An Exploratory Assessment: Fashion Clothing Involvement’S Influence on the Development of Perceptions of Product Knowledge Expertise and Confidence

ABSTRACT - This study explores the relationship between consumers’ fashion clothing involvement and associated levels of perceived product knowledge and confidence in their decision making ability related to fashion clothing. The data analysis showed significant correlations between involvement and subjective knowledge and confidence. A model of the proposed relationships was developed and tested via structural equation modeling, achieving good fit to the data.



Citation:

Aron O’Cass (2001) ,"An Exploratory Assessment: Fashion Clothing Involvement’S Influence on the Development of Perceptions of Product Knowledge Expertise and Confidence", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, eds. Paula M. Tidwell and Thomas E. Muller, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 288-295.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 2001      Pages 288-295

AN EXPLORATORY ASSESSMENT: FASHION CLOTHING INVOLVEMENT’S INFLUENCE ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF PERCEPTIONS OF PRODUCT KNOWLEDGE EXPERTISE AND CONFIDENCE

Aron O’Cass, Griffith University-Gold Coast, Australia

ABSTRACT -

This study explores the relationship between consumers’ fashion clothing involvement and associated levels of perceived product knowledge and confidence in their decision making ability related to fashion clothing. The data analysis showed significant correlations between involvement and subjective knowledge and confidence. A model of the proposed relationships was developed and tested via structural equation modeling, achieving good fit to the data.

INTRODUCTION

The considerable empirical and theoretical effort devoted to involvement over the last three and a half decades has been driven by consumer behaviour researchers desires to understand the ways in which consumers buy products and consume them and how attached they become to them.

Involvement fundamentally, addresses marketers’ ways of thinking about consumer behaviour (Fairhurst, Good & Gentry 1989 and Poiesz & de Bont 1995), because marketers generally view consumer behaviour as a continuum covering a range of cognitive and behavioural processes, where at one extreme, consumers actively search for and process information to make informed product selections to satisfy their needs and wants (Mittal and Lee 1989). Using involvement terminology, these are 'high involvement’ consumers. The other extreme of the continuum, sees marketers’ proposing that a great deal of consumer behaviour does not involve extensive information search and evaluation for purchasing and consumption. Such behaviour is considered 'low involvement’ consumer behaviour (Kassarjian 1981).

In this study, involvement is viewed as a construct linked to the interaction between an individual and an object and it is seen as referring to the relative strength or intensity of consumers cognitive structures related to a focal object (product). This study focuses on product involvement and takes the perspective that in a given sphere of consumer activity, involvement refers to the extent to which the consumer views the focal activity as a central part of their life, a meaningful and engaging activity in their life and important to them. It denotes the intensity with which a product gestalt is embedded in and driven by the consumers’ value system. High involvement implies greater relevance to the self and is part of the consumer’s life space.

Product involvement research that has appeared in the literature includes but is not limited to, the fashion conscious consumer (Fairhurst, Good & Gentry 1989) and the car enthusiast (Bloch 1986) and the work by Mittal (1988, 1989) and Mittal and Lee (1989).

Involvement is viewed here as fairly enduring in nature and it also has the dimensions of direction and intensity. Direction refers to the object of involvement and answers the question involvement in what? Intensity refers to the degree of involvement, that is, to the relative salience of the cognitive structure of the consumer’s association with the stimulus. It is proposed that the amount of involvement may vary both across individuals for a given stimulus and across different objects within the same consumer. Such objects can, in marketing terms can be products, purchases, consumption and communications/advertising. Involvement has been argued to have a significant effect on a wide range of consumer behaviours such as decision making processes and behaviours and advertising receptivity (Arora 1983, Beatty and Smith 1987). For such reasons involvement plays an important role in explaining consumers behaviour, particularly so with respect to their marketplace activity. As such when focusing on retailing issues, involvement has much to offer marketers in improving their retail operation and marketing programs. By understanding consumers involvement and its impact on other important consumer characteristics that affect where and how we buy what we buy, retailing performance could be improved.

PRODUCT KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERTISE

Consumer knowledge has only recently become an area of research significance, despite the importance of knowledge related variables and issues in marketing. Traditionally knowledge has been treated as a unidimensional construct, mostly referred to in the literature as product familiarity or prior knowledge. Essentially then, product knowledge has been viewed as knowledge of brands in a product class and in terms of product-use contexts and product attributes knowledge, frequency of use and experience with the product (Johnson & Russo 1981, 1984, Raju & Reilly 1979, Lastovicka 1979).

Consumers vary greatly in their knowledge abut a product or offering and their degree of familiarity with it. Knowledge can come from product experiences, such as ad exposure, interactions with salespeople, information from friends or the media, previous decision making or previous consumption and usage experiences held memory. There are studies that have examined consumers familiarity and product knowledge in relation to such constructs as information processing (Beattie 1982), learning of product attributes and brands (Johnson & Russo 1981, 1984), attitude development (Marks & Olson 1981), product knowledge and familiarity (Russo & Johnson 1980), choice of decision rules (Park 1976; Payne 1976 Tan & Dolich 1981), and product satisfaction (Anderson, Engledow & Becker 1979). However, the literature addressing the relationship between product involvement and subjective product knowledge is quite sparse (Gill, Grossbart and Laczniak 1988, Paraswaran and Spinelli 1984, Phelps and Thorson 1991, Zaichkowsky 1985, Zinkhan and Muderrisoglu 1985 and Sujan 1983). Importantly, none examine the relationship between level of product involvement and degree of subjective knowledge.

There is also some confusion surrounding use of the term product familiarity and product knowledge (Gardial & Zinkhan 1984). The existing literature is somewhat inconclusive and perhaps a little contradictory regarding the relationship between product involvement, product knowledge and expertise. There are those who have suggested that familiarity should be viewed as an antecedent to involvement (Zinkhan & Muderrisoglu 1985), or as a component of it (Lastovicka & Gardner 1979) or even as a consequence of it (Mittal & Lee 1989). The relationship between involvement and product knowledge has also been suggested as an interactive (reciprocal) one (Gardial & Zinkhan 1984). Interestingly, Zaichkowsky (1985) has examined the relationship between involvement and expertise and argued that involvement may be unrelated to expertise.

With regard to product knowledge, there are fundamentally two key methods for operationalising and measuring product knowledge. One is to measure product knowledge in terms of how much a consumer actually knows about the product. The other is to measure knowledge in terms of how much a consumer thinks or perceives they know about the product. The first approach is related to the objective knowledge structure of an individual held in long-term memory, while the second approach is based on and related to an individual’s subjective self-report on how much they think they know about the product.

Further, this construct has been operationalised by various measures that have often utilised one of several independent variables (Alba & Hutchinson 1987). Such operationalisations include frequency of purchase(s) (Anderson, Engledow and Becker 1979 and Park and Lessig 1981), objective knowledge (Brucks 1985 and Sujan 1985), formal training (Sujan 1985) and self-report knowledge (Alba 1983 and Johnson and Russo 1984). Although analytically a single factor may result or be present to some degree in these approaches, the apparent diversity in such measurement of the construct suggests that there are also significant differences amongst them. Alba and Hutchinson (1987) go so far as to conclude on this issue that a multidimensional account of the knowledge construct is needed.

The proposition is raised here that product knowledge has a number of key aspects; namely familiarity, experience and expertise. In a general sense one would assume that product familiarity will results in consumer increased expertise and experience.

In this regard, apart from examining central issues, such as memory, one can also look at the impact of constructs such as involvement on the development of product knowledge and expertise in consumers. The degree of a consumer’s subjective product knowledge (familiarity, experience & expertise) should be affected by their degree of involvement in the product. Such a perspective has important implications for the development of marketing mix strategies. Particularly so with respect to the presentation of information relevant to the consumer level of involvement and perceived knowledge abou the product.

A fundamental question that arises in attempting to understand consumers what causes some consumers to perceive themselves to be more knowledgeable than others about a product and possess higher perceived expertise in the product category.

CONSUMER CONFIDENCE

Importantly, not all attitudes, product knowledge or abilities are held by consumers with the same degree of confidence. Depending on the circumstances, the degree of confidence could reflect either certainty or uncertainty as to which judgment is correct or the best in that situation or ambiguity as to the meaning of an attitude object altogether (Day 1970 and Zajonc & Morrisette 1960). Confidence represents a consumer’s belief that their attitude, knowledge or ability is sufficient or correct regarding the product (or object). The degree of confidence a consumer has regarding their views or abilities to do with a product is important because it can affect the strength of the relationship between attitudes and behaviour and it can also influence the consumer’s susceptibility to attitude change strategies initiated by marketers. The degree of confidence can also possibly affect the presentation of the offering and promotional content that the marketer targets consumers with.

Howard and Sheth (1969) provided some initial insights in the construct of confidence in consumer behaviour and Howard (1989) recently proposed that the construct of confidence was:

the buyer’s degree of certainty that his or her evaluative judgment of a brand, whether favorable or unfavorable, is correct (p.40).

In the consumer behaviour literature, the confidence construct is used in two theoretically different ways. It has been used to refer to a buyer’s overall confidence in the brand (Howard and Sheth 1969). It has also been used to refer to the buyer’s confidence in his ability to judge or evaluate attribute of the brands (Bennett and Harrell 1975). Confidence is seen here to refer to the extent that the consumer has confidence in their ability to make the right choice and the best choice from their perception of the product and their ability to choose the right brand. Thus, confidence rests on the perception of ability to make the decision and make the right decision and best decision.

The relationship between involvement and confidence has been studied rarely in the consumer behaviour domain. Day (1970) proposed that a consumer who lacks interest in a stimulus object will not likely have the information or experience necessary to make a confident judgment. Most research on confidence has been related to the stability of preference (Day 1970 and Harrell 1979) or the effect that confidence has on attitudes. Little research has focused on the degree of involvement and its effect on a consumer’s confidence related to a focal object or in their ability to make purchase decisions.

Given the limited studies undertaken on this important issue, there is a need to extend the existing knowledge by empirically examining the relationship between product involvement, product knowledge, expertise and confidence.

STUDY OBJECTIVES

The primary question posed was: what effect does product involvement have on consumers subjective product knowledge and confidence. The theoretical developments discussed above lead to the following hypotheses that address this question.

Hypothesis 1. consumers degree of product involvement will be positively related to level of subjective product knowledge.

Hypothesis 2. consumers level of subjective product knowledge will be positively related to degree of confidence in decision making ability.

Hypothesis 3. Consumer level of involvement will be positively related to degree of confidence in decision making ability.

DATA COLLECTION METHOD

To measure product involvement a set of 16 items was generated from the literature that were consistent with the theoretical view of involvement discussed above. The product knowledge was measured with 4 items that tapped familiarity, subjective knowledge, product experience and perceived expertise related to the product. These items were believed to be consistent with the theoretical propositions on product knowledge raised by Alba and Hutchinson (1987). Consumer confidence was operationalised via 3 items focusing on confidence in choosing the right brand of fashion clothing, confidence in making the right choice and confidence in making the best choice. All measures were based on a six point Likert-type format, from strongly disagree to strongly agree.

The questionnaire was sent via mail to a random sample of 900 students studying at a major Australian university. The student sample included both undergraduate and postgraduate students and part-time and full-time students. The study achieved a response rate of 53%, with 478 surveys returned.

Fashion clothing was selected as the product because it has appeared in the published literature on involvement (Fairhurst, Good and Gentry, 1989, Goldsmith and Emmert 1991 and Browne and Kaldenberg 1997) and it was believed that the sample would vary in their involvement with the product (Bloch 1981). As the key purpose was to explore and test the theoretical relationship between the constructs a student sample is argued to be appropriate and acceptable (Calder, Philips and Tybout 1981).

TABLE 1

PRELIMINARY RESULTS FOR PRODUCT INVOLVEMENT, KNOWLEDGE & CONFIDENCE

RESULTS

Analysis of the data was initially via principle components analysis, correlation analysis, internal consistency estimates and basic descriptive statistic. Further analysis of the individual constructs was carried out using confirmatory factor analysis. Analysis of relationships was initially performed via Pearson correlation analysis between constructs and then manova and structural equation modeling was used to examine the relationships at a higher level of analysis. Following the initial analysis 450 of the 478 returned questionnaires were retained as usable.

Over 83% of respondents were over the age of 25 and 70% were over 30 years of age. Breaking the age groups into ten year groupings resulted in the following sample characteristics. The exact make of the sample was 6.2% under 21 years of age, 21-30 age group constituted 25.8% of the respondents, 31-40 group made up 36.4% of respondents, 41-50 age group were 26% of respondents and the over 50 years group constituted 5.6% of the sample. The results indicated that the product involvement factor structure derived out of the initial exploratory factor using principle components analysis with varimax rotation had factor loadings ranging from .81 to .92. The internal reliability estimate Cronbach Alpha was .97 indicating high internal reliability and consistency. The initial analysis of the product knowledge construct and consumer confidence also indicated sound psychometric properties as indicated in Table 1.

Mean scores for the sample and by gender were computed for product involvement and product knowledge, expertise and confidence. Table 2 shows that females were on average more highly involved wth fashion clothing than males.

The initial analysis of the relationship between product involvement, purchase decision involvement, subjective knowledge, confidence in ability to a make good decision and confidence in choosing the right brand was via simple correlation analysis.

It would appear that a direct relationship between involvement, knowledge and confidence is well supported. The results indicate that consumers’ overall subjective knowledge, perceived expertise and confidence are directly related to their levels of involvement in fashion clothing as shown in table 3.

TABLE 2

MEANS, STD DEVIATION & RANGES

TABLE 3

CORRELATION RESULTS

As indicated in table 3 there were differences in male and female scores on the product involvement measure. Given differences in involvement by gender, correlations were also computed for males and female respondents separately. The results by gender are found in tables 4 & 5.

Tables 5 and 6 show that the relationship between involvement and subjective product knowledge to be lower for males than for females. However, the relationship between involvement and confidence in ability to make a good decision is higher for males, but confidence in choosing right brand is lower than for females. The correlation between age and all constructs is negative and significantly lower for females as opposed to males. That is males are much more negatively correlated by age with all constructs than females.

Following the correlation analysis the data were subjected to MANOVA with high and low involvement groups as the independent variable and then a second MANOVA with high, moderate and low involvement groups as independent variable was run. The results are reported in table 6 and show significant differences between groups.

The initial results indicate a significant relationship between fashion clothing involvement and subjective fashion clothing knowledge, expertise and confidence in respondents ability to make decisions and choose the right brand of fashion clothing. A structural equation model was developed and tested to further examine the relationships. Figure 1 details the model of the relationship between consumer involvement and knowledge/expertise and confidence.

The results indicated that the model of product involvement, product knowledge/expertise and confidence fit the data well. The chi-square statistic for the hypothesised model was not significant, c2=7.7, P=.052 and the fit indices suggest an acceptable fit to the data with GFI .993, AGFI .963, RMR .030 and the RMSEA .059 and the paths weights are strong and significant.

An alternative model was also tested, where paths between product knowledge and expertise were reversed did not fit the data as well. The alternative model tested had c2 of 265, GFI of .744, AGFI of .039, RMR of .841 and RMSEA of .382. The results indicated this model did not fit the data and the initial model (figure 1) is accepted and the alternative model rejected.

TABLE 4

CORRELATION RESULTS BY MALES

TABLE 5

CORRELATION RESULTS BY FEMALES

TABLE 6

MANOVA RESULTS

Figure 2 Final model fitted

The final model tested was based on the composite of each construct. Where the previous model separated out the dimensions of product knowledge into subjective knowledge and expertise and consumer confidence into decision ability and ability to make the right choice the final model treated these are unidimensional constructs. Thus, the final test was simpler model containing only three latent constructs as depicted in figure 2.

Treating all constructs as unidimensional constructs results in a model that approximated the data quite well. The final model tested had c2 of 16.6, p value of .215 GFI of .988, AGFI of .966, RMR of .041 and RMSEA of .025. The path weight between constructs was also high and in the hypothesised direction.

The results of the correlation analysis, manova and structural equation modelling supported all three hypotheses and as such we can conclude that consumers degree of product involvement is positivly related to level of product knowledge they possess and consumers level of product knowledge is also positively related to degree of

confidence they have in their decision making ability. Finally, consumer involvement was positively related to their degree of confidence regarding their ability to make decisions concerning fashion clothing.

FIGURE 1

MODEL OF PRODUCT INVOLVEMENT & PRODUCT KNOWLEDGE/EXPERTISE AND CONFIDENCE

DISCUSSION

A key question in attempting to understand consumers and their purchasing and consumption related behaviour, is how much do they think know about fashion clothing and what characteristics cause some consumers to perceive themselves to be more knowledgeable and believe they possess high expertise relevant to this product and be more confident in their decisions. This study proposed a model that examined the impact of involvement on the development of product knowledge and perceptions of expertise consumers hold regarding a product such as fashion clothing and their ability to make decisions regarding fashion clothing.

The levels of involvement experienced by consumers for the product fashion clothing, formed a continuum, reaching from minimal, to very high levels. This supports the earlier work of DeBruicker (1979) and Bloch (1986) who argued involvement can be thought of as a continuum from zero to very high involvement.

The literature says consumers vary greatly in their perceived subjective knowledge and expertise about a product offering. Product knowledge regarding fashion clothing can come from the product itself and consumption-related experiences, advertising exposure, interactions with salespeople, information from friends or the media, previous decision making or previous consumption or usage experiences held in memory. However, this study has shown that a consumers subjective product knowledge is significantly influenced by their degree of product involvement. The findings have shown involvement and product knowledge and expertise to be significantly related. The results show that as a consumer becomes more involved in a product and its use, they develop stronger subjective perceptions of product knowledge and expertise in the product. A consumer’s subjective product knowledge and expertise were shown here to be significantly influenced by involvement in fashion clothing. Confidence, on the other hand, is an example of a non-evaluative dimension and refers to the conviction with which the belief in decision making ability and ability to choose the right brand is held. The measure of confidence, therefore assesses how certain or confident the respondents are in their estimates of their ability. The results indicate that this belief in ability is significantly influenced by consumers degree of involvement in fashion clothing.

IMPLICATIONS

Marketers and retailers need to be aware that these informational issues are all tied to segments or individual consumer’s level of involvement. This would mean, that for segmentation and persuasive communications strategies marketers would need to consider the consumer’s level of involvement because it significantly influences the consumers perceived product knowledge and product expertise and how confident they are in their abilities to make decisions. Such findings imply the need to target marketing mix strategies differently depending on levels of segment involvement for both males and females by fashion clothing retailers and manufacturers.

LIMITATIONS AND FUTURE RESEARCH

As with any study there re limitations that constrain the study and its impact. There are also remaining gaps or questions raised that open up future research needs and opportunities.

The results are obviously limited by the use of only a single product and the use of a student sample. However, the sample included randomly selected undergraduate and graduate students and with age groups above the normal student profile. This may prove meaningful in the sense they do constitute the same make up as the broader community and they potentially purchase the product chosen to study. Generalizability by using other products is an indicated task for future research. There is a need for replication research which may employ more products and different sample frames and some of the measures developed and used in this research could potentially be enhanced by further development and testing. These limitations are outlined to acknowledge their existence and to stress the need for further research on this topic.

It is believed that the broadened network of constructs examined in this study has contributed to the better understanding of not only involvement, but also its impact on important variables that are fundamental in understanding consumer behaviour. Such improved understanding should assist marketers to develop better marketing mix strategies. The implications of the linkages explored here are many and would seem to warrant the continuation of research in this area. The gestalt of these three constructs appears to be a fertile area warranting further research.

FIGURE 2

FINAL MODEL FITTED

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Authors

Aron O’Cass, Griffith University-Gold Coast, Australia



Volume

AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4 | 2001



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