in employing an approach discussed in this paper may wonder if the particular approach selected will influence the results, particularly in the case of contingency data. And if so, they may wish to know how the results might vary and what effects this could have on interpretations. Stated differently, what are the important considerations in choosing an approach? Perhaps if members of the audience are interested in these issues, Pessemier will elaborate on the approaches.

The approaches were discussed from the standpoint of an object rather than that of a judge such as a consumer. For example, the paper tells how an object's attribute complexity and ambiguity might be measured. An implicit assumption in the case of pooled data is that subjects are relatively homogeneous in their judgments, or at least that differences among subjects can be ignored.

Psychology literature suggests, and Pessemier alluded to this earlier in the paper, that persons may vary substantially in their perceptions of an object as well as of similarities/dissimilarities between objects. Some might be said to manifest substantial cognitive complexity utilizing a number of attributes in judging an object. Others appear comparatively simple using only a very few attributes. This raises at least two issues.

One pertains to pooled data. Are results, using the various approaches, sensitive to intersubject variance in judgments? What are the implications?

A second issue deals with differentiating among consumers instead of objects. Pessemier described how some of the approaches could be used to monitor an object over time as it moved through the adoption-diffusion process or product life cycle. Can these same approaches be utilized to segment consumers at a given point in time in terms of attribute Judgments; that is to say, in their judgments of a product? If so, how might this be accomplished?

CLOSING REMARKS

As mentioned earlier, it is hoped that some of these comments and questions might serve to spark research ideas among those hearing and reading the papers. Perhaps certain remarks will raise methodological considerations that in turn will lead to particularly sound research designs and analytical methods in future investigations. Thus, it was not the intent of the points expressed to either applaud or criticize the current work.

In closing, the following general questions might be posed. What were the definitive results, given the concepts, research designs and methodologies employed, and the situational factors prevailing when the data were generated in the case of the empirical studies? Hence, what significant conceptual and managerial questions remain to be answered in the subject areas of the three papers?

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