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Current Problems in Consumer Behavior Research Author(s): David T. Kollat, James F. Engel, Roger D.

Blackwell Source: Journal of Marketing Research, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Aug., 1970), pp. 327-332 Published by: American Marketing Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3150290 Accessed: 04/03/2010 22:56
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DAVID T. KOLLAT, JAMES F. ENGEL,and ROGERD. BLACKWELL*


This article supplements other critical evaluations of consumer research by discussing several issues and problems that impede the development of a consumer behavior research tradition.

Current

Problems

in

Consumer

Behavior

Research

Compared to the history of most disciplines, the study of consumer behavior is in its infancy, dating back less than 50 years. Moreover, a significant percentage of this research has occurred during the last decade. It seems likely that the next decade will witness an even greater acceleration of research on consumer behavior, making it one of the areas of marketing receiving the greatest empirical emphasis. Relative to many other areas of inquiry, there have been few attempts to evaluate consumer research critically. Past efforts have concentrated primarly on summarizing and synthesizing findings into proposition inventories [42, 55, 84]. With notable exceptions [84], these critical evaluations have been confined to particular aspects of consumer behavior such as cognitive dissonance [20], brand loyalty [18, 27], and the diffusion of innovations [47, 48]. These summaries and evaluations have been useful, but many important issues have not been explored. This article is intended to supplement other critical evaluations, not attempting to compare and synthesize findings or develop propositional inventories, but to deal with complementary and equally important issues involved in a research tradition or strategy of inquiry. Discussion and resolution of these problems could contribute greatly to the development of a growing body of knowledge. IMPROVING CONSUMER BEHAVIOR RESEARCH How can a genuine research tradition in consumer behavior emerge? This is an extraordinarily complex question, and there are a number of subissues which must be resolved before progress can be made.
* David T. Kollat and Roger D. Blackwell are Associate Professors of Marketing and James F. Engel is Professor of Marketing. All are at The Ohio State University.
327

Greater Utilization of Consumer Behavior Models Several aspects of the "model problem" have been discussed elsewhere [67, 84]. The issue is raised here because some of its dimensions have not been explored and because it generates other problems discussed below. The majority of consumer research has used hypothetical constructs and what Nicosia has called "reducedform" models [67]. Examples include motivation [14], perception [37, 71], learning [52, 53], personality [5, 25], attitudes and attitude change [2, 49], social class [54, 62], reference groups [35], cognitive dissonance [19], and risk taking [3, 13]. These constructs have been used to explain and/or predict aspects of consumer behavior. These constructs are of significance although each plays a limited role because consumer behavior is influenced by a variety of factors interacting in complex ways. Yet few comprehensive models specifying construct interrelationships [22, 43, 67] have been designed. A comprehensive literature review [22] reveals that a very small percentage of consumer research has used a comprehensive, integrative model. While this is understandable, given the recency of model development, it poses certain problems. How many findings of past research are artifacts of conceptualizations used? If research had been based on comprehensive models rather than relatively insular constructs, how many of the significant and nonsignificant findings would change because of variables not included or controlled? This problem will continue to plague future consumer research efforts, because without integrative models, how does the researcher know what variables should be included and controlled? The severity of what might be called the conceptualization artifact problem suggests the need for more development, testing, and revision of comprehensive models. Are those already developed [22, 43, 67] adequate,

Journal of Marketing Research, Vol. VII (August 1970), 327-32

328 or are they too simplistic? Is it possible to have a model of consumer behavior, or are several necessary? If several are required, what are the relevant assumptions and conditions under which each is appropriate? While these issues may probably never be resolved completely, progress toward solution would unquestionably increase the overall efficiency and relevance of consumer research. Establishing Research Priorities The consumer research literature shows that a substantial percentage of research was the result of the availability of data, the convenience of research and mathematical techniques, and/or the appeal of certain behavioral constructs. In other words, most research has been data-technique-construct motivated and oriented [16, 19, 21, 31, 38] and has typically been conducted independently with little apparent coordination. The infancy and complexity of consumer research make this orientation understandable in the short run. But is it the best long-run strategy? Is it time for some changes? The fundamental issue here is whether it is desirable to establish general research priorities. Some may feel that it is not, and some plausible reasons can be cited for support. For example, some feel that each researcher should pursue his own research interests in an unstructured approach which will produce the best longrun results. On the other hand, without guideline priorities, it is difficult to decide what to do and in what order. Without priorities, progress is likely to be substantially slower and to require a greater investment of resources-time, money, and people. Moreover, as those who use this approach in corporate research and development would contend, general goals and priorities do not eliminate the individuality and freedom of the researcher, they merely give it better focus and direction. It is not the authors' intention to advocate any point of view, but to encourage dialogue on the need to formulate general research priorities. If priorities are desirable, it is necessary to design a conceptual approach to define them. One approach would be to become more problem-oriented. This approach to establishing priorities could consider, for example: 1. Those behavorialconstructsand relationshipsthat, if understood,would permit the understandingof the greatest number of other constructs and relationships;and/or 2. Those that, if understood,would make the greatest contribution to business firms' rate of return on investment and appropriatemeasures of performance and efficiency for other organizations. These illustrate some of the most difficult problems in attempting to specify research priorities. First, why should they be key problem areas? What about other types of problems? What are the criteria used in establishing priorities? Second, even if the above priorities

OF JOURNAL MARKETING AUGUST1970 RESEARCH, were acceptable it is clear that they are not operationally defined. What specific constructs and relationships satisfy these two requirements? For example, if the second approach is followed, should research efforts focus on those problems with the greatest immediate payout or on problems with fewer immediate applications but potentially greater numbers of longer-range uses? To sum up: (1) Is it desirable to attempt to establish priorities? (2) What areas of consumer behavior are of the greatest importance? and (3) What phenomena need to be investigated, in what order, so that these key areas can be understood? Such research priority issues have never been publicly raised or resolved. Discussion, debate, and resolution of these issues should accelerate progress. Greater Use of Longitudinal and Experimental Designs Consumer behavior researchers typically use crosssectional surveys, longitudinal, and experimental or quasi-experimental research designs. Cross-sectional surveys are the most common because the effects of several types of variables can be efficiently measured [34]. In recent years, compelling reasons for studying consumer behavior as a dynamic ongoing process occurring over time [22, 67] have been recognized. Simultaneously there has been increased interest in isolating cause and effect relationships. Cross-sectional surveys are useful for many types of inquiries but are the least appropriate method of studying newer views of consumer behavior because of serious biases from inaccurate memory, interaction, and response style [34]. Moreover, cross-sectional designs cannot rigorously isolate cause and effect relationships. A clear delineation of the effects of a variable can be achieved only through true or quasi-experimental designs [69]. In the last several years more use has been made of designs that minimize these biases: longitudinal studies [46, 73, 77, 79] and experimental designs [38, 58, 74]. Accelerated use of these designs should increase the quality of future consumer research [69]. OVERCOMING VARIABLE AND CONSTRUCT PROBLEMS Future progress in consumer behavior research will depend on overcoming several problems with commonly used variables and constructs, including the need for standardized definitions and categories and richer dependent variables. Standardized Definitions The literature is replete with examples of widely varying definitions of what are presumably the same variables and constructs. Brand loyalty, for example, has been defined in terms of brand choice sequences [6], proportion of purchases [12], repeat purchase probabilities [30, 53], and brand preference over time [36].

IN RESEARCH CURRENT PROBLEMS CONSUMER BEHAVIOR

329

Definitionsof impulsepurchasing[10, 50] and opinion leaders [68] vary from study to study. The importance of informationsources is sometimesdefined in terms of exposure,other times in terms of effectiveness[29]. There are at least 45 definitions innovationand over of 164 definitionsof culture [22, p. 627]. Motive, a concept often borrowedfrom social psychology,is one of the most ambiguous. Motive may includeneeds, drives, and directivetendencies[51, 83], or, more precisely,a dispositionto strive towarda genericclass of goal [66, 83]. This latter definitionprovides a basis for estaba lishingmeasuringinstruments, real advantagein predictingor explainingaspects of humanbehavior[57]. Definitions,of course, are only means, rather than to ends.Even so, it is difficult see why thereare so many make it difficult differentpurposes.So many definitions and hazardousto compare,synthesize,and accumulate of findings.Definitionand classification terms and variables are essentialin the scientificmethod [57]. It may not be possible to develop a single definitionof each constructand variablein all situations,but, at the very least, it wouldbe usefulto agreeon points of departure.
Standardized Variable Categories

in Thereis also considerable heterogeneity categories used to measure many variables and constructs.For example, a thoroughreview of the family life cycle literatureby Wells and Gubar showed wide variationin in life cycle categorydefinitions publishedresearch[85]. There are also variationsin the categoriesmeasuring decisions[1, influenceof familymembersin purchasing uses a difand nearlyevery social class researcher 86], ferent typology [8, 9]. Similarly,a plethoraof variable is categories used to measurelearning[22, pp. 116-7]. variablecategories, Because of lack of standardized faces a dilemmain comparingand intethe researcher gratingresearchfindingsand in project design. Standard or recommendedcategories would contribute to progressin and usefulnessof futureempiricalefforts.
Richer Dependent Variables

larly, althoughthere is evidence that informationseeking is a cumulativeprocess involving several sources of [45], most attemptsto determinecharacteristics inconsumersand the determinants of formation-seeking searchutilizeunidimensional scales [7, 44]. In attitude studies, also, more social psychologists note three basic related dimensionsof an attitude:(1) cognitive informationand beliefs about the object or phenomenonin question;(2) affectivefeelings of likedislike, etc.; and (3) behavioraltendenciesto act in a certain way [51, 60]. Most studies, however, measure only the valenceof certainaffectivedimensionsselected by the researcher Attitudesare frequently [2]. poor predictorsof behavior[28], perhapsbecausemeasuring instrumentsused typicallyisolate only one dimension. In most consumerresearchstudies,if the relationship between dependent and independentvariables is not it statistically significant, is concludedthat the independent variablesare not important understanding dein the pendentvariable.In some instancesthe dimensionality artifactmay provide an alternativeexplanation,for if dependentvariableswere measuredmultidimensionally, significant and nonsignificant independent variables of mightchange.Extensionsand modifications the multidimensional techniquessuggestedby Frankand Green [32] should be useful in this effort.
DEVELOPING A REPLICATION TRADITION

In recent years multivariatetechniques have been These studieshave used more by consumerresearchers. often demonstratedthat single independentvariables are not statisticallyrelated to the dependentvariable of investigated.On the other hand, combinations indevariablesoften prove to be statisticallysignifipendent cant and/or much more stronglyrelatedto the dependent variable[26, 78]. However,no matterhow complex a dependentvariableis, researcherstypically measure even thoughin many cases, from a it unidimensionally, and empiricalpoint of view, it is clearly conceptual in multidimensional nature. Brand loyalty studies, for example, often indicate that consumers purchaseand are loyal to severalbrands in a productcategory [6, 12]; however, this construct is usually measuredas the proportionof purchasesor for the repeatpurchaseprobability a single brand.Simi-

In many disciplines replication is rigorouslypracticed. In the physical and behavioralsciences, findings must be replicateda numberof times. The literatureof psychologyhas many examplesof replication,where a problemis intensivelystudiedto be sure that methodological artifactsdid not dictate findings.For example, later studiesgeneratedby the 1948 discoverythat highvalued stimuli are more quickly perceived than lowvalued ones revealed artifacts in that the low-valued wordswere more infrequently used and thus unfamiliar [75]. After replication, substantialevidence indicates that perceptual defense can be demonstratedwhen controlsare used [70]. properexperimental Replicationis rarelypracticedin consumerresearch. Most findingsand propositionsare based upon single studies by a single researcher,which unfortunately invites invalid conclusionsdue to unusual sample characteristics,distortionin experimental control, and other artifacts. too frequently, All methodological findingsare used uncriticallyin the marketingliterature,especially general textbooks, and the dangersof misleadingconclusions increase as the body of consumer behavior findingsgrows. A replicationtraditionwould allow researchersto determinethe conditionsunder which an effect may exist, establish hierarchiesof effects, and test validityof previouslyreportedfindings.
The Research Environment and Design

To what extent are consumerbehaviorfindingsartifacts of the researchdesign,subjectsused, and variables

330

JOURNAL MARKETING OF RESEARCH, AUGUST1970 Broadening the Horizons and Uses of Consumer Research

controlled? The question has long been of concern to researchers.The study of attitude change provides an example. Attitude change has been extensively analyzed in laboratoriesand field experiments.In a typical laboratorystudy, it is not difficultto generate attitude change in response to persuasion,yet such a result is less frequentlydemonstrated field studies, in of partlybecause of the artificiality the laboratoryexperiment which seldom provides the opportunityfor selectiveexposure[41]. Also, most studiesof consumer decisionmakingfind variationamongconsumersin decision behavior, probably because of complex intervariables.One researcher actions of many independent has concludedthat the validityof studiesin whichvariables are not controlledis subjectto question[33]. What is the optimum research environment that achieves the control advantagesof laboratoryexperiments without generatingartificialbiases? This difficult question deserves serious attention.
Generalizing Across Types of Decisions

Withrelatively few, but notableexceptions,most consumer researchhas been oriented toward business interests. Relatively little research has been concerned with consumer exploitation or protection, behavioral or problemsof the disadvantaged, behavioralcontributions to legislationand decisionsof regulatory agencies. Few consumerresearchersappear as expert witnesses in judicialproceedings. therea social andprofessional Is to broadenthe horizonsand uses of conresponsibility sumer researchinto these other areas? There are, of course, several problems in trying to represent both businessandconsumer but interests, thereare also many risks in avoidingconsumerinterestissues. Perhapsthe most severe is to allow less qualified individualsto raisetheseissuesor formulate consumer legislation[64].
Developing Information Summary and Retrieval Systems

To what extent are findingsderivedfrom analysisof a specifictype of consumerdecision applicableto other evidence that types of decisions?There is considerable consumerbehavior findings are applicableonly many to the type of decisionor choice being studied,and this creates anotherdilemma. For example,many studies reveal that family members' roles in purchase decisions vary widely across products [1, 86]. Other studies indicate that attitude changedependsin part on the centralityand other conditions of attitudestrength[23, 41]. The extent of informationseeking and the importanceof information sources vary from one type of decision to another [7, 29, 45]. Unplannedpurchasing[10] and the effectiveness of point-of-purchase displays [15, 17], end-aisle displays[56, 61], numberof shelf facings [11, 39], and shelfheight[81, 82] varywidelyacrossproducts.Analysis of variousstudiesof the diffusionof innovationssuggests that the amountof decision makinginvolved, the sources of informationused, and other importantdimensions often vary from one type of innovation to another[22, p. 546]. Certainlyin many cases it is not properto generalize findingsacross productsor decision situations.On the other hand, generalizingas far as possible avoids researchingconsumer behavior in unnecessarilyminute detail. There is a growing need for classificationsystems for types of decisionsand choices which, if properly designed, would permit a legitimate degree of Researchto date suggeststhat the tradigeneralization. tionalconvenience,specialty,and shoppinggoods typology [40] has too wide intercategoryvariation in behavior. Future efforts using alternative conceptual schemes [4] or empiricallyderived classifications[63] shouldincreasethe progressof consumerresearch.

The amount of consumerresearchis increasingexponentiallyand today's researchstudies will represent of only a fractionof the literature 1980. It will become difficultfor both researchersand practiincreasingly tionersto have an awareness workingknowledgeof and publishedresearchrelevantto theirproblems. Two steps can be takento accommodate research the explosion. First there should be literaturereviews to evaluateand summarize evidencepublishedor available duringthe year. This techniqueis widely used in other areas including,for example, The Annual Review of A complementary approachwould be to establisha consumerbehaviorresearchretrievalsystem. Although this type of system presents numerouscomplex problems, otherdisciplinessuch as law, medicine,and chemistryhave used it. An exampleis the AmericanChemical Society, which through its subsidiary, Chemical Abstracts, operates a service which makes possible searchacrossthe full rangeof the world'scurcomputer rent chemicalliterature. Machine-searchable tapes contain the title, authors'names, complete bibliographic citation, and key descriptiveindexing terms for each in journalarticleand patentabstracted currentissues of
Chemical Abstracts. Psychology.

Furthermore,within consumer research itself, the DiffusionDocumentsCenterat MichiganState University has devisedproceduresfor catalogingand summarizing over 1,000 differentstudies [80]. Although serious problemsmustbe solvedbeforesuch a systemcould be made operational,it is importantto begin work immediatelyratherthan waiting until the researchexplosion has become even more formidable.
CONCLUSIONS

Most of the problems discussed are attributable to the complexityand infancy of consumerresearch and

IN CURRENT PROBLEMS CONSUMER BEHAVIOR RESEARCH the fact that research to date has been conducted relatively independently by researchers in various universities, businesses, and governmental agencies. The issues raised here and others that have undoubtedly been overlooked are of sufficient importance to deserve further discussion and debate. If they are resolved, or even if some significant progress toward their resolution is made, a significant stride will be taken toward the development of a consumer behavior research tradition. REFERENCES
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