Consumer Choice of Retail Shopping Aids | Choice | Retail

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Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services 14 (2007) 339–346 www.elsevier.com/locate/jretconser

Consumer choice of retail shopping aids
Chiu-chi Angela Changa,Ã, Raymond R. Burkeb
a b

Department of Marketing and Management, Shippensburg University, 1871 Old Main Drive, Shippensburg, PA 17257, USA Marketing Department, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University, 1309 East Tenth Street, Bloomington, IN 47408, USA

Abstract This research investigates how consumer and product category attributes affect consumer interest in using various shopping aids. Research hypotheses were proposed based on a contingency framework of the relationship between consumer characteristics (i.e., purchase need, product knowledge, and brand preference heterogeneity) and shopping aid solutions (expanded selection, additional product information, personalization, and evaluative information). The findings demonstrated the importance of considering consumer characteristics when retailers design and provide shopping aids for consumers to facilitate purchase completion. r 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Shopping aids; Retail technology; Purchase deferral

1. Introduction Many consumers visit stores, walk the aisles, but end up leaving empty handed. While some are browsers, examining a store’s merchandise without a current intention to buy (Bloch and Richins, 1983), others have salient needs that are not being satisfied by the retail environment. People defer their purchases for a variety of reasons, including the desired product being out of stock (Andersen Consulting, 1996), insufficient product information, unsatisfactory product selection, and difficulty in evaluating alternatives (Huffman and Kahn, 1998), among others. Delays can occur at various stages of the decision-making process (Corbin, 1980; Greenleaf and Lehmann, 1995). Obstacles are often encountered at the alternative evaluation stage, manifested as conflict or preference uncertainty (Dhar, 1997; Luce, 1998; Tversky and Shafir, 1992). In recent years, retailers have looked for technology solutions to help address these issues. They have deployed kiosks, interactive displays, handheld shopping devices, and computer-enabled grocery carts to assist with store navigation, provide detailed product information, offer personalized product recommendations and promotions,
ÃCorresponding author. Tel.: +1 717 477 4068; fax: +1 717 477 1691.

E-mail addresses: ccchan@ship.edu (C.A. Chang), rayburke@indiana.edu (R.R. Burke). 0969-6989/$ - see front matter r 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.jretconser.2006.12.003

and expand the available selection of merchandise. Unfortunately, many applications of retail shopping aids have failed. In some cases, these aids do not address the specific questions and concerns of consumers. In others, the technologies attempt to do so many things that they confuse consumers. The results of a national consumer survey by Burke (2002) suggest that technology applications must be tailored to the unique requirements of consumer segments and product categories. For example, it was found that consumers prefer to use an information/ ordering kiosk or handheld shopping assistant when shopping in information-intensive categories (such as consumer electronics and books), whereas a self-scanning device that can display product prices and speed checkout is preferred for replenishment categories (such as groceries and office supplies). The retail industry could benefit from theoretical and empirical research that helps to identify which technologies or shopping aids consumers will be most likely to use in specific contexts, and assesses the impact of these shopping aids on purchase conversion and consumer satisfaction. The findings would allow retailers to reduce purchase postponement and increase product sales, customer satisfaction, and repeat patronage. Consumer satisfaction with the decision process has been found to be a significant contributor to consumers’ overall satisfaction judgments (Fitzsimons et al., 1995).

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This paper develops and tests a conceptual framework describing how the unique characteristics of consumers— specifically, their need state, product knowledge, and perception of preference heterogeneity—influence their selection of shopping aids. The research focuses on four shopping aids: expanded product selections, personalized recommendations, additional product information (detailed product specifications), and overall evaluative ratings. These applications were selected because they can help to address the root causes for delaying purchase, such as insufficient product information, limited product offerings, and evaluation uncertainty (cf. Corbin, 1980). By facilitating the customer’s decision process, they can enhance the shopping experience and increase decision satisfaction (cf. Westbrook et al., 1978). The goal is to provide retailers with the tools to effectively convert consumers’ needs and desires into purchase.

attractiveness of the alternatives (Dhar, 1997; Dhar and Nowlis, 1999; Dhar and Sherman, 1996). 2.2. Consumer information environments Retail shopping aids have the potential to enhance the customer shopping experience and reduce decision deferral, but only if (1) consumers choose to use these aids and (2) the information supports rather than detracts from the decision process. Unfortunately, there has been little prior research on the first issue. The available literature suggests that shoppers will be most likely to use technology-based shopping aids when they are easy to use and perceived as useful (e.g., Davis et al., 1989). On the second point, several studies have investigated the impact of the information environment on decision quality. The results indicate that more information is not always better. Jacoby et al. (1974) show that consumers who are given additional product information feel more satisfied and less confused, but they actually make poorer purchase decisions. Keller and Staelin (1987) find an inverted U-shaped relationship between the amount of information available and decision effectiveness. Bettman (1975) mentions that ‘‘two or three summary attributes would need to be used. . . because of the limitations in consumers’ ability to combine many attributes into an overall rating’’ (p. 174). Similarly, more choice alternatives do not necessarily improve the objective quality of decisions. An increased number of alternatives contributes to task complexity and the use of simplifying decision heuristics (Payne et al., 1993). Even though freedom to choose is highly valued, providing people with too many choice options can produce negative effects (Iyengar and Lepper, 2000; Schwartz, 2004). It is also important to consider the presentation format. In a field experiment on unit price information, Russo (1977) demonstrated that consumers were better at processing the information when it was organized in a list. It appears that consumers may benefit most from moderate amounts of information, presented in a clear, organized fashion. Prior research on the value of retail shopping aids has produced mixed results. On the one hand, Todd and Benbasat (1992) find that respondents who are given a decision aid minimize their effort in a decision task; in other words, decision makers do not translate the saved effort into greater information usage or increased decision performance. On the other hand, Haubl and Trifts (2000) demonstrate that in a customizable electronic shopping environment, use of a recommendation agent or a comparison matrix generally leads to an increase in the quality of consumers’ consideration sets, as well as enhanced decision quality. This study investigates the influence of customer characteristics on the selection of various types of shopping aids. The focus is on the type of aid selected rather than on

2. Background 2.1. Consumer deferral decisions Researchers have taken two main approaches to investigating the issue of decision deferral. The first is concerned with the stages in the decision process leading up to choice. The research indicates that consumers may decide to delay decisions in order to search for additional alternatives or product information or to deliberate the purchase decision. Consumers may also decide not to purchase any of the available products. Corbin (1980) identifies ambiguity, uncertainty, and unacceptability as the barriers at the beginning, middle, and final stages of the choice-making process, respectively. In particular, she identifies four delay options that include: (1) inspecting further alternatives; (2) tapping external sources of information; (3) deliberation; and (4) waiting for a goal object to become available. Greenleaf and Lehmann (1995) identify several reasons for substantial consumer delay in purchasing durable goods (defined as ‘‘when at least one month elapses between need recognition and purchase’’), including perceived risk, lack of advice or consent, and procedural uncertainty. These authors emphasize the value of studying delay at each stage in the process rather than examining only total delay time. A second stream of research focuses on the effects of choice set composition on decision deferral. Tversky and Shafir (1992) suggest that the search for additional choice alternatives is determined not only by the value of the best available option but also by the difficulty of choosing among the options under consideration (i.e., conflict). Luce (1998) argues that consumers will avoid decisions when they are forced to cope with negative emotion (arising from dealing with tasks involving high levels of trade-off difficulty). Further, Dhar et al. demonstrate the effects of task variables on purchase deferral, including task difficulty/preference uncertainty, time pressure, and overall

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the specific execution. The desired information could be delivered through high-tech (e.g., kiosk, handheld shopping device) and/or conventional (e.g., sales associates) means. 3. Conceptual framework This research considers three consumer characteristics relevant to the choice of shopping aids: (1) the consumer’s salient need or purchase goal at the moment of entering the store, (2) his or her knowledge of the product category, and (3) the perceived degree of preference heterogeneity (variation in tastes) across consumers. Purchase needs are often expressed in general terms early in the decision process, becoming more specific as the consumer moves closer to making a purchase. Having a ‘‘broad need’’ means that consumers have not yet decided on a specific brand or model; instead, they have a general intention to buy in the product category. In this case, instore decision making and sales assistance (including retail shopping aids) will play an important role in resolving whether and which item consumers would buy. Conversely, ‘‘specific need’’ refers to purchases where consumers enter the store planning to buy a specific brand or model. This preference may be the result of brand loyalty, inertia, personal recommendations, prior research (e.g., the Internet), or simple decision rules (e.g., ‘‘buy the cheapest brand’’), among other reasons. For shoppers with specific needs, the main obstacles to purchase are often product price and availability; i.e., the product may be too expensive, it may not be carried by the retailer, or it may be out of stock. Shoppers with more general needs may encounter a variety of purchase barriers depending on their personal knowledge and the availability of product information. Knowledgeable consumers are able to attend to, comprehend, and analyze relevant product information, while less knowledgeable consumers are likely to ‘‘subcontract’’ their decisions, relying on others’ evaluations and recommendations (Rosen and Olshavsky, 1987). If consumers have heterogeneous preferences, then the recommendations need to address their unique needs (cf. Feick and Higie, 1992). The value of retail shopping aids depends on their ability to provide the necessary assistance to various types of consumers who encounter specific obstructions to purchase completion. Specific hypotheses relating consumer characteristics to choice of different shopping aids are proposed in the next section. 3.1. Hypotheses 3.1.1. Expanded selection When consumers have a specific product in mind, the purchase process should be a simple matching process. However, people may encounter obstacles at various stages in the shopping process, including product availability (desired items are out-of-stock or not carried by the

retailer), navigation (items are difficult to locate), and fulfillment (long queues and waiting time, form of payment not accepted, product unaffordable). In this research, the focus is on the first obstacle: products being out-of-stock. Except for highly loyal shoppers or people searching for a brand-specific promotion, most consumers are likely to seek out acceptable substitutes rather than incur the costs of switching stores or delaying or canceling the purchase (Emmelhainz et al., 1991). For shoppers who plan to buy a specific item, the chances of finding that item will increase when the retailer provides a more extensive product assortment, either by offering a greater physical selection of merchandise or providing access through a shopping aid, such as a product locator or online shopping kiosk. In the event that the consumer cannot obtain the desired alternative and must look for a substitute, the availability of an expanded selection should increase the probability that the consumer will find an acceptable substitute. In contrast, if consumers do not have a specific brand in mind, perhaps because they have limited product knowledge and/or difficulty evaluating the alternatives, then a large assortment may actually cause confusion and be detrimental to the buying decision (cf. Huffman and Kahn, 1998). In sum, expanded selection should be most helpful to consumers who have a specific brand in mind, increasing their chances of finding the desired product. H1: Consumers with a specific brand need will be more likely to choose to use shopping aids providing expanded selection than shoppers with more broadly defined needs. 3.1.2. Additional product information For consumers who enter a store with a broadly defined need, product choice will be determined by the information search and alternative evaluation that takes place within the store. An important factor in this process is product category knowledge. Urbany et al. (1989) find that respondents with low knowledge uncertainty (i.e., high product knowledge) and high choice uncertainty (i.e., a broadly defined need) conduct the most extensive searches. Alba and Hutchinson (1987) report that consumers with prior knowledge are better able to comprehend productrelated messages, generate accurate simplifications of technical information, and infer the relationships between technical or attribute information and product benefits. In contrast, consumers with little or no prior knowledge may have difficulty assessing the benefits of their search, and the high costs of information acquisition and processing may lead them to use heuristics instead of relevant information. Studies have also demonstrated that prior knowledge can facilitate the selective encoding and processing of information and reduce information overload. Experts are better than novices at focusing their attention on relevant and important information (Alba and Hutchinson, 1987), and selectively attending to some alternatives and not others (Huffman and Kahn, 1998). Because of their greater processing abilities, one would expect that knowledgeable

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consumers would be more likely to use additional product information offered at the point of purchase. H2: Consumers with more product category knowledge will be more likely to choose to use shopping aids providing additional product information than less knowledgeable shoppers. 3.1.3. Personalization and evaluative information Consumers with limited product category knowledge face a challenging task in selecting between complex products. It can be difficult to identify essential product features, weigh the importance of various attributes, and identify the relationship between these attributes and overall satisfaction with the product (West et al., 1996). Further, consumer learning from experience is constrained by the shopper’s motivation to learn, the memory load, the ambiguity of information, and the biasing influences of marketing (e.g., Hoch and Deighton, 1989; Hutchinson and Alba, 1991; Pechmann and Ratneshwar, 1992). It follows that a less knowledgeable consumer will be less likely to rely on his or her own decision-making abilities, instead adopting dependent or subcontracted decision processes, such as receiving and acting on a recommendation regarding a specific alternative from a knowledgeable referrer or agent (cf. Rosen and Olshavsky, 1987). Empirical evidence also indicates that consumers with little experience tend to have very little incentive to search for information and will actually conduct only limited searches (e.g., Moorthy et al., 1997; Punj and Staelin, 1983). In cases where consumers have limited motivation or ability to process information, retailers can facilitate decision making by providing evaluative information and/or personalized recommendations. The term ‘‘evaluative information’’ is used to describe an overall rating or judgment of a product’s value, whereas personalization refers to a customized recommendation based on an analysis of a consumer’s past purchase history or expressed or inferred preference. These ratings and recommendations serve as a shortcut or summary of information for a novice consumer, reducing the perceived uncertainty and decision difficulty involved in deliberation about alternatives. The following discussion explores the conditions when each of these shopping aids will be preferred by the consumer. Preference heterogeneity refers to the variability in brand preferences across consumers. In high heterogeneity categories, there is substantial variation, typically due to differences in attribute weightings across consumers or different ideal levels of particular attributes (Feick and Higie, 1992). In contrast, low heterogeneity indicates that consumers have similar preferences, often because they have similar attribute weightings, brand perceptions, and/ or objectively measurable standards of evaluation. Prior research suggests that personalized recommendations will be most helpful when consumers have high preference heterogeneity. For example, the sales management literature reports that adaptive selling is particularly effective when consumers have heterogeneous preferences

(i.e., different ideal points) and when the consumer purchase decision is characterized by complicated or differentiated products, a lack of information relevant to the decision situation, and diverse usage situations (Weitz et al., 1986; Wernerfelt, 1994). Similarly, Feick and Higie (1992) report that respondents focused on and were influenced by source similarity information for high preference heterogeneity services (e.g., night clubs), and by source experience information for low preference heterogeneity services (e.g., auto mechanics). Huffman and Houston’s (1993) research on goaloriented knowledge development suggests that the product knowledge structure for selecting a goal-satisfying alternative consists of three types of associations: feature-tobrand, feature-to-goal, and brand-to-goal associations. (These associations are conceptually similar to brandattribute beliefs, attribute importance weightings, and brand evaluations, respectively.) This knowledge allows the consumer to make a sound choice between alternative brands. Personalization typically operates by recommending proper brand-to-goal associations—identifying the brand(s) that are most instrumental in achieving the consumer’s unique goals. This allows the less knowledgeable consumer to select an appropriate alternative while bypassing the complexity and difficulty involved in learning the feature-to-brand and feature-to goal associations. Thus, by making use of personalization, the cost for the consumer to find products consistent with a goal is greatly reduced. Extending the above findings to the current context, it is argued that consumers shopping for products in categories with high preference heterogeneity will be most interested in adaptive or personalized recommendations, whereas customers shopping in categories with low preference heterogeneity will be most interested in general recommendations or overall evaluative information, such as product ratings. H3: Consumers will be more likely to use shopping aids providing personalized recommendations when they perceive that other shoppers have different (heterogeneous) rather than similar (homogeneous) preferences. H4: Consumers will be more likely to use shopping aids providing general evaluative information when they perceive that other shoppers have similar (homogeneous) rather than different (heterogeneous) preferences. It is also important to note that a less knowledgeable consumer may not be able to make fine distinctions and may tend to perceive categories as homogeneous (Moorthy et al., 1997).

4. Method A study was designed and conducted to test the hypotheses concerning the consumer’s choice of shopping aids (i.e., expanded selection, additional information, personalization, and evaluative information) under the

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conditions of varying purchase need, product category knowledge, and preference heterogeneity. Design: Data were collected using a consumer survey in which respondents were asked to view a selection of products available in the retail store and to use one or more shopping aids in their purchase decision making. Several personal and situational factors were measured in the study, including purchase need, consumer knowledge, and preference heterogeneity. Subjects: One hundred and twenty-six undergraduate students taking an introductory marketing course at a large mid-western university participated in the study to receive course credit. Selection of target product: Based on the results of a series of pretests, Personal Digital Assistants (or PDAs) were selected as the target product category because (1) the category was unfamiliar to most respondents, warranting the use of shopping aids, and (2) the products were relevant and appealing to the student sample. Note that PDAs have various evaluative dimensions that can be incorporated into the personalization manipulation. Also, pretest respondents exhibited variation in preference heterogeneity and knowledge for this product category. Stimulus materials: A total of seven brands of PDAs were selected for use in the study, representing the test store’s product assortment. These were actual brands and models (and associated product information) available on the market at the time of the study. Each brand description was accompanied by a thumbnail image and included item name, price, and a few product feature highlights. The four shopping aids investigated in this study were represented by four clearly labeled booklets that respondents could choose to consult during the shopping trip/ decision-making process:  The booklet for the ‘‘expanded selection’’ condition contained seven additional products that were not sold in the store but available for purchase by respondents.  The booklet for the ‘‘additional information’’ condition contained detailed supplementary product specification information for the PDAs sold in the store.  In the ‘‘personalization’’ condition, a contingency table was provided showing the relationships between preferred features (with explanations) and the corresponding product recommendations. The specific features listed—ease of use, battery life, display, synchronization, and convenience—were the same dimensions used by Consumer Reports magazine to evaluate PDAs.  The booklet for the ‘‘evaluative information’’ condition listed overall product ratings (on a 0–100-point scale) of each brand/model in the store, based on Consumer Reports data. Procedures and measures: Each respondent was handed a survey upon arrival at the lab. Respondents were told that the purpose of the study was to understand how consumers make purchase decisions in everyday shopping situations.

They would be asked to shop for a PDA in an electronics store and would have the option to use shopping aids in their decision making. The advantages and disadvantages of using shopping aids were briefly mentioned (i.e., making a better decision vs. spending more time in the store) to help clarify the available options and reduce confusion. In addition, respondents were told that they had the option of not making a purchase from the store, as in a real shopping situation. Finally, respondents were asked to assume that they had been saving for the purchase to control for income effects. The survey assessed each respondent’s product knowledge (using measures adapted from Smith and Park, 1992), need state (knowing or not knowing which brand/model to buy at the outset of the shopping trip) and perceived preference heterogeneity (using measures adapted from Feick and Higie, 1992). Respondents then proceeded to ‘‘browse’’ the store’s selection of seven brands/models of PDAs. After reviewing the alternatives, they were instructed to use at least one of four shopping aids described on the following page of the survey. To access these aids, respondents had to come up to the experimenter and request a specific booklet. When they finished viewing the contents of one or more shopping aid booklets, respondents could then request the next part of the survey. (This procedure was used to ensure that respondents were actually exposed to and made use of the information provided by the shopping aids.) This section of the survey asked respondents to confirm that they reviewed the requested shopping aid booklet(s) and offered them another opportunity to browse the store selection before proceeding to the final stage of the study. Respondents were then asked if they wanted to purchase any of the PDAs in the store. If yes, they indicated the specific brand and model of PDA they would purchase. If not, they were asked why and to describe their next steps (e.g., ‘‘look for additional product alternatives,’’ ‘‘collect more information,’’ ‘‘think further about the purchase decision,’’ etc.). Respondents then assessed the usefulness of the shopping aid(s) that they had used earlier (using measures adapted from Venkatesh and Davis, 2000). Finally, measures of satisfaction with the decision process were taken (using scales adapted from Westbrook et al., 1978 and Fitzsimons et al., 1995, including the dimensions of the evaluative process, product selection, and prepurchase information). 5. Results The following sections (1) provide background information on sample characteristics and descriptive statistics on the choice of shopping aids, (2) test the hypotheses concerning the relationship between respondent characteristics and the use of specific shopping aids, and (3) compare the percentage of respondents who purchased, as well as average decision satisfaction ratings, across the four shopping-aid groups. Note that all measures exhibited

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adequate reliabilities (Cronbach’s a4:70); thus, an average score was calculated for each latent construct (i.e., product knowledge, preference heterogeneity, usefulness of shopping aid, decision satisfaction; all on nine-point scales). Descriptive statistics: Of the 126 participants in the study, only 18% (n ¼ 22) owned a PDA. Sixteen percent (n ¼ 19) of respondents reported having a desire for a specific brand while 82% (n ¼ 103) expressed a more general need. The former group (specific-need respondents) had a higher level of product category knowledge than the latter (M’s ¼ 6:53 vs. 4.29, tð120Þ ¼ 4:79, p ¼ :000). Most respondents chose to use only one shopping aid (74.6%, n ¼ 94), whereas 22% (n ¼ 28) used two shopping aids and 3% (n ¼ 4) used three aids. When two or more shopping aids were selected, we assumed that these decisions were independent. Among the four shopping aids, evaluative product information was used most often (52.4%), followed by additional product information (29.4%) and personalized product recommendations (29.4%). Expanded selection was used least frequently (17.5%). In terms of shopping aid usefulness, all the aids were evaluated favorably and deemed as useful (all greater than 7.7 on a nine-point scale). In other words, respondents believed that the shopping aid(s) they had used could help them make better purchase decisions in real shopping situations. Considering both the store’s product assortment and information obtained from the shopping aid(s), 30% (n ¼ 37) of the respondents decided to delay their purchase. Most of them cited ‘‘collect more information’’ (n ¼ 17) and ‘‘think further about the purchase decision’’ (n ¼ 9) as their next steps for the purchase of a PDA. Only four respondents said they would ‘‘look for additional product alternatives,’’ and another five respondents offered other reasons such as price concerns and online research. Modeling choice of shopping aids: A series of logistic regressions were conducted to identify which factors were associated with respondents’ use of a particular shopping aid. Shopping aid choice was modeled as a function of consumer need state, product category knowledge, and preference heterogeneity. The first logistic regression revealed that the respondent’s level of product knowledge had a significant impact on his/her use of the ‘‘expanded selection’’ shopping aid (Wald statistic ð1Þ ¼ 9:39, po:01). Consumers with high levels of product knowledge were more likely to explore the expanded selection than those with limited product knowledge. It appears that consumers must have a sufficient understanding of the product category before they are willing to take on the task of evaluating a larger set of alternatives. While the full regression model did not show a significant relationship between consumers’ need specificity and the choice of the ‘‘expanded selection’’ shopping aid, a simple w2 analysis was statistically significant; w2 ð3Þ ¼ 10:85, p ¼ :013. Those shoppers with a specific brand/model preference and those with a preferred set of

brands were more likely to choose an expanded selection than those who did not have a brand in mind, as predicted by H1. The difference in the two statistical tests may be due to the observed correlation between product knowledge and need specificity (r ¼ :4, po:001). A cross tabulation (with a median split on product knowledge) revealed that high knowledge respondents were more likely to have a specific purchase need, whereas low knowledge respondents tended to have a broad need; w2 ð1Þ ¼ 14:62, po:001. Additional research is necessary to disentangle the effects of prior knowledge and need specificity on choice of shopping aid. By experimentally manipulating the consumer’s product category knowledge and need state, one could measure the independent effects of these variables on the consumer’s use of an expanded selection. H2 predicted that consumers with high product category knowledge would be more likely to select the ‘‘additional product information’’ shopping aid than those with low knowledge. While this relationship was not observed, usage of additional detailed product information was significantly related to preference heterogeneity (Wald statistic ð1Þ ¼ 7:02, po:01). Those respondents who considered the product category high in preference heterogeneity were more likely to choose to use additional product information than those who considered the category low in preference heterogeneity. It appears that when people have mixed feelings about products, they are more motivated to ‘‘drill down’’ to understand the details of product performance.1 The use of personalized product recommendations was not found to be significantly associated with any predictors. Therefore, H3 was not supported. As noted earlier, this shopping aid was only used by 29.4% of respondents, perhaps due to the difficulty of working through the contingency table of recommendations. Also, Burke (2002) reports that some consumers express resistance to the idea of being told which product to buy based on their personal information. H4 predicted that consumers would be most likely to use evaluative information when they perceived that other consumers had similar preferences. This prediction was supported (Wald statistic ð1Þ ¼ 7:33, po:01). Respondents who considered the product category low in preference heterogeneity were more likely to choose to use evaluative product information than those who considered the category high in preference heterogeneity. The findings demonstrate that consumers will be most likely to seek out overall product ratings when they believe that others share the same evaluative criteria. Overall, respondents who chose to use the aid of additional product information had the highest purchase rates (76%), followed by those who used evaluative information (73%), personalization (68%), or expanded
Also note that the correlation between knowledge and preference heterogeneity measures was :205 ðpo:05Þ. Higher knowledge respondents tended to consider the product category more heterogeneous.
1

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selection (67%). Respondents who used additional product information had the highest satisfaction levels (6.36), followed by those who used expanded selection (6.23), evaluative information (6.06), or personalization (5.98).

6. Discussion and conclusions This research demonstrates the importance of considering consumer characteristics when designing a retail store and selecting shopping aids to enhance the customer experience. These aids have the potential to overcome obstacles at various stages of the shopping process (e.g., insufficient product information, difficulty in evaluating alternatives, limited product assortment), thereby increasing purchase conversion rate. However, consumers are unlikely to use these tools unless they are tailored to shoppers’ unique characteristics and requirements (product category knowledge, need states, and preference heterogeneity). This research thus contributes to our understanding of consumer choice of retail shopping aids and has practical implications for retailers regarding the effectiveness of shopping aids in various situations. The empirical findings showed that overall product ratings were the most popular shopping aid, probably because they provided simple performance information for the available set of brands, directly connecting consumers’ goals with desired outcomes. At the other extreme, the expanded selection was the least popular option, perhaps because it increased decision complexity in an already challenging category. As predicted, the results indicated that evaluative information had the greatest appeal when preference heterogeneity was low. In addition, low preference heterogeneity was associated with low product knowledge. Thus, consumers were most interested in having access to overall evaluative ratings when they had similar evaluative criteria and their product category knowledge was limited. On the other hand, the expanded selection appealed most to high knowledge consumers, who tended to have a specific purchase need. It appears that expertise had the effect of mitigating information overload brought about by expanded selection. Prior research suggests that, if individuals do not know what they are specifically looking for, an excessive assortment may actually cause frustration and have detrimental consequences for motivation (Huffman and Kahn, 1998; Iyengar and Lepper, 2000). The results also indicated that additional product information was preferred by consumers who considered the product category heterogeneous. These consumers wanted to understand the differences between the product alternatives to select items that addressed their unique needs. Finally, consumer preference for personalized recommendations was not affected by any of the consumer characteristics investigated. This might be due to the way personalization was operationalized in the study. No previous purchase histories or attribute preferences were

used to develop the recommendations. Instead, a contingency table was provided. Overall, additional product information produced the highest purchase conversion rates and decision satisfaction. This, along with the finding that the majority of the respondents who decided to delay their purchase cited ‘‘collect more information’’ as their next step, highlights the importance of providing additional product information, particularly in a complex and heterogeneous preference product category. This research can be extended in several ways. First, retailers are concerned about the impact of retail shopping aids on consumer behavior and store loyalty. Future research should explore the relationship between the use of retail shopping aids and purchase conversion, decision satisfaction, and future shopping intentions. Second, alternative research designs should incorporate actual shopping situations and shopping aids to gather real-world consumer data and confirm the findings from the laboratory experiment. Longitudinal studies may be conducted to investigate the long-term effects of installing in-store shopping aids on various dependent measures (e.g., sales, return on investment, service and merchandise quality perception, shopping experience costs). Finally, it would be useful to investigate how the shopping aid adoption decision in the retail store is affected by such factors as the consumer’s attitude toward technology, trialability, complexity, and situational influences. In conclusion, with the prevalence of retail shopping aids, both low- and high-tech, manufacturers and retailers are challenged to take full advantage of their capabilities for enhancing the customer experience and purchase conversion. This study demonstrates that consumer behavior research can help to identify which shopping aids consumers will be most likely to use and benefit from in specific situations.

Acknowledgment The authors gratefully acknowledge the support of Indiana University’s Center for Education and Research in Retailing. The paper has also benefited from the comments and suggestions of the reviewers.

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