Issues in Analyzing Consumer Satisfaction/Dissatisfaction With Clothing and Textiles

ABSTRACT - This paper presents some major issues and relevant descriptive research findings on consumer satisfaction and dissatisfaction with clothing and textiles. Emphasis is placed on the issues of identifying general levels of consumer satisfaction/dissatisfaction (CS/D), CS/D across specific clothing and textile products, CS/D across general product categories, CS/D with specific product characteristics, identifying the dissatisfied consumer, types of consumer complaints, effects of regulation on CS/D, and consumer satisfaction vs. consumer efficiency. Based on general findings it is estimated that approximately 1 in 5 consumers can indicate dissatisfaction with clothing at any given time, but only a small proportion of those dissatisfied consumers will actually register complaints.


George B. Sproles and Loren V. Geistfeld (1978) ,"Issues in Analyzing Consumer Satisfaction/Dissatisfaction With Clothing and Textiles", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 05, eds. Kent Hunt, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 383-391.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 1978      Pages 383-391


George B. Sproles, University of Houston

Loren V. Geistfeld, Purdue University


This paper presents some major issues and relevant descriptive research findings on consumer satisfaction and dissatisfaction with clothing and textiles. Emphasis is placed on the issues of identifying general levels of consumer satisfaction/dissatisfaction (CS/D), CS/D across specific clothing and textile products, CS/D across general product categories, CS/D with specific product characteristics, identifying the dissatisfied consumer, types of consumer complaints, effects of regulation on CS/D, and consumer satisfaction vs. consumer efficiency. Based on general findings it is estimated that approximately 1 in 5 consumers can indicate dissatisfaction with clothing at any given time, but only a small proportion of those dissatisfied consumers will actually register complaints.


A growing amount of recent literature has focused on the problems of defining, conceptualizing and measuring consumer satisfaction/dissatisfaction (CS/D) with products and services. Representative of current approaches to these general issues is a recent collection of papers from a conference conducted by the Marketing Science Institute under sponsorship of the National Science Foundation (Hunt, 1977). The topic has also frequently appeared on programs of the Association for Consumer Research, and was recently the focus of a workshop held at the Indiana University School of Business. These concerted efforts, as well as many individual efforts preceding them, has begun to identify the theoretical, methodological and philosophical issues surrounding investigations of consumer satisfaction and dissatisfaction. The major result is that a relatively well-defined topic area of CS/D is now properly entering the mainstream of contemporary consumer sciences.

This paper will review many of the major issues which can be raised in analyzing CS/D, focusing specifically on the area of CS/D with clothing and textiles. Though many of the general issues regarding CS/D have been identified in recent publications (i.e. Hunt, 1977), it appears that only a limited number of inquiries have focused on the fundamental problems of CS/D within specific product categories such as clothing and textiles. [Several papers in Hunt (1977) focused on housing and foods, and several basic issues relative to those products were conceptualized. See papers by Hempel, Morris, and Handy in that volume.] However, it is within such a framework of specific products where the analysis of consumer behavior becomes most meaningful, especially to the pragmatically-focused interests of marketers, public policy makers, consumer affairs professionals and not least of all the ultimate consumer.

There are two specific objectives of this paper. First, we will identify key issue areas related to analyzing CS/D with clothing and textile products. Each identified issue is selected as a key issue because it is a current area of interest among policy makers, businessmen, consumer advocates or researchers. Second, for each issue area we will summarize some recent research and substantive general findings which answer questions raised by the issue. While our emphasis is on clothing and textiles, many of the issues and points discussed are general in nature and can therefore be very relevant to the analysis of consumer satisfaction and dissatisfaction with other categories of consumer products and services.


Many issues and sub-issues can be identified. In this paper we will focus on these key areas: 1) What is the magnitude of consumers' general satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the overall product category of clothing and textiles? Sub-issues under this general issue would include CS/D with general prices/price trends, levels of quality, styles/assortments available, types of stores retailing the products, sizes available and so on. Another major sub-issue can focus on identifying the major component parts of the clothing-textile system which are most likely to cause consumer satisfaction or dissatisfaction (i.e. performance of fibers, fabrics, construction, seams, buttons, zippers or other major component parts). 2) To what extent are consumers satisfied with specific products (i.e. jeans, shirts, suits)? Are certain classifications of merchandise more subject to CS/D than others (i.e. categories of men's, women's and children's wear)? 3) How satisfied/dissatisfied are consumers with clothing and textiles as compared to other major product and service categories? Is dissatisfaction relatively more or less serious than in other product categories? 4) What product characteristics of the clothing - textile system in its actual end use are most likely to result in consumer satisfaction or dissatisfaction over the 'Wear life" of the product? For example, will CS/D result from changes of style-fashionability, economy, ease of care, durability, comfort, dimensional stability or other expectations regarding performance of the product? 5) Who are the dissatisfied consumers? Do they have a unique profile in terms of general orientations toward consuming clothing, lifestyle, and demographic characteristics? 6) What types of clothing and textile complaints are actually registered with retailers and/or manufacturers? How satisfactorily are these handled? What are the principal reasons for those complaints? To what extent does the complaining behavior of consumers represent actual levels of satisfaction/dissatisfaction in the market? 7) How do governmental regulations of clothing and textiles affect CS/D? To what extent is federal regulation more effective than voluntary self-regulation by industry in providing ultimately for consumer satisfaction? 8) Should the clothing and textile market (or any sub-market) be considered to be performing efficiently (or in the consumer's or society's interest) if consumers are satisfied? Is CS/D a legitimate criterion for assessing market performance? Or can a market be performing poorly even when consumers are satisfied? What are the implications for policy makers ?

Each of these issues will be briefly discussed in turn. Our treatment of these issues is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather is designed to introduce some major questions and current thought in each area.


A variety of recent investigations have provided broadly general indications on the magnitude of consumers' satisfaction/dissatisfaction with clothing and textiles. Research conducted by Sproles under sponsorship of the Indiana Cooperative Extension Service has examined a variety of clothing orientations among adult women living in Indiana (Sproles, 1977). The purpose of the investigation was to survey women's interests/priorities in consuming clothing, information seeking behaviors, and purchasing behavior. A number of aspects of this study focused specifically on issues related to CS/D.

The study involved administering a mailed eight page questionnaire to a stratified random sample of 2,000 households in Indiana. The questionnaires were mailed to the adult female head of each household, and two follow-up mailings including a postcard reminder and a second copy of the questionnaire were used to increase response rates. A total of 989 complete and usable questionnaires was returned. This sample was found to be demographically representative of households in Indiana (and in the U.S. as a whole), with the exception that older and lower income groups were not fully represented. A more complete discussion of the methodology can be found elsewhere (Sproles, 1977).

Our principal interest is with those findings dealing with CS/D. Of the 150 measures included in the survey, approximately 30 dealt either directly or inferentially with general issues of CS/D. Table 1 includes findings for selected Likert-scaled items measuring consumer interests and priorities regarding clothing in general. These items appear to be relevant to satisfaction/dissatisfaction in particular.



The first three items in Table 1 give an indication of consumer satisfaction with current fashions. These items would appear to imply that perhaps less than 10 percent of consumers would qualify as being highly satisfied with current fashions, though it would also appear that one-third or more of consumers could be considered at least more satisfied than dissatisfied.

The last indicator of satisfaction in Table 1 relates to satisfaction with shopping for clothing. This item indicates that consumers are for the most part pleased with their experiences in shopping for clothes.

The next five items of Table 1 can be classed as indicators of consumer dissatisfaction with clothing and textiles. Collectively these five items imply a substantial degree of general dissatisfaction with clothing in one-third or more of the adult female population. The respondents clearly see changing fashions as expensive, and they view the quality of clothing as lower than in the past. Responses to the item "People are too concerned about their dress" may indicate a dissatisfaction with the social pressures toward conformity in dress. Finally, the last item suggests that many consumers would perceive substantial risks of dissatisfaction with clothing purchased "blind" from catalogs.

The last four items in Table 1 can be termed indicators of priorities for consumer satisfaction/dissatisfaction. Items similar to these can be used to interpret general trends in the determinants of consumer satisfaction. For example, the four items appear to suggest that many consumers would place priority on clothing comfort and "quality" over style and price in judging their satisfaction with clothing and textiles.

Table 2 summarizes problems with clothing reported by consumers participating in the study. The table clearly indicates a great proportion of consumers have experienced dissatisfaction with major physical features or performance characteristics of garments. The most significant area of problems appears to be in construction, with 68 percent of the respondents reporting recent experiences with seams tearing apart. Also notable is the fact that 52 percent reported "lower overall quality" to he a problem with recently purchased clothing.

Table 3 presents consumers' ratings of the importance of selected criteria in influencing their purchases of women's outerwear. The overall findings of this table are that many styling, performance and price features are often or always important to consumers. Only marketing and shopping factors (i.e. brand name, salesperson's advice) and the "most current fashion" were rated important by a small proportion of consumers, and even these factors were clearly important to as much as one-quarter of the subjects. Probably the most important contribution of these findings is to show that most consumers' expectations regarding their clothing and textile purchases are extremely high. They expect their purchases to be almost "perfect" over a wide range of characteristics, and it is not hard to imagine that consumer dissatisfaction could result with frequency under such high expectations.

Several other recent studies provide general indications of CS/D. A recent paper by Plummer (1977) reports findings of a series of studies using items similar or identical to those in Table 1. Different surveys using these items were conducted longitudinally from 1967 to 1975. Table 4 summarizes the percentage of subjects agreeing with each statement for each survey. Each of the three items indicates a clearly declining trend of agreement over the years. Plummer interprets these items to indicate that shopping is becoming more of a "hassle" and that consumers are becoming more casual in their attitudes/approach to dress. He also suggests that measurement of such trends should be a part of a broad framework for analyzing CS/D from a variety of perspectives.







A series of consumer surveys conducted in Syracuse, N.Y., have examined a variety of dimensions of CS/D with both clothing and home furnishings. In the first study involving a sample of 193 returns from a mail survey, Steiniger and Dardis (1971) found most respondents were satisfied with the performance of clothing and textiles. Over 70 percent of subjects were above average in satisfaction, and only 10 percent were below. However, although considerable satisfaction was noted, respondents still reported many problems with durability, appearance, ease of care, and comfort. Sixty-seven percent of the problems with both clothing and home furnishings were associated with durability. These were predominantly in construction of fabric failure (i.e. pilling, seam tears, worn areas), and to a much lesser extent problems with fabric stretching, shrinking, or color change. Finally, a substantial number of consumers mentioned poor performance of "no-iron" clothing and difficulty in cleaning home furnishings.

The second Syracuse study focused on home furnishings made from textiles, and involved a sample of 908 responses to a mailed questionnaire. In this study Nichols and Dardis (1973) found 66 percent of the respondents to be relatively satisfied with their purchases of home furnishings during the past years. However, as in the previous study there were a substantial number of problems reported among dissatisfied consumers who were identified. The majority of those problems (53 percent) involved appearance and ease of care (i.e. soiling, difficulty in cleaning, color changes), while 24 percent were problems of durability. Finally, it is especially notable that some dissatisfaction was expressed for one-fourth of all items purchased.

A follow-up survey was conducted on the 280 dissatisfied consumers in the preceding study. In this follow-up 50 percent of the subjects indicated dissatisfaction with wear and durability, and 44 percent indicated dissatisfaction with appearance and ease of care. This divergence from the earlier findings was explained by the fact that the follow-up focused only on those consumers who reported dissatisfaction, while the previous findings included "satisfied" consumers who still reported "problems'' . Presumably the problems reported by satisfied consumers were not extremely serious. It would therefore appear that the main concern of the dissatisfied consumer is with durability.


The preceding studies give some broad indications of consumer satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the generic category of clothing and textile products. A number of studies have also focused on analyzing CS/D with specific classifications of merchandise and specific items of clothing. A variety of research approaches ranging from surveys to actual consumer wear tests have been conducted, and the following paragraphs will summarize some approaches and findings of these investigations.

A series of major surveys of consumers' perceptions of "value for the money" received in today's market has been conducted by National Family Opinion, Inc., under sponsorship of The Conference Board (Linden, 1974). The 1974 survey included questions on 45 different products and services, and was administered to a representative sample panel of 10,000 households. Panel members were asked to report if value for the money was "good," "average" or "poor" for the various products and services. Table 5 summarizes findings for clothing and textiles. As Linden (1974) points out, these data show clear dissatisfaction with the value received in clothing and textiles. Of special interest presently is the wide variation in dissatisfaction from one general classification to the next. Men's clothing appears to offer the most satisfaction, but both women's and children's clothing are rated a "poor" value by about half the sample. Regarding home furnishings, satisfaction with carpets is highest for all textile products, but satisfaction with upholstered furniture is comparatively low. Finally, Linden notes a decline in consumer satisfaction with each category as compared to a similar survey conducted a year earlier (Linden, 1974).

Another perspective of CS/D with specific lines of clothing and textiles is offered in research by Hughes (1977). He focused on analyzing consumers' satisfaction with specific purchases reported by a sample of 928 consumers in a large Midwestern city. Table 6 summarizes some key findings. In general, about 80 percent of consumers were completely satisfied with their purchases. However, satisfaction clearly varied by lines of merchandise. For example, about 95 percent of the purchasers reported complete satisfaction with men's dress slacks, while only 74 percent were completely satisfied with women's jeans. But perhaps the most significant findings are in the relation between price paid and consumer satisfaction. For 16 of the 22 purchase classes, people who had lower than average satisfaction with their purchases reported a distinctly lower average price paid than those who were completely satisfied.





One of the most direct ways of measuring consumer satisfaction with specific products is by conducting actual consumer wear tests. A wear test involves use of a panel of consumers who are given selected brands of a product to actually wear for a period of time, with evaluations of performance made at different stages of the wearings. Such studies are frequently conducted by home economists and industrial producers of products. For example, a study by Stover (1972) focused on consumer satisfaction with durable press shirts, and found that consumers were most satisfied with lighter weight polyester/cotton blends in shirt fabrics. Similarly, a study of consumer acceptance of flame retardant sleepwear, Laughlin and Buddin (1977) found consumers preferred a 65/35 percent blend of cotton/polyester over other tested fabrics.

Such wear test can ultimately have the most "face validity,'' since consumer satisfaction is actually based on measuring consumers' actual use of the product under controlled experimental conditions. This is one reason why such studies are frequently conducted. However, wear studies have some limitations. In most cases it can be either prohibitively expensive or time-consuming to wear test a complete array of competitive products with a large enough sample of consumers to be statistically representative of the market. Further, a complete wear test may take a long period of time, since the subject must actually wear the garment in his or her "normal" manner. In spite of these obvious limitations, wear tests are thought to be beneficial in forecasting consumer satisfaction, and will continue to be used as a measure of satisfaction.


The next issue which naturally arises focuses on the degree to which consumers are satisfied/dissatisfied with clothing and textiles in comparison to other major categories of consumer products and services. One viewpoint holds that clothing and textiles is not a principal area of concern in comparison to other areas of consumer problems. For instance, Margolius (1975) has indicated that major problems faced by consumers include higher costs of food, medical care, housing, loans, repairs, and autos, but clothing and textiles are not mentioned. Furthermore, the recent Sentry Insurance study (1977) of consumer issues surveyed numerous consumer concerns and found considerable general concern with prices, qualities, and consumer information, but clothing and textiles was never specifically identified as a problem area. These examples might imply that in the arena of CS/D, there is bigger game than clothing/textile products.

It is quite plausible that many areas of consumer problems deserve higher priority than consumer dissatisfaction with clothing and textiles. Nevertheless, there is some evidence that consumer dissatisfaction with clothing and textiles is more substantial than for many other categories of products and services. For instance, in the National Family Opinion study introduced earlier, consumer satisfaction with women's dresses, children's clothing shoes and upholstered furniture was substantially lower than average satisfaction for all items (Linden, 1974). Most items of foods (meats and fresh vegetables), appliances, transportation, life insurance, and TV rated substantially higher than clothing and textiles in general, and only repairs consistently rated lower. Only the categories of men's suits and carpets rated above the average for all items.

A few other studies give some general indications of CS/D across product categories. In one study reported by Plummer (1977), consumers offered judgments on whether or not product quality had improved in the past 20 years. A total of 50 percent of respondents reported clothing as "not as well made." In comparison, products receiving a larger proportion of "not as well made" ratings were houses (77 percent) and autos (70 percent), and those receiving a lower proportion were household appliances (34 percent), small appliances (31 percent), and TV sets (20 percent). In a 1975 study cited by Plummer (1977, p. 387), clothing was rated as an excellent or good value for the money by 27 percent of consumers. In comparison, lower rated products were gasoline (12 percent), prescription drugs (21 percent), and automobiles (22); higher value for the money ratings went to electrical appliances (37 percent) and fresh foods (39 percent). Data from the Hughes (1977) study also indicate that consumers are generally more satisfied with certain major purchases (i.e. TV, washer, dryer), but for other major purchases the proportion of satisfied purchases generally equals averages for clothing (i.e. furniture, stoves, mattresses, refrigerators, tires, batteries). Finally, in a study by Pfaff (1976), clothing, food and "standard of living" were virtually tied in consumers' ratings of overall satisfaction, but satisfaction with appliances was significantly higher. The conclusion which follows from these studies is that clothing satisfaction among consumers suffers in comparison to a variety of other major purchases, though it is far from being the "worst" area of consumer dissatisfaction.


Little recent published research has focused on consumer satisfaction as a function of specific product characteristics (attributes) such as styling, durability, ease of care and so on. However, some general principles have become established. Previous investigations by home economists have suggested that for clothing to be satisfactory it must rate high on the product characteristic (s) most important to the consumer, and it also must meet certain "minimum" expectations on other characteristics (Ryan, 1966, pp. 147-152, 178-187). In other words, the consumer must in most cases be relatively satisfied across a number of product characteristics in order to receive overall satisfaction. See Table 3 for current evidence on this point.

Another general principle has been reinforced in a recent exploratory investigation by Swan and Combs (1976). They focused on the contrasting roles of instrumental and expressive product characteristics in influencing CS/D with clothing. Instrumental characteristics were defined as those involving physical performance of the product (i.e. durability, ease of care), while expressive characteristics were related to "psychological" levels of performance (i.e. styling, fashionability). It was found that dissatisfaction with clothing was likely to occur when instrumental characteristics did not meet the consumer's expectations, while satisfaction was most associated with fulfilled expressive expectations. The findings also suggested that the consumer's instrumental requirements must be satisfied before expressive requirements if overall satisfaction is to occur. The major implication of these findings is that:

In judging the performance of a product, the consumer compares a set of performance outcomes to the outcomes that were expected for the item. If the performance of the physical product was below expectations, then the product is likely to be categorized as dissatisfactory. If both instrumental and expressive outcomes were equal to or exceeded expectations, then the consumer will tend to judge the product as satisfactory. (Swan and Combs, 1976, p. 33)

Findings cited earlier in this paper, which showed consumer dissatisfaction to focus mainly on physical performance failures (i.e. failures in construction, durability, ease of care) would seem to lend further support to this proposition.


The varied studies we have reviewed indicate a substantial proportion of consumers may be dissatisfied with different aspects of their clothing and textile purchases. Who are these consumers, and what are the characteristics of consumers who are most likely to voice their complaints? There are several studies of consumer dissatisfaction which indicate the dissatisfied consumer has some important characteristics. For example, studies by Liefeld, Edgecombe and White (1975) and Warland, Hermann and Willits (1975) suggest that the consumer who voices dissatisfaction with a purchase is well educated, young, relatively high in income, and above average in social class and group membership. Furthermore, it was found that there are some characteristics of those who experience dissatisfaction but do not voice it. These consumers, according to Warland, Hermann and Willits (1975), are lower income, less well educated individuals who are not involved in consumer and political activities. This finding is supported by Best and Andreasen (1976), who found that households in lower socioeconomic classes tend to perceive fewer problems with their purchases of goods and services and voice their dissatisfaction less frequently than do consumers in higher socioeconomic classes.

However, a number of studies have found that dissatisfied clothing and textile consumers have no distinct demographic or socioeconomic characteristics (Linden, 1974; Nichols and Dardis, 1973; Steiniger and Dardis, 1971). Though some of these findings modestly imply that dissatisfied consumers are in higher income and educational groups, it appears for the most part that dissatisfied clothing consumers are found in all ages and levels of the consumer population.

A preliminary analysis of data from the study of clothing orientations among adult women in Indiana conducted by Sproles (1977) gives more evidence on characteristics of dissatisfied consumers. To conduct the analysis, a general index of consumer dissatisfaction with clothing was formed for each subject by summing four indicators of dissatisfaction presented earlier in Table 1 (the item "I carefully watch how much I spend. . ." was not included in the index). The index was divided into subjects scoring "high" (top one-third of scorers) and those scoring "medium to low" (remainder of subjects). These two groups were cross-tabulated against 27 clothing interests/priorities measures, 24 lifestyle activities, 15 purchasing criteria, consumption indexes for sewing and purchasing, fashion interest, and 11 demographic and socioeconomic measures.

Findings of this preliminary analysis tentatively indicate that the dissatisfied consumer is no different from other consumers in lifestyle activities, demographics and socioeconomic characteristics. There were some tentative indications that the dissatisfied consumer might be concentrated toward younger, middle income groups, but this finding was not significant. It was also found that dissatisfied consumers are no different from other consumers in their level of consumption (purchasing and sewing of clothing). However, it was found that dissatisfied consumers differed significantly from others on a variety of clothing interests and priorities. Specifically, dissatisfied consumers were more likely than others to agree with a variety of statements indicating they are generally price and quality conscious. There were also indications that dissatisfied consumers may be lower in fashion interest than others. Finally, they were significantly more likely than others to rate the specific purchasing criteria of garment cost, choosing garments that wear for a long time, and comfort of the garment as "always important." In short, there appears to be a substantial orientation toward economy-conscious-ness and quality-consciousness among those consumers who are most likely to report dissatisfaction with clothing.


It is an accepted principle that although many consumers may be dissatisfied with the performance of a product, few will actually submit a formal complaint seeking redress to either the retailer or manufacturer. Nevertheless, those complaints which are actually voiced are frequently thought to be at least modestly representative of the problems consumers actually experience with products and services. Thus actual voiced complaints can be viewed as potential indicators of market performance, areas needing the attention of producers, and problems requiring governmental intervention (regulation) of markets.

It is first useful to summarize some of the major areas in which consumers will voice complaints about products and services. In a broad study of all types of product/ service complaints made by consumers, Diamond, Ward and Faber (1976) found that 14 percent encountered a prepurchase problem, 27 percent experienced a purchase/transaction/delivery problem, 17 percent were unhappy with product performance, 17 percent encountered a guarantee/ warranty/contract problem, 26 percent were unhappy with the service/repair rendered and 4 percent encountered a problem with deposits/credit/collections. Of these complaints 34 percent involved specific retail outlets with about 9 percent, each, of these complaints directed towards department stores, clothing stores and discount stores.

In what is perhaps the most comprehensive recent study of consumer dissatisfaction with market performance and subsequent complaining behavior, Best and Andreasen (1976) found that 83.4 percent of the respondents were completely or partially satisfied with their clothing purchases while 13.9 percent experienced some degree of dissatisfaction. When the respondents were asked what types of problems they experienced with clothing purchases, slightly over 6 percent indicated price-related problems while about 28 percent indicated non-price problems (principally problems with product performance). Best and Andreasen note further that across all product and service categories analyzed, 3.1 percent of the perceived problems related to shrinking or fading, 23.2 percent to workmanship, 7.1 percent to fit or size and 6.2 percent to stitching. With respect to clothing, 7.7 percent of all purchases resulted in problems related to poor workmanship, 9.7 percent to price and 30.4 percent to other types of problems. Of those clothing consumers who experienced problems with a purchase, 65.8 percent took no action, 7.0 percent changed shopping patterns, 26.0 percent voiced their problem to the seller and 1.0 percent voiced their problem elsewhere. For those consumers who voiced their dissatisfaction with clothing purchases, 75.3 percent achieved satisfactory redress of their problem while 18.7 percent considered redress received as unsatisfactory. (Best and Andreasen, 1976, pp. 16, 27, 42, 89)

Other investigations have indicated that although consumers may experience dissatisfaction with purchases, only a small proportion will actually register complaints. For example, Steiniger and Dardis (1971) found 56 percent of respondents to a mail survey cited specific performance problems with clothing and linens, but less than one in four of these consumers (23 percent) actually registered complaints. Complaints which were registered centered on problems with durability (73 percent of complaints, on specific problems of construction, stretching/shrinkage, color changes), with appearance and ease of care being the other major problem area (23 percent of complaints). Similarly, of the 34 percent of respondents reporting problems with home furnishings, less than one-fourth (22 percent) registered complaints. For this category complaints also centered on durability (79 percent), with appearance and ease of care being the other major problem area (15 percent).

The more recent study of consumer satisfaction with home furnishings by Nichols and Dardis (1973) further confirms the preceding findings. Just over one-fourth of the dissatisfied consumers registered complaints, with problems relating to durability, appearance and ease of care being predominant. More than half of the complainers were not satisfied with the store's action taken, and most of those who did not complain indicated they felt nothing would be done or it was too much trouble to complain. Finally, they found that the higher the price paid for an unsatisfactory item, the more likely the consumer will register a complaint. This very important finding is consistent with general findings of other researchers (Best and Andreasen, 1976).


In the past consumer satisfaction/dissatisfaction with clothing and textiles was probably based primarily on the degree to which products met the consumer's expectations on characteristics including fashionability, quality and economy. However, with the recent growth of market regulation such areas as product safety, product labeling and product warranties have been legitimately installed as criteria for CS/D. However, for these and many other regulatory issues there is currently little empirical evidence indicating the impact of regulations on CS/D with clothing. Nonetheless, we may hypothesize as to how CS/D is influenced.

Perhaps the most controversial issue in regulation involves the safety of clothing products. Recent concerns with fabric flammability and carcinogenic chemical finishes (i.e. the TRIS case) have been dominant in the clothing trades and have received a great deal of publicity. In the past the safety of such items as "platform" shoes and loosely fitted clothing has been questioned both by consumer advocates and medical authorities. At the very least the publicity received by these and other topics has increased consumers' awareness of new clothing problems which involve personal health. This may lead to a variety of results, i.e. fear of the product, fear of specific brands, boycotting of products, and even a general suspicion of clothing products. The ultimate result can be increases in consumer dissatisfaction with the current market.

Product labeling is another current issue among consumer interests. In this area the prospects are that the growing emphasis on informative labeling, both by government and industry, will lead to greater consumer satisfaction. The recent Sentry Insurance study (1977) found that about 18 of every 25 consumers believe there has been an improvement in informative labeling of products. From another perspective, in a survey of consumer attitudes toward nutritional (content) labeling Lenahan et. al. (1972) found that 96.5 percent of the respondents felt nutritional labeling was a good idea, 50.9 percent said they use or would use the labels while 9.2 percent actually used them; however, about 85 percent of the respondents indicated there were positive nonuse benefits, i.e. nutritional labeling would enhance consumer confidence in the food industry, thus increasing satisfaction. Extrapolating these findings to informative labeling for clothing, it is likely consumers would perceive a clothing market with readily accessible informative labeling as presenting a less hostile environment in which to operate regardless of whether or not they actually used the informative labels. Therefore, one could expect informative labeling to reduce the incidence of consumer dissatisfaction, and increase satisfaction.

In the area of informative product labeling, care labeling of clothing and textiles has recently been the central area of concern. Research by Steiniger and Dardis (1971) has indicated informative care labels and tags on clothing can increase consumer satisfaction, probably because those using the information can minimize damage done to the product in care and cleaning. However, there has recently been extensive discussion as to whether regulations governing permanent care labels attached to clothing and textiles have been a success or failure (Powderly, 1976). Generally the information on care labels has been found to be clear but incomplete, and more detailed instructions have been called for. There has also been a problem with "low labeling," which can mislead a consumer by suggesting one care method when another easier or less costly method might work just as satisfactorily. As a result of these types of problems with care labels, the Federal Trade Commission is currently recommending some major changes in labeling regulations.

Warranties are a third area of general concern, especially since the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975 was passed. Only a very few major textile fiber and clothing manufacturers offer what is overtly named a "warranty,'' but many retailers make it a promoted policy to accept returns of unsatisfactory merchandise. However, there is some question as to whether such warranties can increase satisfaction, and in some cases their effect may be to decrease satisfaction. For instance, the Sentry Insurance study (1977) found over one-half of all consumers surveyed felt warranties were inadequate, nearly fifty percent felt warranties were written mainly for the protection of manufacturers, and more than one-half felt warranties were not understandable. Further, as Gerner and Bryant (1977) have noted, for those manufacturers who have below average warranties, there may be an increase in dissatisfaction. Thus it might seem that if providing consumer satisfaction is a major reason for offering a warranty, some manufacturers or retailers might actually not offer warranties in order to avoid the risks of causing consumer dissatisfaction. It can also be noted that the legal restrictions on warranties, which have been viewed as confusing or complex by many businessmen, might only further encourage that trend. Certainly such results would diminish the force of warranties as an ultimate guarantee of consumer satisfaction.

As indicated earlier, the preceding observations must have the flavor of speculation, for only a limited amount of sophisticated research on the effects of these and other regulatory policies has been done. It should also be pointed out that many actions regarding safety, informative labeling and warranties are voluntarily taken by manufacturers either as a competitive marketing strategy or for other related reasons. Thus more attention to these issues is required, to measure the effectiveness of various voluntary business policies vs. mandatory regulations in providing consumer satisfaction.


The last issue we will briefly introduce regards the extent to which consumer satisfaction implies that a consumer is performing efficiently in choosing products available in the market. As we have noted elsewhere (Sproles, Geistfeld and Badenhop, 1977) the concept of consumer efficiency implies that consumers obtain the maximum possible satisfaction (utility) given available resources. This concept sets a norm against which observed consumption (satisfaction) can be evaluated. Underlying this notion of consumption efficiency is an implicit assumption that consumers operate under full information. Once this is recognized, it becomes apparent that consumer indication of satisfaction with experiences in the marketplace is only a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the existence of consumption efficiency. If perceived satisfaction were based on ignorance, it is possible that upon removal of the ignorance the consumer who once indicated satisfaction may no longer be satisfied. The policy implications of this are quite clear. If a consumer indicates dissatisfaction consumption efficiency has not been achieved and corrective action may be warranted. If a consumer indicates satisfaction, the extent to which this may or may not indicate consumption efficiency depends upon how stable perceived satisfaction is upon providing additional information. Should perceived satisfaction prove to be unstable, corrective action may also be warranted.


A number of descriptive studies indicate that consumer dissatisfaction with clothing and textiles is widespread, and that this product category may cause greater consumer dissatisfaction than many other major product categories. As a general and perhaps conservative estimate, it would appear that at any given time 1 in 5 consumers (20 percent) is aware of and can report a specific dissatisfaction, usually involving a physical performance characteristic. However, only a small proportion of the dissatisfied consumers, probably less than 1 in 4, may actually register a complaint with the retailer or manufacturer. Thus complaints may not reflect the full magnitude of consumer dissatisfaction, though they may be a proxy measure of the types of problems consumers frequently find dissatisfying.

It would appear that improvement of consumer satisfaction might be made through several strategies. Consumer educational and informative labeling programs could be used to disseminate appropriate information needed by consumers to make satisfactory decisions. In some cases regulation might be warranted to insure all manufacturers and retailers would offer products fulfilling selected critical criteria (i.e. safety, information on product care/use). Finally, programs of voluntary and/ or mandatory product standards which are receiving increased discussion in clothing and textile trades (i.e. see ASTM Standardization News, December 1976) may be the long-run solution to problems of product performance and associated dissatisfactions which consumers now report.

There have been a number of exploratory and descriptive research investigations on the issues we have raised. However, more quantitative findings are needed on a number of the issues before well-founded policies can be implemented by either government and business. But researchers should also be warned of the conceptual and methodological difficulties involved in measuring the phenomenon of CS/D (Hunt, 1977).


Arthur Best and Alan R. Andreasen, "Talking Back to Business: Voiced and Unvoiced Consumer Complaints," Working Paper, Center for the Study of Responsive Law, Washington D.C., 1976.

Steven L. Diamond, Scott Ward and Ronald Faber, "Consumerism: Analysis of Calls to a Consumer Hot Line," Journal of Marketing, 40 (January 1976), 58-62.

Jennifer L. Gerner and W. Keith Bryant, "Consumer Economics of Appliance Warranties," Working Paper, Department of Consumer Economics and Public Policy, Cornell University, 1977.

Donald A. Hughes, "An Investigation of the Relation of Selected Factors to Consumer Satisfaction," in H. Keith Hunt, ed., Conceptualization and Measurement of Consumer Satisfaction and Dissatisfaction (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Marketing Science Institute, 1977).

H. Keith Hunt, ed., Conceptualization and Measurement of Consumer Satisfaction and Dissatisfaction (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Marketing Sciences Institute, 1977).

Kenneth C. Laughlin and Frances Buddin, "Consumer Acceptance of FR Sleepwear: Part II," Textile Chemist and Colorist, 9 (September, 1977), 70-74.

R. J. Lenahan, J. A. Thomas, D. A. Taylor, D. L. Call, and D. I. Padberg, "Consumer Reaction to Nutrition Information of Food Product Labels," Search, Agriculture, 2 (1972), 1-27.

J. P. Liefeld, F. H. C. Edgecombe and Linda White, "Demographic Characteristics of Canadian Consumer Complainers" Journal of Consumer Affairs, 9 (Summer, 1975), 73-80.

Fabian Linden, "The Consumer's View of Value Received--1974," The Conference Board Record, 11 (November, 1974), 48-53.

Sidney Margolius, "The Consumer's Real Needs," Journal of Consumer Affairs, 9 (Winter, 1975), 129-138.

Barbara D. Nichols and Rachel Dardis, "Consumer Satisfaction with Home Furnishings," Textile Chemist and Colorist, 5 (September, 1973), 23-27.

Anita B. Pfaff, "The Quality of Consumption," in B. Strumpel, ed., Economic Means for Human Needs (Ann Arbor: Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, 1976).

Joseph T. Plummer, "Life Style, Social, and Economic Trends Influencing Consumer Satisfaction," in H. Keith Hunt, ed., Conceptualization and Measurement of Consumer Satisfaction and Dissatisfaction (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Marketing Science Institute, 1977).

Daniel Powderly, "Care Labeling: Success or Failure?" Textile Chemist and Colorist, 8 (September, 1976), 41-43.

Mary Shaw Ryan, Clothing: A Study in Human Behavior (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1966).

Sentry Insurance, Consumerism at the Crossroads (Stevens Point, WI: Sentry Insurance Co., 1977).

George B. Sproles, "Clothing Orientations of Adult Women in Indiana," Research Bulletin #944, Agricultural Experiment Station, Purdue University, 1977 (in press).

George B. Sproles, Loren V. Geistfeld and Suzanne B. Badenhop, "An Experimental Simulation on the Efficiency of Consumer Performance," Proceedings, American Council on Consumer Interests, 1977 (in press).

Lynn B. Steiniger and Rachel Dardis, "Consumers' Textile Complaints," Textile Chemist and Colorist, 3 (July, 1971) 33-37.

Mary Sue Stover, "Durable Press Shirts: Consumer Satisfaction and Effects of Wear and Laundering," Journal of Home Economics, 64 (March, 1972), 28-32.

John E. Swan and Linda Jones Combs, "Product Performance and Consumer Satisfaction: A New Concept," Journal of Marketing, 40 (April, 1976), 25-33.

Rex H. Warland, Robert O. Herrmann and Jane Willits, "Dissatisfied Consumers: Who Gets Upset and Who Takes Action," Journal of Consumer Affairs, 9 (Winter, 1975), 148-163.



George B. Sproles, University of Houston
Loren V. Geistfeld, Purdue University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 05 | 1978

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