Varieties of Value in the Consumption Satisfaction Response

ABSTRACT - The relation between value and the quality component of value embedded in the Holbrook typology is investigated with reference to the satisfaction response. Specifically, the temporal primacy of each of these concepts is explored. It is concluded that quality provides both value and satisfaction to consumers and that consumption value enhances satisfaction. Quality as a self-oriented reaction to extrinsic experience, as posited by Holbrook, is affirmed.


Richard L. Oliver (1996) ,"Varieties of Value in the Consumption Satisfaction Response", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, eds. Kim P. Corfman and John G. Lynch Jr., Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 143-147.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, 1996      Pages 143-147


Richard L. Oliver, Vanderbilt University


The relation between value and the quality component of value embedded in the Holbrook typology is investigated with reference to the satisfaction response. Specifically, the temporal primacy of each of these concepts is explored. It is concluded that quality provides both value and satisfaction to consumers and that consumption value enhances satisfaction. Quality as a self-oriented reaction to extrinsic experience, as posited by Holbrook, is affirmed.


A reasonable assumption is that consumers derive a number of valued outcomes from consumption. Generally, these valued outcomes can be summed up within the economist's notion of utility. Utility is a convenient overarching concept that permits discussion of consumer goals without the necessity of greater formal specification, although a number of "utility encoding" schemes have been proposed (e.g., Edwards and Barron 1994; Schoemaker and Hershey 1992). These efforts, however, bear an unmistakable resemblance to multiattribute models commonly used to describe consumer preferences for, or affective leanings toward a product or service (Vodopivec 1992; Warshaw and Dr÷ge 1986). Moreover, although utility is frequently represented in axiomatic terms, there exists no semantic definition of utility receiving widespread acceptance. For example, early writers described utility as revealed preference, usefulness, and even satisfaction; more recent works refer to utility as hedonic quality or "pleasure" (Kahneman and Varey 1991).

Another ubiquitous goal of consumption is value. Most would agree that consumers derive some form of value from consumption. Yet value, like utility, is subject to numerous interpretations. For example, Roget's International Thesaurus, 3rd edition, lists six separate subcategories of value. Barring one specific to color quality (e.g., vividness), the remaining categories include meaning, usefulness, importance, excellence, and worth. Moreover, each of these subcategories are sets of a greater representation of terms that are related in various ways. Understandably, it would be of "value" to pin down those value-related terms that are more aligned with consumption outcomes.


Holbrook (1994; Holbrook and Corfman 1985) has made a major effort to describe value in the consumption experience. He distinguishes eight separate categories of consumer value based on a three dimensional paradigm. Shown in Table 1 are the eight categories as defined by the three dimensions.

In his paradigm, Holbrook intends that there are eight fundamental valued outcomes in consumption. In much the same way that certain human emotions have been described as fundamental, these outcomes, taken collectively, are thought to comprise the core of value in consumption. The dimensions on which they are based define the consumer's essential criteria for forming value judgments. In order, the dimensions include: (a) whether the outcomes are judged with reference to the self or others, (b) whether the outcomes are actively accomplished ("done by" the consumer) or are reactions to the accomplishments of others ("done to" the consumer), and (c) whether the outcomes are valued for their relation to another goal (extrinsic) or are valued as an end in themselves (intrinsic). Holbrook elaborates extensively on the nature of the consumption experiences in each of the eight cells.

In an apparent enigma, satisfaction, another oft-cited goal of consumption, does not appear in the Holbrook typology. This raises a number of interesting questions. Namely: (1) Is satisfaction value C are they the same concept? (2) Is satisfaction one of the values in the Holbrook typology? (3) Is it an additional value defined by another dimension not considered? (4) Is satisfaction a related, but conceptually distinct, concept? (5) If so, is satisfaction an antecedent of value C do consumers receive value from satisfaction? (6) Alternatively, is it a consequent C do consumers receive satisfaction from value in consumption? These issues are intriguing but cannot be pursued until some consensus is achieved on what satisfaction and value are. Discussion proceeds by defining both value and satisfaction as described in the consumer behavior literature.


Placing the Holbrook typology on hold for the present, one might ask how consumer researchers operationalized value in prior works. Before answering this query, a very subtle distinction between consumption value and personal value requires elaboration. Specifically, it must be acknowledged that the value derived from consumption does not share a one-to-one overlap with values desired by individuals in general (cf. Corfman, Lehmann, and Narayanan 1991; Pitts and Woodside 1984). Personal values reflect desirable end states in life sought by all individuals. For example, the Kahle (1984) List of Values includes accomplishment, belongingness, enjoyment, excitement, fulfillment, fun, security, self-respect, and warm relationships. Note that some of these, such as enjoyment and security can be obtained through consumption while others, such as self-fulfillment, are not easily achieved in this manner. While means-end chain analysis provides a way of linking consumption to values (e.g., Gutman 1991), it does so indirectly. Thus, for parsimony, the consumption value focus taken here will not rely heavily on the personal values literature. Readers are directed to Kahle's work and the other cited sources for further insight.

Zeithaml (1988) provides a comprehensive perspective on value as couched in a web of consumption concepts. Using qualitative analysis, she finds that four themes define the concept of value from a consumer's experience. These are: (1) low price, (2) getting what is wanted, (3) quality compared to price, and (4) what is received for what is sacrificed. Generally, these themes are echoed in the trade literature surveyed in the Zeithaml article.

Based on additional reasoning, Zeithaml models value as a function of five variables. She hypothesizes that value is a positive function of: (a) quality, (b) other extrinsic attributes such as functionality, (c) intrinsic attributes such as pleasure, and (d) "high-level abstractions" including personal values. Additionally, value is posited to be a negative function of perceived sacrifice, defined in terms of both monetary outlays and non-monetary costs including time and effort. In effect, value is a positive function of what is received and a negative function of what is sacrificed. Thus, the value "equation" appears as follows:



Under the preceding interpretation, value can be viewed as a specific type of comparative postpurchase operation. For example, in the now familiar expectancy disconfirmation model of satisfaction (e.g., Oliver 1980), consumers are believed to compare their outcomes to predictive expectations or other prepurchase standards, such as norms (Cadotte, Woodruff, and Jenkins 1987). Additionally, they may use other comparative options of a different conceptual nature, including sacrifice, as shown in Table 2 (see Oliver 1997).





Thus, within this framework, value takes its place among other comparative operations in postpurchase judgments. In effect, it competes with these options in the determination of the fulfillment response which most know as satisfaction (Oliver 1997). This perspective would describe the case of value as an antecedent of satisfaction, a perspective implicit in the Zeithaml review.

If this is so, then the eight dimensions of the Holbrook paradigm are encased in the "receipts" numerator of the value equation. Specifically, quality or excellence (cell 3 in Table 1), other extrinsic attributes (cells 1, 5, and 7), intrinsic attributes (cells 2 and 4), and higher level values (cells 6 and 8) become outcomes which are later compared to the sacrifices and costs incurred to achieve these outcomes. What results is one component of the satisfaction response.

Satisfaction as an Antecedent of Value

In a contrasting perspective, satisfaction would be one of the precursors to value. That is, some of the value derived from consumption would be satisfaction-based. The more satisfaction received, the greater the value received in consumption. Where, then, is satisfaction in the Holbrook typology? More specifically, what is satisfaction?


Based on previous distinctions presented in Oliver (1993b) on the difference between satisfaction and quality, satisfaction was described as an experiential judgment of outcomes compared to a set of goals or standards resulting in a sense of fulfillment, including over- or underfulfillment. As such, it could incorporate all of Holbrook's eight cells, but is more representative of those specific to a self orientation. While satisfaction can derive from the mediating responses of others, more generally it is an individualistic judgment of the fulfillingness of particular outcomes.

Thus, for satisfaction to be an input to consumption value, it must provide one of the outcomes in the Holbrook typology or provide an outcome not accounted for in his paradigm. Inspection of the Holbrook outcomes suggests that this is not the case. Satisfaction is not efficiency, excellence, status, esteem, play, aesthetics, ethics, nor spirituality. Rather, these outcomes would provide a sense of satisfaction to the recipient. If satisfaction is a component of value, then what is the missing dimension on which it is defined?

Lastly, to dispel the notion that satisfaction and value are isomorphic, it is only necessary to consider the possibility that satisfaction can exist in the absence of value and that value can exist in the absence of satisfaction, an exercise useful in distinguishing satisfaction from quality (see Oliver 1993b). Limiting the definition of value to receipts relative to sacrifices, it is evident that satisfaction and value can be found to diverge.

For example, if cost is sufficiently low and even zero as in a free good, an adequate level of receipts can provide immense value. The consumer, however, may judge satisfaction on another comparator, such as "what might have been" (regret) or simply on his/her needs. In short, dissatisfaction can be unrelated to high value in a consumption experience. An unneeded or unliked gift of great value would provide a common example. How many expensive silk ties are really all that satisfying to the recipient?

Similarly, satisfaction may exist in the presence of poor value. A makeshift emergency automobile repair using baling wire and duct tape may be truly satisfying if it enables a motorist to reach the nearest service station. The road mechanic may charge an exorbitant price, and poor value, for this "service." The motorist's needs, however, were fulfilled nonetheless.

Some would say that this latter example illustrates the efficiency component (cell 1) of the value typology where the outcomes received were more related to safety and personal well-being than to the elements of the physical repair itself. The author is in some agreement on this point. What this example illustrates is the interplay between satisfaction and value. Value can be satisfying; alternatively satisfaction provides a sense of personal value. This may explain the basis for the conundrum of the primacy of satisfaction or value. At the same time that consumption value enhances satisfaction, satisfaction may be a valued outcome for many consumers. The extent to which satisfaction is a personal value awaits further research.





How Value and Satisfaction Coexist

To show how consumption value enhances satisfaction, the self-oriented cells of Table 1 can be redefined to reflect current satisfaction theory. See Table 3.

Table 3 shows how the self-oriented elements (cells 1 through 4) of the Holbrook typology map onto the three dimensions of the satisfaction response as shown in a number of studies. Satisfaction is now believed to have both a cognitive and an affective dimension (Oliver 1993a). Generally, cognition gives rise to the affect in consumption (Ortony, Clore, and Collins 1988), but it can also be shown that both appraised and unappraised affect play into the satisfaction response (Oliver 1989, 1997).

Additionally, the satisfaction response is known to vary by arousal. It has already been proposed that satisfaction can also be distinguished by the extent of engagement, where engagement is active or passive (Oliver 1989). When outcomes are compared to efforts or activities of the consumer, active engagement occurs. When outcomes are compared to preexisting standards, including expectations or desires, passive engagement is more evident.

Satisfaction based on purely affective content has not been extensively studied. Nonetheless it can assumed that it differs in terms of the nature of affective versus cognitive experience. Purely affective experience is evaluated along hedonistic lines (Hirschman and Holbrook 1982). Engaged affect assumes the consumer's actions generate the affect, whereas passive affect involves only the quiescent observation of pleasing stimuli.


Having explored the satisfaction-value relationship, it is now time to address quality as a factor in this process. How is quality or "excellence" related to value? Excellence may be, for most, a desired value in consumption. As Holbrook notes, it is also a component of value in broader terms. His framework presumes that the value of consumption increases as quality increases. At the same time, it is proposed here that satisfaction increases both because of increases in quality and because of increases in value. What, then is quality?

As derived from Tables 1 and 3, the perception of quality is a somewhat disengaged cognitive assessment of excellence. In Holbrook's terms, it is a reaction to the extrinsic cues of excellence. In this sense, the cues were preexistent. Hence, one can react to these value cues prior to consumption and without exposure, as in the "quality" of the crown jewels. Alternatively, one can experience quality through exposure.

Other Variants of Quality

Oliver (1997) provides a summary of quality definitions from a number of sources (e.g., Garvin 1984; Steenkamp 1990). See Table 4.

Here, attainment refers to the achievement of a high level standard of unspecified dimensions. Desirability refers to a more personal level of attractiveness to the consumer, again of unspecified dimensions. Finally, usefulness refers to the ability of the product or service to "serve" the consumer's needs, which, similarly are left unspecified.

Note, also, that the list includes the term "value," which has been described here as encompassing the concept of quality. Other terms, such as the possession of desired characteristics, access the level of attribute or feature possession, and can be viewed as more in line with a product cue interpretation of quality. Thus, these terms are useful in defining quality from a conceptual standpoint, but do not individually exhaust the many meanings offered in the literature. This illustrates the tautological nature of the various representations of quality in Table 3. Each of these phrases can be used as proxies for quality itself.



There is a more important point to be made here. While these and other definitions can be found in the literature, they are incomplete representations of the quality concept because they do not specify the comparison referent. For example, the list in Table 3 categorizes quality into dimensions of attainment, desirability, and usefulness. What, exactly, has been attained? What is it about the product/service performance that is desirable? And, for what is this performance useful? In a partial answer to these questions, the standards that have been offered in the literature are explored next.

The Comparison Referent

Some of the definitions in Table 4 hint at a comparison referent. For example, "affordable excellence" implies that excellence is achieved at a reasonable (to the consumer) cost and, hence, represents value. Similarly, even the word "superiority" implies that something must be inferior. Presumably, the superiority/inferiority referent is the set of competitive offerings available to the consumer. Generally, quality can only exist if something else is available to provide at least one other basis for comparison.

Ideals as a standard. Perhaps the earliest notion of a comparative standard in marketing is that of an ideal point. Originally developed in the context of predictive models of attitude, the "ideal" product is one which possesses ideal levels of all of its relevant features. Generally, ideals will provide the ultimate criterion against which all competitive brands must strive. More realistically, however, quality derives from the finest of what is available in the marketplace, that is the "best brand" (Cadotte et al. 1987).

Excellence as a standard. In the original version of SERVQUAL, Parasuraman, Zeithaml, and Berry (1988) measured expectations in terms of what companies should do to be perceived as high quality service deliverers. Use of should or desired levels of expectations was thought to access the correct referent for quality judgments at the time of their study. However, problems with the directive of what companies should do (e.g., should do for what purpose?) led the authors to reformulate the manner in which expectations were measured.

Recognizing that, even though consumers can only perceive real world offerings, they also have the capacity to imagine better offerings, Parasuraman, Berry, and Zeithaml (1991) later proposed assessing performance against standards of excellent companies. Here, excellent companies could be either real ("best brand") or imagined (a better best brand or, perhaps, ideal). Thus, excellence as a criterion allows for the possibility that consumers can experience "true" quality, that provided by a truly excellent firm. The ideal referent, in contrast, is one step removed in a theoretically unattainable direction. Excellence, then, is what quality provides the consumer.

The Role of Quality in Satisfaction and Value

Quality vs. satisfaction. In attempting to distinguish quality from satisfaction, a number of differences have been previously drawn in Oliver (1993b). These differences occur at rather fundamental levels pertaining to: (a) whether or not the concept requires experience with the product or service, (b) the dimensions consumers use to form quality versus satisfaction judgments, (c) the nature of the expectations or standards used for these judgments, (d) the degree of cognitive vs. affective content, (e) the existence of other conceptual antecedents which might impact each of the concepts, and (f) the primary temporal focus. See Table 5.

Generally, quality is an externally mediated perception that a product or service possesses excellent levels of the key quality dimensions which define quality for that product/service (e.g., the four "Cs" of a fine diamond). It is an enduring cognitive representation which may be instilled and maintained by external cues including advertising and reputation. In contrast, satisfaction is a purely experiential sensation of an affective or cognitive nature that the product or service has fulfilled particular goals as defined by the consumer. These goals can be functional, aesthetic, conceptual, or imaginal. Typically, the satisfaction response does not persist, decaying into a consumer's attitudinal response (Oliver 1980). Thus, quality is unique from satisfaction. It is both an input to one's satisfaction as well as a stable marker of brand identification.

Quality vs. value. As presented in Table 1, quality is one of the components of value in consumption. Consumers derive value from quality; it enhances their consumption experience and, in economic terms, gives them added utility. Thus, quality is a precursor to both value and satisfaction. What remains, then, is the relation between value and satisfaction.

Value vs. satisfaction. The earlier sections of this paper reflect the author's position on the primacy of value and satisfaction. Value is one of the comparative operations consumers apply in the satisfaction response. In agreement with Zeithaml, quality is an input to value. Value, then, becomes a superordinate concept subsuming quality. The receipt of value provides additional satisfaction C satisfaction deriving first from quality and then from value.

It should not be overlooked that the value and satisfaction provided by quality derive from other desired purchase outcomes which, by their nature, define the essence of quality. As typically found in studies investigating the meaning of quality to consumers (e.g., Gutman and Alden 1985), quality brings reliability, durability, status, self-confidence, and ease of decision-making. For these reasons, quality is value, thereby being a "valued quality" in consumption.


In more elementary terms, consumption value is a judgment of receipts compared to sacrifices. This form of value takes on greater meaning when the receipts numerator is expanded to include the many types of valued consumption outcomes, including excellence, as presented in the Holbrook typology. Value, then, becomes an input to the satisfaction response which is impacted by quality directly and indirectly through value. Consumers may derive subsequent personal value from satisfaction, although more conclusive evidence on this latter point awaits investigation.


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Richard L. Oliver, Vanderbilt University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23 | 1996

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