A Study of Life Events and Patronage Behavior

ABSTRACT - Store patronage behavior is usually studied by attempting to profile and understand loyal customers. This paper presents a study of patronage-switching behavior. Theory and research is used to propose and test a model based on the proposition that changes in patronage habits and development of patronage behavior are the result of life events that serve as markers of life transitions. Changes in patronage habits reflect adjustment to new life conditions and changes in the consumption of products that reflect consumer efforts to cope with stressful life changes. The data supports these notions and suggest implications for consumer research.



Citation:

Euehun Lee, George P. Moschis, and Anil Mathur (1998) ,"A Study of Life Events and Patronage Behavior", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, eds. Kineta Hung and Kent B. Monroe, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 147-153.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, 1998      Pages 147-153

A STUDY OF LIFE EVENTS AND PATRONAGE BEHAVIOR

Euehun Lee, Sejong University, Korea

George P. Moschis, Georgia State University, U.S.A.

Anil Mathur, Hofstra University, U.S.A.

ABSTRACT -

Store patronage behavior is usually studied by attempting to profile and understand loyal customers. This paper presents a study of patronage-switching behavior. Theory and research is used to propose and test a model based on the proposition that changes in patronage habits and development of patronage behavior are the result of life events that serve as markers of life transitions. Changes in patronage habits reflect adjustment to new life conditions and changes in the consumption of products that reflect consumer efforts to cope with stressful life changes. The data supports these notions and suggest implications for consumer research.

Studies of store patronage traditionally have focused on explaining repeat behavior (store loyalty) by attempting to profile "loyal" customers and understanding reasons for store patronage (e.g., Dash, Schiffman, and Berenson 1976; Goldman 1977-1978; Hisrich, Dornoff, and Kernan 1972; Reynolds, Darden, and Martin 1974-1975). However, researchers recently have suggested that much can be gained by studying changes in consumer choices (e.g., Meyer and Kahn 1991). The study of store-switching behavior should be of interest to retailers who wish to understand not only the factors responsible for attracting and retaining customers, but also those which contribute to increasing numbers of "defectors" (Blattberg and Deighton 1996; Rice 1995).

The purpose of the present research is to helpexplain store-switching behavior. Theoretical perspectives are presented first, followed by the results of a large-scale national study. Finally, implications for consumer researchers are discussed.

BACKGROUND

Several consumer studies recently have revealed that people tend to make significant changes in their consumer behaviors during periods of life transitions (e.g., Andreasen 1984; Gentry et al. 1995; McAlexander and Schouten 1991; Mehta and Belk 1991; Price and Curasi 1996; Schouten 1991; Young 1991). Explanations for these changes can be found in two theoretical perspectives. The first perspective holds that changes in consumer behavior are the result of transitions into new roles. People change their consumption habits either because they need to redefine their self-concepts as a result of the assumption of a new role (e.g., Mehta and Belk 1991; Young 1991) or due to role relinquishment as people attempt to dispose products relevant to the enactment of a previous role (e.g., McAlexander 1991). Possessions have been viewed as integral to the definition of self and the expression and performance of roles (Belk 1988); and their disposition has been viewed as necessary in communicating important changes both to the consumer and to others (Young and Wallendorf 1989).

A second perspective on behavioral changes is based on stress theory and research. Stress refers to environmental, social, or internal demands which require the individual to readjust his or her usual behavior patterns (Thoits 1995). These demands cause disruptions of previously more or less balanced states. Major life changes and transitions are often treated as "stressors" that create a generalized demand for readjustment by the individual. Thus, the assumption of a new role or its anticipation requires a major adjustment of one’s lifestyle which can be stressful. People attempt to restore balance and relieve frustrations and tensions accompanying disequilibrium by initiating or modifying behaviors, which are viewed as coping strategies (e.g., Gierveld and Dykstra 1993; Pearlin 1982). Coping refers to actions and thoughts that enable the individual to handle difficult situations, solve problems and reduce stress (Lazarus and Folkman 1984; Stone, Helder, and Schneider 1988). Support for the stress perspective is found in several consumer studies which show that initiation, intensification or changes in consumption habits reflect efforts to handle stressful life events (e.g., Andreasen 1984; Houston 1987; O’Guinn and Faber 1989).

Based on these two theoretical perspectives, it is proposed that changes in patronage behavior are the result of life changes (events) that (a) signify transition into new roles and (b) create stress that forces the individual to modify his or her consumption behavior. While changes in patronage behavior have not been linked empirically to life transitions or stress, there are reasons to believe that store-switching behavior is a consequence of life changes for at least two reasons: first, product and store choices are interdependent (e.g., Wells 1993) and should be studied as such (Meyer and Kahn 1991). Second, while some life events such as natural disasters may only create stress (and not result in transition into a new role), many other unpredictable events such as divorce and chronic illness may result in more permanent or longer-lasting changes and role transitions (Hetherington and Baltes 1988). Thus, the occurrence of an event such as divorce does not only creates stress, which may be handled via product consumption (and consequently may result in changes in patronage behavior), but also raises the probability of the occurrence of other events such as relocation and financial duress (e.g., Price and Curasi 1996) that could also affect patronage behavior.

MODEL AND HYPOTHESES

The preceding discussion suggests a model (Figure) which summarizes the main types of variables and their interrelationships within the context of patronage behavior. The general research proposition is: changes in patronage behavior and development of patronage habits are the result of life events that serve as markers of life transitions and may create stress that is handled via consumption.

Influence of Life Events

Indirect Effects. Most life events studies have measured accumulated life stress through the use of self-report questionnaires containing a list of specific events. The overall life change score (weighted or unweighted; desirable or undesirable) is used as a measure of stress (often known as "acute stress"), which is inferred from one’s experience of specific life events (Cohen 1988). Thus, life events may require changes in consumption-related lifestyles. Andreasen (1984), for example, found life status changes to be positively associated with changes in lifestyles (a variable comprised of several changes in the consumption of products and services); he concluded that "lifestyle change may reflect both a positive reorientation and a defensive adaptation to stressful circumstances" (p.793).

H1:  The greater the number of life events consumers experience, the greater the likelihood of change in the consumption of products and services.

FIGURE

A CONCEPTUAL MODEL OF PATRONAGE-SWITCHING BEHAVIOR

In the early 1980s, a series of articles made the point that life events may not only have a direct demand for readjustment, but also affect one indirectly through their exacerbation of role strains (e.g., Kanner et al.1981). Lazarus and DeLongis (1983) even argued that chronic (global) stress should be a better predictor of a person’s response because it is a proximal measure, reflecting the person’s immediate experience of the social environment, whereas life events are more distal measures, which may not carry a common meaning for all persons. The idea that life events may heighten day-to-day hassles flows easily from a large body of literature on stress. Substantial evidence has been accumulated supporting the view that chronic stress (whether defined as global stress, hassles, daily stress, role strains, or ongoing disadvantage) has repeatedly been shown to be a better predictor than life events and to mediate, at least in part, the impact of those events (Norris and Uhl 1993).

H2:  The greater the number of life events experienced, the greater the level of global stress.

H3:  There is a positive relationship between global stress and changes in the consumption of products and services.

Life events can not be viewed in isolation from other life events. Many events may occur due to the increased likelihood of occurrence of other events (Allison 1984; Rutter 1983). Life events, both normative and unexpected events, often serve as signals of other upcoming events or role transitions (e.g., death of spouse leads to relocation) (Price and Curasi 1996). The person’s response to such events can be in the form of formation of perceptions associated with the assumption of a new role upon the expected occurrence of the anticipated event (e.g., parenthood upon birth of first child). Thus, the number of events or role transitions a consumer has experienced within a recent period of time is expected to have a positive impact on the number of events and role transitions he or she expects to experience in the foreseable future (Figure).

H4:  There is a positive relationship between the number of life events experienced and the number of anticipated life events.

Anticipation of acute stressors (life events and role transitions) may affect consumer behavior not only indirectly through mediating factors such as global stress (e.g., Pearlin 1982), but also directly. Folkes (1991) presented research that suggests that consumer behavior in general is influenced by one’s anticipation, although the specific processes of such influences are not spelled out. However, there are studies that are more explicit regarding the direct influences of one’s anticipation on his or her consumer behavior. For example, perception or anticipation of the occurrence of future events such as illness and widowhood is believed to affect the aging person’s decision to allocate available resources on various expenditure and investment categories (George 1993). Similarly, data presented by Wagner and Hanana (1983) suggest that persons approaching retirement are likely to change their consumption habits in anticipation of role transition (from the role of a worker to that of a retiree).

H5:  The larger the number of life events or role transitions consumers anticipate, the greater the (a) level of global stress they are likely to experience, and (b) the likelihood of change in the consumption of products and services.

Direct Effects. Whether occurred or anticipated, many life events, especially those which mark transitions into new roles (e.g., spousal, parenthood), demand readjustment which may not always result in stress (Norris and Uhl 1993). Consumers typically re-evaluate their consumption needs at several transition points in their lives, and many changes in consumer behavior are the result of these assessments. Mergenhagen (1995) presents several examples of first-time decisions made during transitional points, while Andreasen (1984) provides empirical evidence in support of the influence of life-status changes on consumer behavior (brand preference change), even after the mediating effects of stress and lifestyle changes are partialed out. Schewe and Balazs (1992) discuss how transitions into several roles in later life (e.g., retiree, grandparent) may result in changes in consumer behavior due to the enactment of such roles, while interpretive research suggests changes in possessions and their disposition during role transitions (Belk 1992; Gentry et al. 1995). The preceding discussion suggests the following hypotheses:

H6:  The larger the number of life events or role transitions consumers experience, the greater the number of changes in patronage behavior.

H7:  The larger the number of life events or role transitions consumers anticipate, the greater the number of changes in patronage behavior.

The Influence of Changes in Consumption of Products and Services

Individuals may engage in a variety of consumption-related activities to reduce stress, and these activities might be helpful in alleviating stress. Many consumption-related coping behaviors such as use of psychotropic drugs and impulsive shopping may be temporal activities which do not cause significant long-term alterations in already established patterns of consumer behavior; they may cease or disappear once stress is reduced and they may not appear until another stressful situation arises. Although many such temporal changes may not lead to the development of long-lasting changes in patterns of consumer behavior, they may affect certain aspects of consumer ehavior. For example, shopping and over-consumption may provide opportunities to purchase new products, change brands and patronize different stores. Andreasen’s (1984) research appears to support this line of reasoning, showing that "lifestyle" change (a construct which included mostly changes in the consumption of products and services) and brand-preference change were positively related.

H8:  Changes in the consumption of products and services are related positively to changes in patronage behavior.

THE STUDY

Sample

Data for the study were collected through mail questionnaire. The sample was randomly drawn from the data base of R.L. Polk, which contains approximately 87 million household names and addresses. Questionnaires were mailed to ten thousand adults chosen in proportion to the population of each of the 50 states and specific age groups. A total of 1,534 adults responded. Because a common procedure in psychological research is to survey or include only individuals or samples of people who have experienced certain events in the previous six or 12 months and compare them to those have not experienced them (e.g., Norris and Uhl 1993), a judgment sample was drawn from the returned questionnaires. The sample consisted of all individuals who had experienced a wide range of events, a random subsample of those who had experienced only few events in the previous 12 months. Also included in the sample was a large (random) percentage of those who had not experienced any of the events in the life event list. The final sample used consisted of 688 questionnaires. The age range of this sample was 21 to 84, with a mean of 48 and a standard deviation of 13 years, figures that compare favorably to Census data for adult population. Fifty-six percent of the sample were male.

Variables

Life Events Experienced. Respondents were asked to indicate whether or not they most recently experienced 25 events "in the past 6 months," "in the past 6 to 12 months," and "more than 12 months ago." In line with previous research (e.g., Norris and Murrell 1984), the total life events experienced in the previous 6 months were used to construct a 0-to-25 point index. (Consistent with this time frame, all other variables were measured over a six month period). Subjects also responded to a list of 14 life events they anticipated "in the next 6 months," and "in the next few years." The total number of events anticipated were used to form a 0-to-14 point index of anticipated events (Appendix).

Changes in Patronage Behavior. Respondents were asked to indicate whether their preference for eleven specific type of places or companies had last changed "in the past 6 months," "in the past 6 to 12 months," "more than a year ago," or "never changed." They were also given the option to indicate they "did not use or frequent" these types of establishments. In the absence of response to the latter, affirmative responses to the first category (in the past 6 months) were summed across the 11 items to form an index of "changes in patronage behavior" (Appendix).

Changes in Consumption of Products and Services. Respondents were asked to indicate whether they most recently initiated or changed the consumption of 17 products and services (Appendix) "in the previous 6 months," "6 to 12 months ago," "more than 12 months ago" or "never had experienced or done the activity". Responses in the "previous 6 months" category were summed across to form a 0-to-17 point index for this variable.

The global stress measure wasa single-item scale which had been used in previous psychological studies of life events and stress (e.g., Norris and Murrell 1984). Specifically, the respondent was asked to indicate how stressful his/her life had been in the previous 6 months, with responses measured on a seven-point "terribly stressful" (7) to "not at all stressful" (1) interval scale. In order to validate this measure, a global depression measure was used. Respondents were asked to indicate on a seven-point scale whether in the previous 6 months they had been "terribly depressed" (7) to "not at all depressed" (1). These two variables were strongly correlated (r=.589, p<.001), providing evidence of validity (Cohen 1988).

RESULTS

A series of regression analyses were carried out to examine the direct effects of life events and other independent variables on patronage-change behavior and other dependent variables in the model. The Table shows regression coefficients and associated significance levels for the hypothesized relationships.

Indirect Effects. Hypothesis 1, 3, and 5b concerned the effects of life events, global stress, and anticipated events on changes in the consumption of products and services, expecting a positive relationship between the three independent variables and the dependent variable. Together these three variables accounted for 7.81 percent variation in changes in consumption of products and services (R2) (F=19.30, p<.001). Hypothesis 1 suggested a positive relationship between life events and changes in the consumption of products and services. This hypothesis was supported by the data (b=.24, p<.001). However, neither anticipated events (b=.03, n.s.) nor global stress (b=.07, n.s.) were significant predictors of changes in the consumption of products and services. Thus, the data did not provide support for Hypotheses 3 and 5b.

TABLE

RESULTS OF REGRESSION ANALYSIS

Hypothesis 2 and 5a concerned the effects of life events and anticipated events on global stress, expecting a positive effect of these independent variables. Together, these two variables accounted for 11.64 percent variation in global stress (R2) (F=45.14, p<.001). Hypothesis two suggested that life events experienced will positively influence global stress. This hypothesis was supported by the data (b=.22, p<.001). Similarly, anticipated events was also found to be a significant predictor of global stress (b=.22, p<.001), providing support for Hypothesis 5a.

The model suggested that life events experienced will be a significant predictor of anticipated events (H4). Experience of life events accounted for 4.56 percent variance in anticipated events (R2) (F=32.81, p<.001). Life events experienced was found to be a significant predictor of anticipated events (b=.21, p<.001) providing support for Hypothesis 4.

Direct Effects. Hypotheses 6, 7 and 8 related to the direct effects of life events and role transitions, anticipated events/transitions, and changes in consumption of products and services on changes in patronage behavior. Overall, these three variables accounted for 11.6 percent variation in the dependent variable (R2) (F=29.86, p<.001). Hypothesis 6 suggested that life events or role transitions will positively influence changes in patronage behavior. The data provide support for this hypothesis (b=.09, p<.05). However, anticipated life events was not related to changes in patronage behavior (b=.04, n.s.), providing no support for Hypothesis seven. Changes in consumption of products and services was found to be a strong predictor of changes in store patronage (b=.30, p<.001), providing support for Hypothesis 8.

Our interest was also in global (chronic) stress as a mediator of the effects of experienced and anticipated life eents on changes in the consumption of products and services. A series of regression models were developed and tested in line with the procedure suggested by Baron and Kenny (1986). According to Baron and Kenny (1986), a set of three regression models have to be tested to establish mediation: the effect of the independent variable on the mediator, the effect of the independent variable on the dependent variable, and the effect of the independent variable and the mediator together on the dependent variable. Further, the first two regressions should produce significant parameters but in the third model the parameter for the independent variable should be insignificant or less than that obtained in the second regression. Perfect mediation is indicated when the independent variable has no effect when the mediator is controlled. When tested in this manner, the effects of life events on changes in consumption of products and services appear to be direct. The regression coefficient without the effects of the mediator (global stress) is .266 (p<.001); it changes slightly (b=.244, p<.001) when the effects of the mediator are assessed along with those of life events. Thus, the consumption of products and services is likely to change in response to acute stress rather than due to chronic stress. However, anticipated events do have an indirect effect on the consumption of products and services, as the associated parameter (b) changes from .105 (p<.01) to .072 (n.s.) when the mediator variable is also included into the model.

Similarly, regression models were tested to see if changes in the consumption of products and services act as a mediator (Figure). Life events experienced do have an indirect effect (in addition to the direct effect) on change in patronage behavior as the parameter (b) reduced from .174 (p<.001) to .09 (p<.05) when mediator was included in the model. However, anticipated events did not have an indirect effect on changes in the consumption of products and services.

DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS

The results generally support the notion that changes in patronage behavior may be viewed as outcomes of stress, mediated through changes in consumption of product and services, as individuals try to adapt to stressful life conditions or role transitions marked by life events. The study provides support for the hypothesis that the occurrence of life events or role transitions contributes to the anticipation of other life events and role transitions. The data also support the relationship between life events and global stress. Similarly, the hypothesis that anticipated life events contribute to global or chronic stress was confirmed. Furthermore, the hypothesis that life events (acute stress) create demand for readjustment in the form of changes in the consumption of product and services received support, while the influence of anticipated life events on product/service consumption was not supported. Similarly, global stress was not found to be a significant predictor of changes in the consumption of product and services. The direct influence of life events on product/service consumption changes suggests that some changes in these behaviors are due to acute stress or may be even stress-free. However, life-event induced stress has an effect on one’s product/service consumption, suggesting that changes in these behaviors may represent coping mechanism to handle acute stress.

The relationship between life events and changes in store patronage was supported. However, this was not the case with respect to the direct influence of anticipated (expected) events on changes inpatronage preferences. Similarly, changes in patronage preferences were significantly related to changes in the consumption of products and services. Collectively, these findings suggest that: (a) some changes in patronage habits may reflect adjustment to new life conditions and enactment of new roles or relinquishment of old ones; and (b) the effects of acute stress (life events) on patronage behaviors are likely to be mediated through changes in consumption of products and services.

The present research suggests that stress may be an important variable, helping us understand patronage-switching behavior. Consumers may attempt to deal with averse psychological conditions during stressful life changes by initiating or changing consumption of products and services, which are likely to affect their patronage habits. The findings of this research can help us extend research presented by Andreasen (1984). His "lifestyle change" variable, which included changes in the consumption of products and services similar to those used in the present study, can help us understand the unexpected positive relationship of stress to changes in brand preferences found. In the Andreasen study, quantity of life status changes (events) was positively related to both stress and "lifestyles" (related to consumption behavior), which in turn were positively related to his "change in brand preferences" variable. Our study suggests that the same relationships apply with respect to changes in patronage behavior.

APPENDIX

ITEMS USED IN SCALE CONSTRUCTION

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Authors

Euehun Lee, Sejong University, Korea
George P. Moschis, Georgia State University, U.S.A.
Anil Mathur, Hofstra University, U.S.A.



Volume

AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3 | 1998



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