Generating Consumption Value Items: a Parallel Interviewing Process Approach


Jillian Sweeney, Geoffrey Soutar, Alma Whiteley, and Lester Johnson (1996) ,"Generating Consumption Value Items: a Parallel Interviewing Process Approach", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, eds. Russel Belk and Ronald Groves, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 108-115.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, 1996      Pages 108-115


Jillian Sweeney, University of Western Australia

Geoffrey Soutar, Edith Cowan University, Western Australia

Alma Whiteley, Curtin University of Technology, Western Australia

Lester Johnson, University of Sydney


Human values do not seem to have a direct impact on behaviour, but rather, the relationship is mediated by attitudes. It is generally agreed that such values are abstract while attitudes are more contextual and are better predictors of behaviour (Homer & Kahle, 1988; McCarty & Shrum, 1994). Consumption value, however, relates specifically to the product or service being considered and to the perceived utility of the product (1991a; Sheth, Newman, & Gross, 1991b). This perceived utility can be defined as expected satisfaction, in line with Vroom’s (1964) expectancy model of human motivation. Thus consumption value is a pre-purchase phenomenon, in contrast to satisfaction, which is a post-purchase phenomenon (Oliver, 1980; Westbrook & Oliver, 1991).

Various consumpion values have been suggested by Sheth et al (1991a; 1991b) and these seem to have a direct effect on purchase behaviour. However, the scales used in making this assessment were product specific. In order for a comparison of consumption value across products, a generic scale needs to be developed, if possible, just as the SERVQUAL scale was developed in an attempt to compare service quality across consumption situations (Parasuraman, Zeithaml, & Berry, 1988).

The purpose of the present research project was to develop scales for measuring consumption value dimensions that transcend industry boundaries. The present paper describes the first step in this project that attempted to qualitatively generate a "generic" item pool for each of these dimensions, using a new technology to undertake the group interviews that are generally used at the qualitative phase of the development of such scales (Churchill, 1979; Parasuraman, Zeithaml, & Berry, 1988). This phase also attempted to qualitatively verify the dimensionality of Sheth et al’s (1991a) consumption value construct. Before discussing the research, however, it is worth outlining the theoretical background that underlies the consumption value concept.


A value judgement expresses the worth, goodness or desirability of something (Bullock & Stallybrass, 1983; Wolman, 1989). The noun "value" is defined in the Macquarie Dictionary (1981) as:

(1) that property of a thing because of which it is esteemed, desirable or useful . . . ;

(2) material or monetary worth . . . ;

(3) the worth of a thing as measured by the amount of other things for which it can be exchanged, or as estimated in terms of a medium of exchange;

(4) equivalent worth or equivalent return: for value received;

(5) estimated or assigned worth; valuation.

While the last four definitions relate to financial worth, the first relates to a higher order concept of desirability. This suggests value has a diversity of meanings, as has been recognised by Holbrook and Corfman (1985) and Reddy (1991).

The most common definition of perceived value in the marketing literature is the ratio or trade-off of quality to price (Cravens, Holland, Lamb, & Moncrieff, 1988; DeSouza, 1989; Dodds, 1991; Lichtenstein, Netemeyer, & Burton, 1990; Monroe, 1990). While perceived value has traditionally been viewed as a trade-off of these two components (quality and price), this has been argued to be too simplistic (Bolton & Drew, 1991; Schechter, 1984). Perceived value is an abstract concept that is related to quality, benefits and price (Rockefeller, 1986; Zeithaml, 1988). Zeithaml (1988 p. 14) concluded that "perceived value is the consumer’s overall assessment of the utility of a product based on perceptions of what is received and what is given." Sheth et al (1991a; 1991b) suggested there were five consumption values that consumers might consider at the point of sale which they termed functional, social, emotional, epistemic and conditional values.

Functional value was defined as "the perceived utility acquired from an alternative’s capacity for functional, utilitarian or physical performance" (Sheth, Newman, & Gross, 1991a, p. 160) and was thought to be generated by a product’s salient attributes (eg reliability, durability and price) (Ferber, 1973; Sheth, Newman, & Gross 1991a).

Traditionally, functional value has been presumed to be the key influence on consumer choice. This suggestion follows from economic utility theory that argues consumers are rational and make choices to maximise utility, constrained by prices and income. However, Sheth et al (1991b) found that functional value was not always the most important value dimension for, while functional and social values dominated the decision as to whether to use filtered or unfiltered cigarettes, emotional reasons were paramount in the decision to smoke.

Social value was defined as "the perceived utility acquired from an alternative’s association with one or more specific social groups" and this aspect of value was measured through the association of the product with a consumer’s various reference groups (Sheth, Newman, & Gross, 1991a, p. 161). However, this definition does not take account of other aspects of social value, such as symbolic value. James (1890) first suggested that people are the sum of their possessions. Since then, numerous researchers have discussed the feeling of identity that physical possessions offer (Belk, 1988; Grubb & Grathwohl, 1967; Landon, 1974; Solomon, 1983). If possessions are a symbol or a communication tool (Grubb & Grathwohl, 1967), the definition of social value should be broadened to include symbolic value and social value should be defined in terms of the utility derived from the image relevant others develop of an individual by their using or possessing a product. Thus, while reference group influence affects social value, it is not social value.

Emotional value was defined as "the perceived utility acquired from an alternative’s capacity to arouse feelings or affective states (that was created when the product was associated with) . . . specific feelings or when precipitating or perpetuating those feelings" (Sheth, Newman, & Gross, 1991a p. 161). Thus, a specific food or drink might evoke childhood memories or a sports car might generate feelings of pride or power.

Epistemic value was defined as "the perceived utility acquired from an alternative’s capacity to arouse curiosity, provide novelty, and/or satisfy a desire for knowledge" (Sheth, Newman, & Gross, 1991a p. 162). A product might be purchased because of boredom with a current brand, curiosity or to learn something new.

Conditional value was defined as "the perceived utility acquired by an alternative as the result of a specific set of circumstances facing the choice maker" (Sheth, Newman, & Gross, 1991a p. 162). A Christmas card is an example of a product with conditional value, since it is only of value in the Christmas season. Conditional value is derived from temporary functional or social value.

Much of the empirical research on consumption value has focused on a value-for-money conceptualisation and a scale to measure this construct has been developed by Dodds, Monroe and Grewal (1991). Value-for-money (measured for example by questions such as: "this product appears to be a bargain" or "this product is a good buy") can be argued to be closely associated with functional value. However, Sheth et al’s (1991a; 1991b) definition of functional value relates specifically to product characteristics. These characteristics are intrinsic (related to the product) rather than extrinsic (not a part of the product, such as price). In this sense, functional value and value-for-money differ. Additionally, value-for-money can be argued to be a summary measure of the various value dimensions since all value dimensions, by definition, contribute to perceived utility and utility is constrained by product prices (Sheth, Newman, & Gross, 1991a p.33).

For the purposes of the present research project it was decided to develop measures for the three primary dimensions of consumption value (functional, social and emotional). This decision was made for two reasons. Firstly, epistemic and conditional values are transient and less enduring than the other three consumption value aspects and are more relevant to single rther than repeat purchases. Secondly, time constraints within the group interviews that provided the data and budget constraints within the overall study meant that it was possible to collect data on only the three more enduring dimensions.


The previous section suggested that there are different dimensions of consumption value. The present section describes the process that was used to establish the initial pool of items needed to describe these dimensions. The objective of the first phase of the research was to explore the ideas and opinions that diverse groups of people had about "consumption value." It would have been inappropriate for this stage to be designed on a "positivist" basis as it was very much an exploratory phase and categories were not robust enough to use within a survey. Instead, this stage was grounded in the data derived from respondents as they constructed meaning about the topic (in this case, valued brands and valued properties of those brands). The constructivist paradigm (Guba & Lincoln, 1994; Schwandt, 1994) was considered best suited to the research needs as constructs of meaning were to be generated and interpretated by respondents rather than by the researchers. A data collection method needed to be designed so that meaning could be surfaced, tested out and decided in a social setting.

The research needed diverse views from people who consume the products being researched. A method that came to mind was a focus group of people who have experience with and an interest in the topic being researched, as such groups have been found to be helpful in similar research (Churchill, 1979; Parasuraman, Zeithaml, & Berry, 1988). Focus groups enable a facilitator to enter the reality of the respondents and collect their interpretations. Focus groups are a way to "get in tune with consumers" or, more accurately in tune with consumers’ reality (Stewart & Shamdasani, 1990). Normally, a focus group includes six to ten people led by a facilitator whose role is to elicit responses in conversational form from individuals as group members.

The facilitator has the brief to keep the group members on track and talking, to stimulate, through conversation, ideas and perhaps controversies about things like product attributes and the value they have for individuals.

In general, the focus group design has appeal for the research phase being reported. However, previous experience suggested that a new technology [Group Support Systems (GSS)] has attributes that can improve focus group effectiveness (Lewis, 1987; Soutar, Whitely, & Callan, 1996). GSS contains almost all of the attributes of a focus group while providing extra leverage through the use of structured meeting tools. A trial meeting was designed to see if GSS could work in the present study. Although the "trial script" was ambitious, even for a GSS, the trial suggested that GSS technology could add value and it was decided to use the technology in all of the subsequent groups. Before examining the groups themselves, it seems worthwhile to briefly discuss GSS technology.

Group Support Systems Technology

Group communications and how to capture the meanings that come from a group of people has long been an interest in Information Technology. Several individuals and teams of researchers have been working for more than a decade to design systems that can blend the best of mechanical and human abilities (Bostram, Clawson, & Watson, 1995; Grohowski, McGoff, Vogel, Martz, & Nunamaker, 1988; Lewis, 1993; Nunamaker & Vogel, 1991). Nowhere is this more appreciated than in the meeting forum. This is not only because people spend a considerable percentage of their time in meetings but also because important decisions can depend on the oucomes of the meeting process for their success when implemented (Klass & Whiteley, 1995). GSS was developed with the business setting in mind but the variety of potential applications is extending to other discipline areas. Consumer research is no exception. A brief look at the GSS process will explain why this is so.

Group Support Systems are well described by its name. The aim is to have at the disposal of meeting members a small computer to support the meeting. The meeting room, shown in Figure 1, looks like a normal meeting room except for the computer stations for each person.

The computers are linked to the "chauffeur’s" station. The chauffeur is a technical person in the sense that he or she drives the technology on behalf of group members. However, this role includes some team facilitation. This is best observed when participants are in freeform conversation and the chauffeur and facilitator together capture and clarify what is being said (Whiteley & Garcia, 1996). Additionally, the chauffeur prints copies of the content of each stage of the meeting as it occurs for each group member. Their role also includes the pre-meeting design of input and output files so that the stages can be connected to form a full report (which is usually available by the end of the meeting).

The facilitator carries out many of the activities of a normal focus group, ensuring that no one is left out, that the mood is conducive to conversation, as well as keeping people on time and on track. Additionally, with GSS, the facilitator helps design the "script" or set of activities that are undertaken during the meeting. Possible major activities within a GSS are the generate, discuss/organise, comment, evaluate and rate phases that have been discussed in Soutar, Whiteley and Callan (1996). In the present study, the generate and comment activities were used and are discussed below.



The Generate Activity

The generate phase resembles a "brainstorm" activity. An issue is presented and respondents are asked to contribute their thoughts by typing responses into the computer, sending each idea to the central (chauffeur) location. Any of the brainstorm techniques can be used and the same facilitator ingenuity is required if people "go blank." The group generates a list of ideas and these can be displayed on a public screen or referred to individually so that people can comment on ideas or add new ones if they were stimulated by the list.

Three important attributes of the generate system are:


Should this be desired, it is possible for a participant to contribute confidentially. This means that individuals are separated from their "baggage" of status, perspective or reputation. Issues are discussed and owned as a group, no matter who was the original contributor;

Parallel processing:

Each contribution can be handled simultaneously so that all people can "talk at once" without having to wait in a queue or interrupt proceedings to write things down;

Distributive Justice:

The technology can be set up so that participants can have equal opportunity for input thus helping those who may not like speaking up.

In this study, for example, each participant was asked to select and enter their four most important valued brand attributes of a brand and to use these attributes in a variety of ways, as outlined below

The Comment Activity

In thecomment phase, participants make comment about the issues or ideas raised in the generate phase. Although comment is usually set up for private input, it was adapted for this research to be a group as well as an individual activity. Within the comment phase, the contributions of the whole group were displayed on individual computers and each person could take any of the inputs further if they wished.

The GSS Groups Undertaken

Convinced that the added abilities of GSS would enhance the group discussions, a tentative script was developed for trial. The trial was needed to assess three major aspects of the group. These were the time needed for each section of the script, the cost/benefit of using various GSS tools, and most importantly, the effect of the technological environment on group ambience.

During the trial group interview it became clear that asking consumers why they valued a particular brand (eg Panasonic) evoked a greater range of value items than asking why they valued a certain product type (eg stereo television). For this reason it was decided to ask consumers their opinions about the value of brands rather than product types. The trial also suggested that it was not necessary to rate the importance of values as the exploratory stage was designed to determine plausible "generic value" dimensions for a survey instrument. Setting a value or even discriminating between values was not useful at this stage. Therefore the "rate" step was not used in subsequent groups.

It was felt that an important elements of the group outcome were individual judgements as to why the various attributes were important to consumers. Group interactions were useful but individual inputs were also important. It was decided the technology could be used to take advantage of individual input while allowing members access to the group "mind" for further stimulation, comment or challenge. Thus, rather than emphasising the discuss/organise activity, which can create shared understanding, the parallel processing function of GSS was emphasised in the present study. GSS made it possible to hold ten individual interviews simultaneously, each proceeding at the preferred speed of the individual, an approach we termed the Parallel Interview Process. The data from these "interviews" were available in computer form within a very short space of time and the content was made available immediately to the group so that they could take other participants’ thoughts and perceptions into account in making their judgements. The richness of the group presence was achieved by using the "comment" tool as each person had access to the combined list and any queries or new ideas could be incorporated into the output. The combination of the parallel interview process and comment was rich in efficiency gains, with little loss in group spontaneity.

The six groups that participated in the study were recruited as suggested by Bellenger, Berhardt and Goldstucker (1976). Ten people attended each session. Respondents were balanced between male and female, were from a range of occupations [white and blue collar; home duties and retired people] and were aged from 25 to 59 years as it was expected that this blend would represent buyers of the products that were discussed in the focus group sessions. Since the key purpose of the sessions was to generate items that might measure consumption values, a different product was used in each session to stimulate participants’ thinking in different directions. The goods selected were tea or coffee brands, canned food (such as fruit, vegetables or soup), cereal, clothing and durable goods including cars; the range representing both supermarket and durable goods.

The groups were asked a series of questions to provoke thought about consumption value, beginning with, "what are the most relevant aspects of the brand (of say coffee) to you?" This question produced over 330 responses, an average of 55 items per group. Items generated tended to be attributes of the brand (eg "colour, "looks", "comfort", "features", "price" and "reliability" were mentioned when people were considering durable goods. For supermarket goods, "taste", "distinctiveness", "versatility" and "smell" were mentioned). While there were many similar or equivalent responses (eg "reliable" was mentioned more than 10 times and aspects of "style" were mentioned over twenty times), the process provided a large number of alternative aspects of brands that could be used in the second step of the GSS process. In this step, respondents were asked "why these aspects were important to them" in an attempt to better understand the underlying benefits the "aspects" provided as it was felt such benefits would be more useful in developing generic consumption value items.

This stage also produced a very rich set of data with most respondents able to expand their initial responses and respond to other participants’ attributes with little trouble (eg "style is important to me as a good cut (in clothes) can hide a poor quality body", "I am busy and expect things to last as I don’t have time to go back to get things fixed", "reliability is important as I don’t like things that break down often"). This resulted in over 500 "benefit aspects" being generated within the six groups.

Having created the attribute list both individually and within the group, participants were told of the consumption value dimensions suggested by Sheth et al (1991a) and were asked to place the various attributes from the list into the relevant categories. Participants were then asked the reasons for their classifications, generating a second round of benefit items for use in developing the various scales. Although most attributes were classified under one dimension, there was some overlapping. In some cases, people associated the same attribute [eg style] with more than one dimension, implying that Sheth et al’s (1991a) independence suggestion may not hold. Further, some items that were classified into a single dimension seemed to have multiple characteristics. For example, while "gives me a sense of prestige" was classified as social items, it could be argued to be emotional as well.

An "other" category was included to allow for items that people did not feel fitted well into any of the categories. Very few items (15) found their way into this category [eg non-caffeinated for coffee], perhaps suggesting that the three major consumption value dimensions did pick up most of the information consumers used in evaluating value. In total, 131 items were classified as aspects of "social value", 197 items were classified as aspects of "emotional value" and 247 items were classified as aspects of "functional value", although as would be expected many of these items from the various groups were identical or equivalent.

The final stage in this phase of the analysis was for the attributes and benefits to be examined by the researchers after the GSS groups had been completed. The objective was to find long lists of functional, emotional and social consumption value items for the next phases of the research project. Since the purpose of the project was to find "generic" consumption value scales, only benefits that were classified as generic [eg it is a practical product] rather than context specific [eg this food has a great flavour] aspects were included for examination in these phases of the research project.

Following this first exploratory phase, it was found that more than half of the items generated were "generic" and, after taking account of identical or equivalent items, a total of 37 social, 37 emotional and 33 functional consumption value statements were identified for inclusion in phase two. These items for the three consumption value dimensions are shown in Table 1 through 3.


In the next stage of the project, a set of independent judges with academic and commercial knowledge of marketing and consumer behaviour will examine the long lists developed by the researchers and shown in Tables 1 through 3, as well as the initial lists created by participants. The objective was to determine if the lists reflect the consumption value concepts being examined and if there have been misclassifications. If there are interjudge disagreements, discussions will be held between the judges to see if the disagreements can be resolved. If they cannot, this provides evidence of the item being a poor indicator and it will be excluded from subsequent development. Those items for which there is agreement will be placed in a pilot questionnaire and a convenience sample will be asked to respond twice in a four week period to the item set. This two stage process will enable an examination of test-retest reliability, respondents’ understandings of the items and item interrelationships for the further development of the desired scales.



The present paper outlined the first phase of a research project that is attempting to develop generic functional, emotional and social consumption value scales, and followed the procedure suggested by Churchill (1979), generating a pool of potential items for the scales through qualitative research. GSS technology in a group setting was used to develop and understand the nature of these aspects of consumption value. Six GSS sessions were held with different durable and nondurable items being used in each session to raise aspects of consumption values. Appropriate items were generated through a parallel interview process in which participants used computers to simultaneously input ideas, which were subsequently discussed within the group. In each group participants were asked which aspects of a brand provided value to them and why this aspect was important. Participants were also asked to classify these aspects into either functional, social or emotional value after being provided with Sheth et al’s (1991a) dimensions. The full set of information from these stages was used by the researchers to develop the long lists of potential consumption value items shown in Tables 1 through 3.

The process generated over 300 consumption value "attributes" that were expanded into over 500 "benefits." After taking account of similarities between the items, this was reduced to 33 functional value questions, 37 social value questions and 37 emotional value questions. In contrast to Sheth et al’s (1991b) suggestion, these dimensions did not appear to be independent as some overlap was apparent between the social and emotional value items. This will be investigated further in the subsequent pilot quantitative stage that is designed to ensure the appropriateness of the items in the scales and reduce the lists to practical numbers.



The parallel interview process that was used in this exploratory phase was well accepted by the participants who had little trouble dealing with the technology, regardless of age, gender or occupational status. The process, however, did affect flexibility somewhat as it reduced chances to probe individuals’ responses. For example, one respondent asked why durability is important might respond "because it lasts a long time" (another attribute) while another might respond "because I get peace of mind" (a benefit). Since responses are anonymous, probing to reach end benefits, as in laddering (Gutman, 1982), is not possible. Nonetheless, the parallel interviewing enabled a freeflowing, uninhibited generation of items, in which many consumption value aspects were uncovered in a very short period of time, improving the efficiency of group sessions in which such generation is the main purpose and suggesting that GSS can be a helpful technology to consumer researchers.




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Jillian Sweeney, University of Western Australia
Geoffrey Soutar, Edith Cowan University, Western Australia
Alma Whiteley, Curtin University of Technology, Western Australia
Lester Johnson, University of Sydney,


AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2 | 1996

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