Information Search For a Service: the Contrast Continues

ABSTRACT - This paper applies a model of information search of tourists in their holiday destination choice. The model, adapted from Srinivasan and Ratchford’s (1991) work, incorporates factors influencing external search effort such as perceived risk, product knowledge, amount of experience and positive experiences, the benefits and costs of search. To further build their model involvement constructs have been added as predictors of search effort. A total of 346 respondents participated in the study. Factor analysis and LISREL VII were used for model testing and development. Product importance and perceived risk increased information search, whilst symbolic value and ego involvement reduced information search behavior.


Marlene A. Pratt (1998) ,"Information Search For a Service: the Contrast Continues", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, eds. Kineta Hung and Kent B. Monroe, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 220-228.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, 1998      Pages 220-228


Marlene A. Pratt, Griffith University Gold Coast, Australia


This paper applies a model of information search of tourists in their holiday destination choice. The model, adapted from Srinivasan and Ratchford’s (1991) work, incorporates factors influencing external search effort such as perceived risk, product knowledge, amount of experience and positive experiences, the benefits and costs of search. To further build their model involvement constructs have been added as predictors of search effort. A total of 346 respondents participated in the study. Factor analysis and LISREL VII were used for model testing and development. Product importance and perceived risk increased information search, whilst symbolic value and ego involvement reduced information search behavior.

The consumer’s search for information related to choice, is a major component of most consumer behavior decision models (Beatty and Smith, 1987; Lilien, Kotler and Moorthy, 1992). Knowledge of information search strategies usd by consumers and factors that effect search, is vital for marketers to discern, as information search is an influential stage in the consumption process and will impact a firm’s communication strategy.

This exploratory study applies a structural equation model of the determinants of information search to a service, the choice of holiday destination. The model adapted from Srinivasan and Ratchford’s (1991) work is used to evaluate the impact of perceived risk, product knowledge, positive experiences, amount of experience, size of evoked set, interest, the benefits and costs of search on total external information search effort. To further build their comprehensive model, involvement constructs, such as product importance, symbolic value and ego involvement, have been added to further develop their 'interest’ construct (shown within the dotted lines of the model below). Involvement is seen as vital, as those who seek information generally have a high level of involvement with the product purchase. This modified model is presented in Figure 1.


External search effort begins when the consumer has an intention to make a product purchase, has high involvement in the product and its purchase, but feels that they have inadequate knowledge for making a good purchase decision (Manfredo, 1989). The effort of search is affected by information that the consumer already has in their memory prior to considering the purchase. Extensive research has been conducted on variables that affect information search. Beatty and Smith (1987) list approximately 60 variables that have been studied empirically as determinants of search. Information search contains two components: internal search, information sought from memory; and external search, information sought from external sources (Engel, Kollat, Blackwell, 1973; Hansen, 1972). In the model used, search is defined as the effort aimed at acquiring information from the external environment. According to this definition, information obtained from memory and information obtained passively are not part of the external search effort, yet it is likely passive search will be captured in these measures, particularly for media search (Beatty and Smith, 1987) and past experiences.

Punj and Staelin (1983) attempted to build and test a comprehensive structural equations model of search behavior, which was later modified by Srinivasan and Ratchford (1991). Schmidt and Spreng (1996) have proposed a model of information search incorporating the effects of antecedents of information search mediated by ability, motivation, costs and benefits. Srinivasan and Ratchford (1991) modelled factors related to the costs and benefits of search. Many product/service purchases however involve symbolic meaning which impact search behaviour. The modified model proposed has integrated a psychological approach through the inclusion of the involvement construct, with the economic cost-benefit approach adopted by Srinivasan and Ratchford (1991).

The starting point for the model is the cost-benefit analysis, with the basic proposition that consumers will expend effort in information search as long as the perceived benefits of search outweigh the perceived costs of search. Perceived benefits should have a positive effect on search effort. These benefits include satisfaction with choice and obtaining discounts. Costs of search include the convenience of search and affect on decision making.

H1:  The cost of search will have a negative effect on perceived benefits of search.

Search is also effected by perceived risk. Th greater the perceived risk, the greater the propensity to search for information prior to purchase (Etzel and Wahlers, 1985; Murray, 1991), particularly with services (Zeithaml, 1981; George, Weinberger and Kelly, 1985). In this context, risk is defined as uncertainty with regards to the outcome of the decision. Constructs indicative of uncertainty include low prior knowledge, unfamiliarity and product inexperience (Bennett and Mandell, 1969; Moore and Lehmann, 1980). Holiday choice may be perceived as a high risk decision because it is characterised by intangibility, high cost and uncertainty (Gitelson and Crompton, 1984). Consumers with a tolerance for risk are more likely to experience new destinations, whereas those consumers with less tolerance for risk are likely to return to familiar destinations, even if a new destination is preferred (McDougall and Munro, 1987). In summary, travellers generally tend to extend the prepurchase information search process when the destination and route are unknown and the perceived risk associated with the trip are high.

H2:  When perceived risk is high it will have a positive effect on benefits of search.

Similarly, the extent of a consumer’s product knowledge, that is, the knowledge obtained from prior learning with past purchase experiences, is likely to influence search behaviour. Three separate explanations have emerged. One posits that a consumer with extensive knowledge will have fewer requirements for information (Keil and Layton, 1981; Moore and Lehmann, 1980). High levels of product knowledge may reduce perceived risk and uncertainty, and as a consequence decrease search behavior. The second suggests a positive relationship suggesting as consumers acquire more knowledge they become more active information seekers (Jacoby, Chestnut and Fischer, 1978). The third view incorporates both elements where information search increases to a threshold, after which information search will decline (Bettman and Parks, 1980). Product knowledge of new destinations, however, may be limited despite a high level of past travel experiences, which will lead to a positive relationship with the benefits of information search. Similarly, holiday travel tends to have long lags between purchases, which may cause long term memory to fade and thus results in lower levels of product knowledge, resulting in information search.



H3:  Negative relationship between product knowledge and perceived risk.

H4:  Positive relationship between product knowledge and benefits of information search.

Positive experience with the product class will also affect the benefits of search. Indeed, Punj and Stewart (1983) found that a satisfactory experience with prior purchase would limit the perceived need for information and reduce the benefits of further search. However, leisure travel and the selection of a holiday destination has unique features that result in somewhat different search behaviour than found by Punj and Stewart (1983). For instance, leisure travellers, even when satisfied with a previous holiday destination, may not necessarily engage in repeat purchase because leisure travellers may search for a new destination (Gitelson and Crompton, 1984).

H5:  Positive experience with the product class will increase the benefits of search.

H6:  Positive experience with the product class will decrease the perception of risk.

Experience with the product class is separated from product knowledge in Srinivasan and Ratchford’s model (1991). This is because consumers experienced in purchasing the product may simplify their search, resulting in a negative effect on perceived benefits of search.

H7:  Prevous experience with the product class will decrease the benefits of search.

The size of the evoked set is the number of brands the consumer considers prior to purchase. Srinivasan and Ratchford (1991) hypothesise that perceived risk increases the size of the evoked set of brands evaluated, that is, the consumer will evaluate more alternatives. However, this proposition does not apply to services, where there are less tangible attributes from which to make comparisons. Zeithaml, Parasuraman, and Berry (1990) states the size of the evoked set will be smaller with services than products due to nonstandardisation of services, limited 'brands’ to choose from, and difficulty in obtaining prepurchase information about services. The size of evoked set may decrease based on previous satisfying experiences and product knowledge.

H8:  The size of the evoked set will have a positive effect on the benefits of search.

The model presented in this paper extends the previous model by Srinivasan and Ratchford (1991) incorporating the involvement construct, comprising 'product importance’, 'symbolic value’ and 'ego involvement’ (risk already included in the model). Involvement is an important motivational construct linked to search, where the level of information search displayed by a consumer often indicates their level of involvement with the product and product purchase. Involvement has been defined as an internal state variable that indicates the amount of arousal, interest, or drive evoked by a particular stimulus or situation (Mitchell, 1979; Cohen, 1982). Laurent and Kapferer (1985) identified antecedents of involvement, which include perceived risk associated with product purchase; perceived importance of the product; symbolic value attributed by the consumer to the product, its purchase or consumption; and hedonic value of the product.

Product importance is used to signify importance as perceived by consumers rather than some objective level of importance strictly inherent with in the product itself (Bloch and Richins, 1983). Research has found with leisure activities pleasure and importance becomes synonymous (Holbrook and Hirschman, 1982, Selin and Howard, 1988). Hence, the measure of product importance encompasses hedonic value. Product importance increases information search.

The symbolic value associated with leisure travel may impact search behaviour. Baudrillard (1970) stated that a person consumes a product for its sign value in order to belong to one’s own group or to differentiate him or herself from one’s group by reference to a group of superior status. Sign value refers to the perceived ability of a product or an experience to express one’s status, one’s personality or identity (Kapferer and Laurent, 1985). Wellman, Roggenbuck and Smith (1982) suggested centrality to lifestyle was an important component of the personal meaning of an activity. Holiday travel destinations may be trendy, and going there will say something about the traveler to friends and relatives (Havitz and Dimanche, 1989). Since destinations are intangibles, symbolic communication often dominate (Gitelson and Crompton, 1984), as a result less information search may result.

Another component of involvement considered is ego involvement (Zimbardo, 1960; Selin and Howard, 1988), defined as "the state of identification existing between an individual and a recreational activity, at one point in time, characterised by some level of enjoyment and self-expression being achieved through the activity" (Selin and Howard, 1988:237). As holiday travel is often relatively expensive, it is likely to generate more ego involvement than is typical for the purchase of many less costly retail goods (Gitelson and Crompton, 1984). Mittal (1989) states when the product serves psychosocial or expressive goals the consumer will not search for information.

Holiday destination choice may be considered a high involvement prodct, yet may involve routine, limited and extensive decision making, as a result information search will be limited or vary (Snepenger and Snepenger, 1993). This occurs where travelers visit the same destination for every holiday.

H9:  Perceived product importance implies a positive relationship between importance of the product and search.

H10:  Symbolic value, and ego involvement attributed by the consumer to the product, should imply less benefits of search, as the product choices are determined by the symbolic and ego value of the products to the consumer.

The total search effort consumers engage in are measured through the number of external information sources used. Kiel and Layton (1981) identified four factors underlying search: retailer search; media search; interpersonal search and time factor. Four factors identified by both Duncan and Olshavsky (1982) and Bennett and Mandell (1969) are interpersonal search, neutral sources search, retailer search and media search. Tourism research has shown that travellers tend to use: advice provided by friends and relatives, or by experienced travellers as the main source of information; guidebooks provided by state tourism authorities and mass media as secondary sources (see Gitelson and Crompton, 1983; Snepenger et al., 1990; Troncalli and Thompson, 1976). Mihalik, Uysal and Pan (1995) state the use of travel agents by Germans and Japanese travelers to be the major source of information, however, the reliance on travel agents as the major source of information was omitted. Mok and Armstrong (1996) found friends & relatives (34.2%), and travel agencies (27.8%) were ranked as the most important source of information for Hong Kong travellers. Kim, Weaver, and McCleary (1996) evaluated information sources by travel motivation for senior travellers, and found print media and official sources of information to be the most significant. An assumption often made is that consumers will seek information in order to make better decisions. However, Zeithaml (1981) argues that services are more difficult to evaluate prior to initial purchase than goods, due to the intangible and nonstandardised nature of services, where direct comparisons on specific attributes are difficult. Hence, search for information on services may be limited and result in less search effort expended, in relation to purchase of products. Indeed, consumers may rely on fewer sources of information, with emphasis on personal sources.

In summary, a comprehensive model of consumer information search behavior, as suggested in this paper, is adapted and utilized to tourists information search behavior in destination choice, to analyze the complex relationships involved in a service based industry.



The sample comprised tourists who were visiting a particular holiday destination, Queensland, Australia. A convenience sample was obtained through a number of locations. These locations included: Brisbane Domestic airport; Brisbane International airport; Coolangatta airport; Brisbane Roma Street railway station; Gold Coast bus terminal; cruise ships; and recreational theme parks.

A total of 346 respondents participated in the survey, however due to incomplete data a total of 287 respondents were used. See Table 1 for profile of respondents.


The questionnaire consisted of 23 items measuring external sources of information based on literature used in the context of tourist information search. These were scored on a seven point scale, ranging from (1) definitely would not to (7) definitely would. Twenty eight items measuring constructs affecting consumers’ information search were used to measure product knowledge, past experience, positive experience, perceived risk, importance, symbolic meaning, ego involvement, perceived benefits and cost of search. All of these ratings were made on a seven point scale, ranging from (1) strongly disagree to (7) strongly agree. General demographic data were also collected, as mentioned above.


A team of interviewers were trained to administer the questionnaire. Each interviewee was given a location and briefed to screen each respondent to ensure they were legitimate visitors to this region. The respondent completed a self-administered questionnaire, which was collected by the interviewer. A small gift (souvenir key chain) was given to respondents for their participation.


LISREL VII (Joreskog and Sorbom, 1988) was used for the analysis and development of the model. Three endogenous predictor variables were in the initial model. First, 'Benefits’ represented the perceived benefits obtained from information search. Second, the 'Risk’ variable assessed the perceived risk of choosing a holiday destination. Finally, the variable 'Many’ measured the size of evoked set, that is the number of destinations which were included in the decision set (see Table 2 for description of the measures used).

The first subset of exogenous variables about the information search process included previous travel experience, knowledge of travel, previous travel satisfaction and perceived cost of search. The variable 'Past experience’ assessed how much previous travel experience the respondent had. 'Knowledge’ measured how much information the individual had prior to the search process. 'Positive Experience’ was a measure of how previous travel experiences was evaluated. Finally, 'Cost’ assessed the convenience and time factors of conducting information search.

The second subset of exogenous variables revealed information about the importance and personal significance of destination choice, resulting in the level of involvement in the purchase decision. The 'Ego involvement’ variable was a measure of the role holiday travel plays in satisfying personal needs. Symbolic involvement which was found to contain two separate variables 'Symbolic/lifestyle’ and 'Symbolic/friends’. Symbolic/lifestyle represented the notion that choice of holiday provides a reflection of the individual’s lifestyle and personality. Similarly, Symbolic/friends represents the image friends form of the person as a function of the type of holiday and destination chosen. The last variable in this group, Importance, assessed the degree of importance the individual assigned to holiday travel. Hedonic value was not directly measured, as it was difficult to distinguish from product importance.







The overall measure of search behavior is based on total external search effort, through a scale of 23 items. An iitial exploratory factor analysis, using principle components analysis of external information search behavior resulted in four factors with eigenvalues greater than one. These dimensions were labelled: retailer, media, interpersonal, and internal search (see Table 3). Reliability statistics were computed for the scales where retailer was .82, media was .82, interpersonal was .78, and internal was .65. Items such as 'check consumer information guides’ and 'report written by third party’, did not suggest a fifth factor neutral source as suggested in previous research (Bennett and Mandell, 1969; Troncalli and Thompson, 1976). Rather, these items tended to split across two factors, media and retailer, hence these items were deleted from the final analysis, resulting in a total of 17 items. An averaged unitweighted sum of the pertinent items was used to provide an appropriate global measure of total search effort, as shown in the model.

The model tested found the variables 'Symbolic/lifestyle’ and size of the evoked set 'Many’ had no significant relationships with any of the other variables in the model. As a result, these two variables were deleted from subsequent analysis. The model allows for the direct and indirect effects of the endogenous and exogenous variables on total information search. Several iterations of freeing and constraining parameters were evaluated before the model presented in Figure 2 was accepted. The overall fit indicators suggest this model provides a very good representation of the data. The estimated structural equation coefficients are presented in Table 4.

As hypothesised, the majority of relationships are significant, however, the direction of influence between some constructs differ from previous research and that hypothesised. In particular, it was found that past experience, previous satisfying experiences, and product knowledge did not decrease the perceived risk of the product purchase, that is the choice of holiday destination. Risk was defined earlier as 'uncertainty with regards to the outcome of the decision’. This is in contrast to findings by Srinivasan and Ratchford (1991) that indicate a reduction in perceived risk reduced through past experience, previous satisfying experiences, or product knowledge.

Past experience reduces the perceived benefits of searching for information and reduces the need for information search. It may be assumed travellers have 'learnt’ how to access only pertinent information effectively in their decision making. Satisfaction of previous travel experiences, however, is positively related to benefits of external information search, which is in contraction to findings by Srinivasan and Ratchford (1991). This result may indicate the necessity of information search for a satisfying experience, keeping in mind that destination choice will often differ, whereas, with a product purchase the same brand may be repurchased. Knowledge on destinations and travel is positively related to risk, with no significant direct relationship to benefits of information search. Similarly, we can infer the requirement for information regardless of product knowledge, as a service is so unpredictable. The cost of search, to a limited extent, reduces the benefits of information search, as indicated earlier in the literature.





Benefits of search and total information search is strongly associated with the importance of holiday travel decision making, as was the case with by Srinivasan and Ratchford (1991) 'interest’ variable. Symbolic/friends and Ego were both added to the model, where both were found to significantly reduce total information search effort. The magnitude of this result was unexpected, as previous literature suggests an increase in information search when involvement is high. However, services are difficult to evaluate and symbolic messages are relied upon, hence, both th influence of friends and the consumers own needs has a negative effect on the benefits of information search.

Significant relationships between endogenous constructs are evident. The benefits of search increase the amount of total information search, as hypothesised. Perceived risk marginally increases the perceived benefits of information search, however, to a lesser extent than expected.

Information sources most often used were retail, incorporating travel agents and tourism bureaus. Interestingly, interpersonal sources explained only 8.9% of the variance, yet symbolic/friends had a strong negative effect on information search. The variance explained in Total search effort variable by the model was 0.676, which is satisfactory for exploratory development of such a model in the context of tourists’ information search, which has not been previously operationalised. The overall chi-square for the model is 56.08 (df=9). However, this statistic is strongly affected by sample size (N=287). A more appropriate measure for the model is the nonnormed (FI) fit index, which avoids extreme underestimation and overestimation due to sample size (Bentler, 1990). The FI for this model is .98, indicating a very good fit of the model to the data.


Tourism suppliers endeavor to understand the process consumers undertake to search for information on their destination choice or their choice of accommodation, activities and transportation. The results support much of the literature on consumer information search, and highlight significant differences between services and products. The model shows the interrelationships between constructs on information search behavior, which incorporates involvement constructs into the model.

Cost in terms of time availability and convenience of search, are negatively related to the benefits of search. As a result consumers who have no time and find information search inconvenient, do not feel there are benefits for extensive information gathering. This may be reflected in the small evoked set (M=2.7).

Past travel experience, however, will directly reduce the need for extensive information search and the perceived benefits of information search, as suggested by Srinivasan and Ratchford (1991). The results may infer that travellers may already have preconceived ideas of their next holiday destination, perhaps resulting from past search or travel experiences, thus reducing the need for information search. Past travel experience may also have a learning effect, where consumers are more efficient when searching for information, therefore the requirement for extensive information search is limited. Limited information may also apply to consumers where destination choice is routine or limited, that is, destination choice does not vary.

In this study it was found that previous satisfying travel experience increases the benefits of information search, which does not support Srinivasan and Ratchford’s (1991) findings. Travellers may find that the benefits of information search will result in making the right choice, hence, more satisfying travel experiences. For many tourists, searching for information is a part of the travel experience (Vogt, Fesenmaier, MacKay, 1993). The search for new locations may also explain the need for information search.

An interesting difference between services and products, was that the consumers perceived risk of product purchase (ie holiday travel) did not decrease regardless of past experience and product knowledge. This may suggst, as consumers experience travel and obtain product knowledge on various destinations, the risk of travel is not reduced, as travel is intangible in nature, has a high degree of nonstandardisation and variability between destinations are vast. Although not the focus of this paper, the finding lends weight to travel being a riskier product than other products. Risk reduction may not be based on prior experiences or product knowledge, but personality factors (risk taking behaviour), domestic versus international travel and first time visitor versus repeat visitors to a particular destination. Hence, the antecedents of risk with regard to holiday travel need to be further researched.

Involvement was measured through product importance, symbolic value (friends) and ego involvement. The importance of holiday travel to the consumer significantly effects the perceived benefits of information search and on the actual search effort. Indeed, a strong relationship exists for consumers who place holiday travel as an important part of their lives and the benefits of information search. Both symbolic value (friends) and ego involvement had a strong negative relationship to total information search effort. Interestingly, consumers will decrease information search where their emotional judgements, such as friends choice of destination, and lifestyle expectations, become more important over that of their objective judgement (Zajonc, 1979), that is, attribute based decision making. This may be attributed to the nature of travel, where it is considered to contain elements of a service; that is, it is intangible, nonstandardised, and inseparable. These factors make services more difficult to evaluate than goods (Zeithaml, 1981), with reliance on symbolic imagery. These personal judgements as a consequence result in less information search. Marketers need an understanding of their target markets, and their reference groups together with motivational research, in order to effectively communicate with their target markets. Destination marketers also need to evaluate the 'symbolic’ meaning and positioning of their destination to their target markets.

The total consumer search effort measure resulted in four factors, labelled: retailer, media, interpersonal, and internal search. Retailer (travel agents, tourism bureaus) was found to be the most popular information source, followed by media sources (magazine, newspaper). Interpersonal sources was a poor indicator of information search sources, yet symbolic/friends seemed to significantly influence the negative relationship between information search. Consumers may have a particular destination in their evoked set through the influence of their social groups, and external sources of information such as travel agents to search for information on a particular destination. Further research evaluating influence of reference groups is required.

Overall, the exploratory model of information search presented in this paper, highlights significant relationships between factors of external search processes such as perceived risk with purchase, product knowledge and experience, positive experiences, product importance, symbolic meaning and ego involvement, as predictors of search effort. Differences between services and products are apparent, with regard to risk evaluation and repeat purchase behaviour.

Other measures of search can be incorporated in future research, such as time spent evaluating destinations and further refinement in the measurement of both the risk and motivation constructs. Further analysis may determine differences in information processing between domestic and international travellers, and to categorise travellers according to routine, limited or extensive decision making for holiday destination choice. Finally, it is apparent that information search for a tourism product/service is unique, and differs from durable purchase behaviour.


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Marlene A. Pratt, Griffith University Gold Coast, Australia


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

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Stefanie Paluch, RWTH Aachen University

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