Brand Switching in Clothing As a Manifestation of Variety-Seeking Behavior

ABSTRACT - The paper examines the relationship between consumers’ general need for variety in their lives and their brand switching behavior when shopping for clothes. A review of the various motivations of variety-seeking behavior is offered. However, the research described in the paper focuses solely on the consumers’ internal need for stimulation (optimal stimulation level) as an antecedent of variety-seeking behavior and brand switching. This relationship is tested in the context of consumer shopping for clothes, measuring variety seeking levels and investigating their effect on brand switching behavior. The findings indicate no relationship between VSB and brand switching; suggesting that brand switching in clothing purchases is likely to be driven by factors other than 'the need for variety’.


Nina Michaelidou, Sally Dibb, and David Arnott (2005) ,"Brand Switching in Clothing As a Manifestation of Variety-Seeking Behavior", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, eds. Yong-Uon Ha and Youjae Yi, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 79-85.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 2005      Pages 79-85


Nina Michaelidou, Nottingham Business School, UK

Sally Dibb, Warwick Business School, UK

David Arnott, Warwick Business School, UK


The paper examines the relationship between consumers’ general need for variety in their lives and their brand switching behavior when shopping for clothes. A review of the various motivations of variety-seeking behavior is offered. However, the research described in the paper focuses solely on the consumers’ internal need for stimulation (optimal stimulation level) as an antecedent of variety-seeking behavior and brand switching. This relationship is tested in the context of consumer shopping for clothes, measuring variety seeking levels and investigating their effect on brand switching behavior. The findings indicate no relationship between VSB and brand switching; suggesting that brand switching in clothing purchases is likely to be driven by factors other than 'the need for variety’.

The underlying premise of variety-seeking behavior (VSB) is that 'under certain conditions we all need variety in our lives’ (Faison 1977). This conflicts with classical theories of learned behavior which describe consumer behavior as a series of needs which are met by activities which then become learned responses to be repeated as the needs recur. However, research suggests that variety-seeking is likely to account for brand switching in consumer choice (Bass, Pessemier, and Lehman 1972). Twenty years ago researchers were preoccupied with understanding VSB, resulting in a proliferation of explanations and models for the phenomenon, its antecedents and manifestations. In a recent resurgence in interest, researchers have been keen to synthesize the literature and further explore the VSB concept (Kahn 1995; Ratner, Kahn, and Kahneman 1999).

Although previous research indicates a relationship between the need for variety and brand switching behavior, these studies tend not to consider how product category affects the relationship. Yet brand switching is a situation and product-specific phenomenon; therefore its underlying motivations vary across situations and different product groups. What causes brand switching in one product class may not be the same as in another. More research is therefore needed to determine the impact of product class on brand switching behavior. This paper addresses this concern, examining the relationship between consumers’ need for variety in their lives and their brand switching behavior when shopping for clothes. The literature review considers various motivations for VSB, focusing on the consumers’ internal need for stimulation (Optimal Stimulation Level) as an antecedent of VSB and brand switching. Research findings are then presented which address the relationship between VSB and brand switching for clothing consumers.


The concept of variety-seeking behavior (VSB) originated in psychology and was introduced in 1955 separately by Leuba and Hebb. Since then, psychologists, marketers and economists have examined the antecedents of VSB and considered its implications for individual and household choice behaviors. However, inconsistencies in the evolving literature arose because the term 'variety’ was defined inconsistently. McAlister and Pessemier (1982) added order to the literature by categorizing 'varied behavior’ as either derived or direct. Derived variation results from external motives which are not related to the desire for variety (e.g., multiple needs, multiple users or multiple situations). Direct variation, on the other hand, is the result of 'intra-personal’ motives such as the need for stimulation or because of satiation with a product’s attributes.

Based on McAlister and Pessemier (1982), Kahn (1995) developed an integrating framework exploring why consumers seek variety. This framework classified VSB into three categories: 'satiation/stimulation’, 'external situation’ and 'future preference uncertainty’. The first two categories correspond with McAlister and Pessemier’s explanation. The third is based on the notion that variety-seeking is observed when consumers make purchases for future consumption. These categorizations (Kahn 1995) are now used for classifying the motivations for VSB proposed in the literature. The discussion, which is divided into two parts, is based on two different schools of thought for conceptualizing VSB: inexplicable (or stochastic) and explicable (or deterministic).

Inexplicable or Stochastic Conceptualizations

According to the theory of stochastic preference, VSB is viewed as inexplicable and is attributed to 'a stochastic element in the brain’ (Bass 1974). Various models were developed during the 1960s and 1970s to describe the statistical properties of buying behavior (e.g., Bass et al. 1974). Such models do not incorporate explanatory factors (e.g., product attributes, marketing mix variables etc.). Rather, they propose a probability model based on the economic theory of utility, emphasizing that future preference is affected by past experience. Despite their limited application, these models inspired the evolution of a second generation of models incorporating variables to explain the probabilities. Thus first generation models predict VSB using probabilities and assumptions of 'static’ market conditions (e.g., Bass et al. 1974). Later models, however, incorporate various consumer and market variables such as the effect of promotions (Kahn and Louie 1990; Kahn and Raju 1991) and the degree of similarity between two or more brands (Feinberg et al.1994). Little by little this has caused the stochastic and deterministic traditions to converge (Kahn, Kalwani, and Morrison 1986).

Explicable or Deterministic Conceptualizations

Despite the view that choice behavior might include stochastic or random components, most consumer behavior research assumes that behavior is caused, and therefore is 'explicable’. These deterministic paradigms for explaining VSB can be categorized according to whether they are based on psychological or other explanations.

Psychological Explanations. Psychologists recognize variety as a basic human need under the general rubric of exploratory behavior. Exploratory behavior refers to behavior that 'results from motives that do not seem to conform to general expectations’ (Raju 1981). A number of theories have explored what motivates exploratory behavior. Although there is considerable disagreement, an area of common ground is that individuals prefer an 'intermediate level’ of environmental stimulation. The dominant explanation of VSB is based on the notion of 'optimal stimulation level’ (OSL) [Hebb 1955; Leuba 1955]. This maintains that individuals have a preferred or optimal level of environmental stimulation. When the actual level of environmental stimulation is above or below the optimal, individuals will try to adjust it through exploration (e.g., VSB) or avoidance behavior (e.g., inertia) (Raju 1980, 1981). Alternative psychological explanations of VSB include: 'arousal potential’, 'variation, ambiguity and intensity of the environmental stimuli’, the 'incongruity concept’ and the 'general incongruity adaptation level’ (Berlyne 1960; Fiske and Maddi 1961). Although these theories differ in their interpretation of the relationship between environmental stimulation and individual preference, they basically agree that OSL is a cause of exploratory behavior (e.g., VSB). They also agree that OSL varies among individuals and that it can determine the degree of individual exploratory tendencies across many situations (Raju 1980).

Other Explanations. Other explanations of VSB relate to the internal and external factors which influence VSB and which lead to various behaviors such as brand switching, innovating and information seeking.

Explanations involving internal factors include the notion of satiation with product attributes and future uncertainty (Jeuland 1978; McAlister 1982). Satiation arises when familiarity with a stimulus causes decline in the stimulation potential because it is no longer novel to the consumer (Berlyne 1960). Future uncertainty explanations focus on the idea that variety-seeking is sought not because of the utility for diversity per se, but because of uncertainty about future preferences (Kahn 1995). This may be particularly pertinent to consumers faced with making multiple purchases for future consumption who may use VSB as a risk-reduction strategy.

Various external factors, including changes in usage situations, price promotions and the retail environment, have been shown to motivate VSB in some contexts. For example, research indicates that price promotions have a positive effect on VSB (Kahn and Raju 1991). In an experiment into brand choice and price promotions Kahn and Louie (1990) found that respondents sought variety when promotional activity as involved and were loyal to their preferred brands when the price promotions were retracted.


Having reviewed the antecedents or motivations for VSB, it is important to consider its 'symptoms’ or how it is manifested. Three types of behavior have been cited as potential manifestations of VSB (Price and Ridgway 1982). These include:

1. Exploratory purchase behavior: Examples of such behavior involve brand switching and innovating. Thus an image-conscious twenty year-old may enjoy experimenting with a variety of different cosmetics and hair-care products.

2. Vicarious exploratory behavior: This type of behavior does not involve product purchase although it may be an outcome. Examples include reading about, talking to others or window-shopping for new or unfamiliar products. Eg: a student seeking a new CD mini system may refer to specialist magazines or seek advice from friends.

3. Use innovativeness: Examples include using a previously adopted product in a novel manner or using a current product in a wide variety of ways. Eg: someone buying a food processor for mixing cakes might extend its’ use to pureeing fruit and vegetables for soups and sauces.

In this paper the focus is exclusively on brand switching as a manifestation of VSB. Most variety-seeking research uses probability theory and focuses on modeling brand switching as a phenomenon of VSB (caused by internal factors) [Feinberg, Kahn, and McAlister 1992; Jeuland 1978; Trivedi, Bass, and Rao 1994]. In a few instances, brand switching has also been modeled as a function of marketing variables (see Carpenter and Lehman 1985). Such models predict brand switching using the effects of past purchases, price and promotional activities to investigate changes in the market shares of brands over a period of time (Ansari, Bawa, and Ghosh 1995). Some authors have also combined the effects of variables, including variety-seeking, inertia, marketing variables, and customer characteristics (e.g., demographics), within the same model (Ansari et al. 1995).

Brand switching is viewed here as resulting from the internal need for variety which is explained by optimal stimulation level. The objective is to examine the relationship between OSL (which determines individual variety-seeking levels) and brand switching. Although this relationship has previously been addressed by Raju (1980), a re-examination exploring the manifestations of VSB in specific product classes is needed. The focus of the research is therefore on the product category, with measures being developed at a product rather than a brand level. The product examined by the research is clothing. Given the 'product-oriented’ focus, brand switching is considered to be the consumer disposition to exhibit switching patterns in clothing.


The notion of optimal stimulation level (OSL) was used as the basis for measuring consumers’ need for variety in their lives. As already mentioned, individuals possess a variable need for stimulation which indicates their propensity to look for variety (Hoyer and Ridgway 1984). OSL has been found to determine the extent of individual variety-seeking (or novelty-seeking) tendencies in a consumer context (Raju 1980, 1983). In particular, Raju (1980) found a positive relationship between OSL and various behaviors such as brand switching, information seeking and the adoption of new products.

Measuring Optimal Stimulation Level

In measuring OSL, three scaling procedures which utilize statements and which derive from the psychology literature were considered (Garlington and Shimota 1964; Mehrabian and Russell 1974; Zuckerman 1964). Of these three, the 'arousal seeking tendency’ scale or AST (Mehrabian and Russell 1974) was preferred. This scale, which is the most recent and concise, is the easiest to administer (Raju, 1980). The scale has been extensively applied in the consumer behavior literature and construct validity is indicated (Raju 1980; Wahlers and Etzel 1990). To ensure the scale’s fitness in the context of the present research, some modifications have been made. These include some instances of word replacement, rephrasing and item reversing. In addition, for purposes of parsimony, some items were eliminated as overlapping. This meant that 26 out of the original 40 items from the original instrument were retained. Another three items have been added which originate from Raju’s (1980) 'exploratory tendencies in consumer behavior scale’ to bring the scale closer to the context of shopping.

Measuring Brand Switching

Brand switching is operationalized in this research as the consumer propensity to exhibit switching patterns. Two variables served as surrogate measures of brand switching including 1) the degree of importance the individuals attach to the brand name and 2) the individuals’ commitment to their favorite brand of clothes.


The choice of clothing in this study is justified on the basis that clothing has been linked with various psychological concepts like perceived risk and involvement (Hawes and Lumpkin 1986; Tiger, Ring, and King 1976). These concepts are said to affect VSB in product choice (Hoyer and Ridgway 1984). In addition, as clothing shoppers, the sample population was likely to be interested in this product category and this would encourage participation in the survey. Another, but equally important consideration is that clothing as a product category has not previously been used to examine VSB levels.

The decision about the most appropriate data collection method involved reviewing the relative merits of different approaches. The speed and cost advantages of the questionnaire over other data collection methods were particularly attractive. Similarly, the use of e-mail as a method of administration ensures fast transmission and convenient response handling (Dibb, Rushmer, and Stern 2001). An online questionnaire was directed to a random sample of 3000 individuals in the UK. The sample was derived from the customer database of NEXT Plc, one of the biggest and best known UK clothing manufacturers and retailers. The company agreed to co-operate with the research.

Potential respondents received a URL address in the form of a hypertext link included in an e-mail message sent by the retailer. The e-mail invited the receivers to visit the web page to complete the questionnaire. A three week cut-off point was set, but an overwhelming 41.3% of responses arrived on the day of transmission. The response rate over the first week was steady so that by the end of this period 90% of the responses had been received. Overall, the response rate was 19%, generating 557 usable questionnaires. The 'normal’ level of response rates to Internet questionnaires has yet to be established. However, this return rate provided sufficient cases for conducting multivariate data analysis and seemed to compare well with consumer response rates in general.

To establish whether there were problems caused by non-response bias, a series of independent sample t-tests was initiated for the 29 variables measuring OSL. These tests examined the responses for early and late respondents. No significant differences were identified between the two groups indicating that the sample originated from a single population and that non-response bias should not be a problem.

Optimal Stimulation Level: As the 29-item OSL measure derived from a proposed uni-dimensional scale (Mehrabian and Russell 1974), tests of its robustness and possible direct relationship with brand switching were conducted. Although in this paper the contention is that OSL is a multi-dimensional concept, the robustness of the scale as uni-dimensional cannot be discounted without further investigation. A Cronbach alpha reliability test indicted a value of 0.96 which, by any standards is exceptional (Nunnally, 1968). Of course, Cronbach alpha is susceptible to positive distortion as the number of items increases, so this high value may partly be caused by the number of scale items. Nevertheless, it would appear that the scale is relatively robust as originally proposed. Later in this section the possibility that the scale as a uni-dimensional measure may offer a superior interpretation to the multi-dimensional view of OSL proposed here is considered further. The dimensionality of OSL was explored by submitting the scale items to factor analysis with varimax rotation. The final factor solution indicates four distinct factors explaining 59% of the variance. The reliability analysis yielded alpha values of .73, .62, .56, .51.

The four factors shown in table 1 correspond to the four sources of stimulation reflected in the factor labels. These are 1) new and unfamiliar stimuli, 2) change stimuli, 3) risk stimuli and 4) activity stimuli. This interpretation of the factor solution is consistent with the original scale (Mehrabian and Russell 1974). These results suggest that OSL is a multidimensional construct with fairly reliable dimensions.

Brand Switching Potential (BSP): A combination of two measures was used to assess brand switching. Respondents were asked to indicate on bi-polar five-point scales 1) the importance they attach to brand name when shopping for clothes and 2) their commitment to their favorite clothing brand. While this is not a rigorous measure of brand switching, in this exploratory study the aim is simply to seek indicators of a link (or its absence) as opposed to developing a predictive, associative model.

To investigate the relationship between optimal stimulation level and brand switching behavior in clothing an equation was derived using regression analysis. The goal of this approach is to establish a relationship which predicts the values of the dependent variable of brand switching using the independent OSL factors. A number of statistics were used to examine linearity including descriptives, the R2 goodness of fit, the standard error of the estimate, ANOVA, collinearity statistics and finally the t-statistic (see tables 2, 3, 4).

The statistics show no relationship between brand switching in clothing and OSL. For example, the R2 equals .015 and the adjusted R2 is .007. Similarly Beta values (table 4) are significantly low and a linear relationship is therefore doubtful. The possibility that the data may not be suitable for a linear model has been examined, with the likelihood of a non-linear relationship between the two addressed through data transformations. A number of equations [addressing non-linearity] have been derived, indicating that a relationship between OSL and brand switching in clothing might be 'inherently impossible’.

The possibility that the scale offers a superior interpretation because it uses a summated OSL scale rather than the factors scores has also been investigated. The five point Likert scale for OSL items meant that a simple summated score was deemed an appropriate indicator of overall OSL. Possible scores ranged from 29 x one (i.e. 29) to 29 x five (i.e. 145), although the actual range recorded was zero to 110. Observations with incomplete OSL responses (<29) were excluded from the analysis. A regression analysis of the brand switching potential against the summated OSL scores revealed no significant relationship with a near zero R-squared (R2=0.001, p=0.594) (see table 5). Furthermore, an independent-samples t-test comparing the brand switching potential of the lowest and highest OSL quartiles showed no significant differences in the mean value of brand switching potential (table 6). Thus, there is little evidence of a link between OSL and brand switching irrespective of whether a single scale or one broken into its various components is used. This leads to the conclusion that, counter to other literature, if OSL affects brand switching at all it is at best a category specific variable. Further research is needed to identify susceptible and non-susceptible categories.

Brand switching has been argued to be a manifestation of the need for variety explained by optimal stimulation level (Hoyer and Rigway 1984; Raju 1980). In this respect, individuals with a relatively high need for variety in their lives are expected to show brand switching propensities in their choice behavior (Raju 1980, 1981). However, the results indicate that brand switching in clothes is not related to consumers’ need for variety. This implies that while consumers need variety in their lives, they do not satisfy this need through brand switching in their clothing choice. In other words, the brand switching observed may be the result of other factors than the need for variety.

As pointed out earlier, there are various possible internal and external factors that explain brand switching. In this study of clothing purchases, the OSL factor was explored, and found not to explain the brand switching observed. It is therefore important to revisit the other factors which might explain brand switching in clothing purchases.







First, satiation with the brand or its attributes is considered as a major drive for VSB. Consumers become satiated by the consumption of a particular brand and look for alternatives. In the case of clothing [and in contrast to some other products] clothing brands are characterized by a set of attributes which are subject to change due to fashion trends. However there are also certain attributes that become permanent features and which are retained by the manufacturer to shape the image of the brand. Such attributes are likely to be quality, fit, style, and perhaps fashionability. The manufacturer and retailer hope that a satisfactory combination of these attributes will encourage the consumer to remain loyal to the brand. Satiation with the brand is likely to occur not because the consumer has become bored with the quality or fit of a given brand but because the combination of permanent characteristics is perceived as unsatisfactory. Under such circumstances the consumer is likely to switch to other brands of clothes. Of course, it is also important to recognize that this brand switching will probably be achieved within the context of the portfolio of clothing brands preferred by the consumer. In other words, most consumers will not confine their clothing purchase to a single brand.

A second internal factor is future uncertainty. This factor may explain brand switching in product categories other than clothing. VSB and brand switching as a result of future uncertainty is most often observed in purchase of food products, where consumers switch brands as a way of reducing the risk of future taste changes. In the case of clothing, consumers do not employ brand switching as a risk reduction strategy but try to handle the risk through other methods like loyalty and information search.







Certain external factors might also explain brand switching in clothing purchases. However in this study the focus was on the internal motivations of VSB and brand switching. External factors such as discounts and price promotions have been found to encourage brand switching behavior for a short period of time. Research indicates that the effect of promotions declines once these are retracted (Kahn and Louie 1990). The effect of promotions has only been investigated in certain product categories such as groceries. It is therefore unknown in the literature whether external factors have an effect on VSB ad brand switching in clothing.

Finally, it is important to acknowledge that an alternative explanation for the null effect of OSL on brand switching behavior in clothing may relate to limitations in brand switching measures. The surrogate measures used to capture brand switching may have been insufficiently sensitive to detect any effect of OSL on brand switching behavior.


Previous research suggests a relationship between the need for variety (explained by OSL) and brand switching behavior (Raju 1980). As Raju explains, his research found a significant correlation between brand switching and OSL: "..the results suggest that people who have higher OSL’s are generally more likely to manifest exploratory behaviors in the consumer behavior context. The exploratory tendencies are more likely to be manifested as risk taking and innovativeness somewhat likely to be manifested as brand switching" (p279).

Raju’s (1980) findings confirm a relationship between brand switching and optimal stimulation level in general, but do not consider the effect of product type. Where this relationship is examined in a specific product class, product type is expected to explain variations in switching behavior. This is because brand switching is a product-specific phenomenon and therefore its motivations presumably vary by product class.

The paper has explained the many motivations for VSB, including internal (OSL, satiation, future uncertainty) and external (price promotions, discounts, out-of-stock conditions etc.) However, these explanations do not consider the role of the product class in determining the occurrence of brand switching. Since brand switching is product-specific, these explanations are therefore arguably limited in scope. As a result, there is a lack of differentiation in the motivations of brand switching across product categories. The research reviewed in this paper seems to suggest that, contrary to non-product specific research findings on VSB, clothes shoppers’ general need for variety in their lives does not appear to affect their brand choice. Of course, this does not mean that the purchase behavior of these individuals in other product classes follows the same pattern. Indeed, these findings highlight the need for further research. In particular, additional research is required to examine the conditions when brand switching is a manifestation of internal sources of VSB behavior. This could involve using a framework which can predict when OSL or other internal sources are related to or explain brand switching behavior. Both the present study and the earlier research findings of Raju could be regarded as preliminary steps in this research direction.


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Nina Michaelidou, Nottingham Business School, UK
Sally Dibb, Warwick Business School, UK
David Arnott, Warwick Business School, UK


AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6 | 2005

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