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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,, Raymond R. Burkeb
a
Department of Marketing and Management, Shippensburg University, 1871 Old Main Drive, Shippensburg, PA 17257, USA
b
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 and expand the available selection of merchandise.


Unfortunately, many applications of retail shopping aids
Many consumers visit stores, walk the aisles, but end up have failed. In some cases, these aids do not address the
leaving empty handed. While some are browsers, examin- specific questions and concerns of consumers. In others, the
ing a store’s merchandise without a current intention to technologies attempt to do so many things that they
buy (Bloch and Richins, 1983), others have salient needs confuse consumers. The results of a national consumer
that are not being satisfied by the retail environment. survey by Burke (2002) suggest that technology applica-
People defer their purchases for a variety of reasons, tions must be tailored to the unique requirements of
including the desired product being out of stock (Andersen consumer segments and product categories. For example, it
Consulting, 1996), insufficient product information, un- was found that consumers prefer to use an information/
satisfactory product selection, and difficulty in evaluating ordering kiosk or handheld shopping assistant when
alternatives (Huffman and Kahn, 1998), among others. shopping in information-intensive categories (such as
Delays can occur at various stages of the decision-making consumer electronics and books), whereas a self-scanning
process (Corbin, 1980; Greenleaf and Lehmann, 1995). device that can display product prices and speed checkout
Obstacles are often encountered at the alternative evalua- is preferred for replenishment categories (such as groceries
tion stage, manifested as conflict or preference uncertainty and office supplies).
(Dhar, 1997; Luce, 1998; Tversky and Shafir, 1992). The retail industry could benefit from theoretical and
In recent years, retailers have looked for technology empirical research that helps to identify which technologies
solutions to help address these issues. They have deployed or shopping aids consumers will be most likely to use in
kiosks, interactive displays, handheld shopping devices, specific contexts, and assesses the impact of these shopping
and computer-enabled grocery carts to assist with store aids on purchase conversion and consumer satisfaction.
navigation, provide detailed product information, offer The findings would allow retailers to reduce purchase
personalized product recommendations and promotions, postponement and increase product sales, customer satis-
faction, and repeat patronage. Consumer satisfaction with
Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 717 477 4068; fax: +1 717 477 1691. the decision process has been found to be a significant
E-mail addresses: ccchan@ship.edu (C.A. Chang), contributor to consumers’ overall satisfaction judgments
rayburke@indiana.edu (R.R. Burke). (Fitzsimons et al., 1995).

0969-6989/$ - see front matter r 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.jretconser.2006.12.003
ARTICLE IN PRESS
340 C.A. Chang, R.R. Burke / Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services 14 (2007) 339–346

This paper develops and tests a conceptual framework attractiveness of the alternatives (Dhar, 1997; Dhar and
describing how the unique characteristics of consumers— Nowlis, 1999; Dhar and Sherman, 1996).
specifically, their need state, product knowledge, and
perception of preference heterogeneity—influence their 2.2. Consumer information environments
selection of shopping aids. The research focuses on four
shopping aids: expanded product selections, personalized Retail shopping aids have the potential to enhance the
recommendations, additional product information (de- customer shopping experience and reduce decision deferral,
tailed product specifications), and overall evaluative rat- but only if (1) consumers choose to use these aids and (2)
ings. These applications were selected because they can the information supports rather than detracts from the
help to address the root causes for delaying purchase, such decision process. Unfortunately, there has been little prior
as insufficient product information, limited product offer- research on the first issue. The available literature suggests
ings, and evaluation uncertainty (cf. Corbin, 1980). By that shoppers will be most likely to use technology-based
facilitating the customer’s decision process, they can shopping aids when they are easy to use and perceived as
enhance the shopping experience and increase decision useful (e.g., Davis et al., 1989).
satisfaction (cf. Westbrook et al., 1978). The goal is to On the second point, several studies have investigated
provide retailers with the tools to effectively convert the impact of the information environment on decision
consumers’ needs and desires into purchase. 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
2. Background satisfied and less confused, but they actually make poorer
purchase decisions. Keller and Staelin (1987) find an
2.1. Consumer deferral decisions inverted U-shaped relationship between the amount of
information available and decision effectiveness. Bettman
Researchers have taken two main approaches to (1975) mentions that ‘‘two or three summary attributes
investigating the issue of decision deferral. The first is would need to be used. . . because of the limitations in
concerned with the stages in the decision process leading up consumers’ ability to combine many attributes into an
to choice. The research indicates that consumers may overall rating’’ (p. 174).
decide to delay decisions in order to search for additional Similarly, more choice alternatives do not necessarily
alternatives or product information or to deliberate the improve the objective quality of decisions. An increased
purchase decision. Consumers may also decide not to number of alternatives contributes to task complexity and
purchase any of the available products. Corbin (1980) the use of simplifying decision heuristics (Payne et al.,
identifies ambiguity, uncertainty, and unacceptability as 1993). Even though freedom to choose is highly valued,
the barriers at the beginning, middle, and final stages of the providing people with too many choice options can
choice-making process, respectively. In particular, she produce negative effects (Iyengar and Lepper, 2000;
identifies four delay options that include: (1) inspecting Schwartz, 2004).
further alternatives; (2) tapping external sources of It is also important to consider the presentation format.
information; (3) deliberation; and (4) waiting for a goal In a field experiment on unit price information, Russo
object to become available. Greenleaf and Lehmann (1995) (1977) demonstrated that consumers were better at
identify several reasons for substantial consumer delay in processing the information when it was organized in a list.
purchasing durable goods (defined as ‘‘when at least one It appears that consumers may benefit most from moderate
month elapses between need recognition and purchase’’), amounts of information, presented in a clear, organized
including perceived risk, lack of advice or consent, and fashion.
procedural uncertainty. These authors emphasize the value Prior research on the value of retail shopping aids has
of studying delay at each stage in the process rather than produced mixed results. On the one hand, Todd and
examining only total delay time. Benbasat (1992) find that respondents who are given a
A second stream of research focuses on the effects of decision aid minimize their effort in a decision task; in
choice set composition on decision deferral. Tversky and other words, decision makers do not translate the saved
Shafir (1992) suggest that the search for additional choice effort into greater information usage or increased decision
alternatives is determined not only by the value of the best performance. On the other hand, Haubl and Trifts (2000)
available option but also by the difficulty of choosing demonstrate that in a customizable electronic shopping
among the options under consideration (i.e., conflict). Luce environment, use of a recommendation agent or a
(1998) argues that consumers will avoid decisions when comparison matrix generally leads to an increase in the
they are forced to cope with negative emotion (arising from quality of consumers’ consideration sets, as well as
dealing with tasks involving high levels of trade-off enhanced decision quality.
difficulty). Further, Dhar et al. demonstrate the effects of This study investigates the influence of customer
task variables on purchase deferral, including task diffi- characteristics on the selection of various types of shopping
culty/preference uncertainty, time pressure, and overall aids. The focus is on the type of aid selected rather than on
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the specific execution. The desired information could be retailer), navigation (items are difficult to locate), and
delivered through high-tech (e.g., kiosk, handheld shop- fulfillment (long queues and waiting time, form of payment
ping device) and/or conventional (e.g., sales associates) not accepted, product unaffordable). In this research, the
means. focus is on the first obstacle: products being out-of-stock.
Except for highly loyal shoppers or people searching for a
3. Conceptual framework brand-specific promotion, most consumers are likely to
seek out acceptable substitutes rather than incur the costs
This research considers three consumer characteristics of switching stores or delaying or canceling the purchase
relevant to the choice of shopping aids: (1) the consumer’s (Emmelhainz et al., 1991).
salient need or purchase goal at the moment of entering the For shoppers who plan to buy a specific item, the
store, (2) his or her knowledge of the product category, and chances of finding that item will increase when the retailer
(3) the perceived degree of preference heterogeneity provides a more extensive product assortment, either by
(variation in tastes) across consumers. offering a greater physical selection of merchandise or
Purchase needs are often expressed in general terms early providing access through a shopping aid, such as a product
in the decision process, becoming more specific as the locator or online shopping kiosk. In the event that the
consumer moves closer to making a purchase. Having a consumer cannot obtain the desired alternative and must
‘‘broad need’’ means that consumers have not yet decided look for a substitute, the availability of an expanded
on a specific brand or model; instead, they have a general selection should increase the probability that the consumer
intention to buy in the product category. In this case, in- will find an acceptable substitute. In contrast, if consumers
store decision making and sales assistance (including retail do not have a specific brand in mind, perhaps because they
shopping aids) will play an important role in resolving have limited product knowledge and/or difficulty evaluat-
whether and which item consumers would buy. Conversely, ing the alternatives, then a large assortment may actually
‘‘specific need’’ refers to purchases where consumers enter cause confusion and be detrimental to the buying decision
the store planning to buy a specific brand or model. This (cf. Huffman and Kahn, 1998).
preference may be the result of brand loyalty, inertia, In sum, expanded selection should be most helpful to
personal recommendations, prior research (e.g., the Inter- consumers who have a specific brand in mind, increasing
net), or simple decision rules (e.g., ‘‘buy the cheapest their chances of finding the desired product.
brand’’), among other reasons. H1: Consumers with a specific brand need will be more
For shoppers with specific needs, the main obstacles to likely to choose to use shopping aids providing expanded
purchase are often product price and availability; i.e., the selection than shoppers with more broadly defined needs.
product may be too expensive, it may not be carried by the
retailer, or it may be out of stock. Shoppers with more 3.1.2. Additional product information
general needs may encounter a variety of purchase barriers For consumers who enter a store with a broadly defined
depending on their personal knowledge and the availability need, product choice will be determined by the information
of product information. Knowledgeable consumers are search and alternative evaluation that takes place within
able to attend to, comprehend, and analyze relevant the store. An important factor in this process is product
product information, while less knowledgeable consumers category knowledge. Urbany et al. (1989) find that
are likely to ‘‘subcontract’’ their decisions, relying on respondents with low knowledge uncertainty (i.e., high
others’ evaluations and recommendations (Rosen and product knowledge) and high choice uncertainty (i.e., a
Olshavsky, 1987). If consumers have heterogeneous pre- broadly defined need) conduct the most extensive searches.
ferences, then the recommendations need to address their Alba and Hutchinson (1987) report that consumers with
unique needs (cf. Feick and Higie, 1992). prior knowledge are better able to comprehend product-
The value of retail shopping aids depends on their ability related messages, generate accurate simplifications of
to provide the necessary assistance to various types of technical information, and infer the relationships between
consumers who encounter specific obstructions to purchase technical or attribute information and product benefits. In
completion. Specific hypotheses relating consumer char- contrast, consumers with little or no prior knowledge may
acteristics to choice of different shopping aids are proposed have difficulty assessing the benefits of their search, and the
in the next section. high costs of information acquisition and processing may
lead them to use heuristics instead of relevant information.
3.1. Hypotheses Studies have also demonstrated that prior knowledge
can facilitate the selective encoding and processing of
3.1.1. Expanded selection information and reduce information overload. Experts are
When consumers have a specific product in mind, the better than novices at focusing their attention on relevant
purchase process should be a simple matching process. and important information (Alba and Hutchinson, 1987),
However, people may encounter obstacles at various stages and selectively attending to some alternatives and not
in the shopping process, including product availability others (Huffman and Kahn, 1998). Because of their greater
(desired items are out-of-stock or not carried by the processing abilities, one would expect that knowledgeable
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consumers would be more likely to use additional product (i.e., different ideal points) and when the consumer
information offered at the point of purchase. purchase decision is characterized by complicated or
H2: Consumers with more product category knowledge differentiated products, a lack of information relevant to
will be more likely to choose to use shopping aids the decision situation, and diverse usage situations (Weitz
providing additional product information than less knowl- et al., 1986; Wernerfelt, 1994). Similarly, Feick and Higie
edgeable shoppers. (1992) report that respondents focused on and were
influenced by source similarity information for high
3.1.3. Personalization and evaluative information preference heterogeneity services (e.g., night clubs), and
Consumers with limited product category knowledge by source experience information for low preference
face a challenging task in selecting between complex heterogeneity services (e.g., auto mechanics).
products. It can be difficult to identify essential product Huffman and Houston’s (1993) research on goal-
features, weigh the importance of various attributes, and oriented knowledge development suggests that the product
identify the relationship between these attributes and knowledge structure for selecting a goal-satisfying alter-
overall satisfaction with the product (West et al., 1996). native consists of three types of associations: feature-to-
Further, consumer learning from experience is constrained brand, feature-to-goal, and brand-to-goal associations.
by the shopper’s motivation to learn, the memory load, the (These associations are conceptually similar to brand-
ambiguity of information, and the biasing influences of attribute beliefs, attribute importance weightings, and
marketing (e.g., Hoch and Deighton, 1989; Hutchinson brand evaluations, respectively.) This knowledge allows
and Alba, 1991; Pechmann and Ratneshwar, 1992). It the consumer to make a sound choice between alternative
follows that a less knowledgeable consumer will be less brands. Personalization typically operates by recommend-
likely to rely on his or her own decision-making abilities, ing proper brand-to-goal associations—identifying the
instead adopting dependent or subcontracted decision brand(s) that are most instrumental in achieving the
processes, such as receiving and acting on a recommenda- consumer’s unique goals. This allows the less knowledge-
tion regarding a specific alternative from a knowledgeable able consumer to select an appropriate alternative while
referrer or agent (cf. Rosen and Olshavsky, 1987). bypassing the complexity and difficulty involved in
Empirical evidence also indicates that consumers with little learning the feature-to-brand and feature-to goal associa-
experience tend to have very little incentive to search for tions. Thus, by making use of personalization, the cost for
information and will actually conduct only limited searches the consumer to find products consistent with a goal is
(e.g., Moorthy et al., 1997; Punj and Staelin, 1983). greatly reduced.
In cases where consumers have limited motivation or Extending the above findings to the current context, it is
ability to process information, retailers can facilitate argued that consumers shopping for products in categories
decision making by providing evaluative information with high preference heterogeneity will be most interested
and/or personalized recommendations. The term ‘‘evalua- in adaptive or personalized recommendations, whereas
tive information’’ is used to describe an overall rating or customers shopping in categories with low preference
judgment of a product’s value, whereas personalization heterogeneity will be most interested in general recommen-
refers to a customized recommendation based on an dations or overall evaluative information, such as product
analysis of a consumer’s past purchase history or expressed ratings.
or inferred preference. These ratings and recommendations H3: Consumers will be more likely to use shopping aids
serve as a shortcut or summary of information for a novice providing personalized recommendations when they per-
consumer, reducing the perceived uncertainty and decision ceive that other shoppers have different (heterogeneous)
difficulty involved in deliberation about alternatives. The rather than similar (homogeneous) preferences.
following discussion explores the conditions when each of H4: Consumers will be more likely to use shopping aids
these shopping aids will be preferred by the consumer. providing general evaluative information when they
Preference heterogeneity refers to the variability in brand perceive that other shoppers have similar (homogeneous)
preferences across consumers. In high heterogeneity rather than different (heterogeneous) preferences.
categories, there is substantial variation, typically due to It is also important to note that a less knowledgeable
differences in attribute weightings across consumers or consumer may not be able to make fine distinctions and
different ideal levels of particular attributes (Feick and may tend to perceive categories as homogeneous (Moorthy
Higie, 1992). In contrast, low heterogeneity indicates that et al., 1997).
consumers have similar preferences, often because they
have similar attribute weightings, brand perceptions, and/
or objectively measurable standards of evaluation. 4. Method
Prior research suggests that personalized recommenda-
tions will be most helpful when consumers have high A study was designed and conducted to test the
preference heterogeneity. For example, the sales manage- hypotheses concerning the consumer’s choice of shopping
ment literature reports that adaptive selling is particularly aids (i.e., expanded selection, additional information,
effective when consumers have heterogeneous preferences personalization, and evaluative information) under the
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conditions of varying purchase need, product category They would be asked to shop for a PDA in an electronics
knowledge, and preference heterogeneity. store and would have the option to use shopping aids in
Design: Data were collected using a consumer survey in their decision making. The advantages and disadvantages
which respondents were asked to view a selection of of using shopping aids were briefly mentioned (i.e., making
products available in the retail store and to use one or more a better decision vs. spending more time in the store) to
shopping aids in their purchase decision making. Several help clarify the available options and reduce confusion. In
personal and situational factors were measured in the addition, respondents were told that they had the option of
study, including purchase need, consumer knowledge, and not making a purchase from the store, as in a real shopping
preference heterogeneity. situation. Finally, respondents were asked to assume that
Subjects: One hundred and twenty-six undergraduate they had been saving for the purchase to control for
students taking an introductory marketing course at a large income effects.
mid-western university participated in the study to receive The survey assessed each respondent’s product knowl-
course credit. edge (using measures adapted from Smith and Park, 1992),
Selection of target product: Based on the results of a need state (knowing or not knowing which brand/model to
series of pretests, Personal Digital Assistants (or PDAs) buy at the outset of the shopping trip) and perceived
were selected as the target product category because (1) the preference heterogeneity (using measures adapted from
category was unfamiliar to most respondents, warranting Feick and Higie, 1992). Respondents then proceeded to
the use of shopping aids, and (2) the products were relevant ‘‘browse’’ the store’s selection of seven brands/models of
and appealing to the student sample. Note that PDAs have PDAs. After reviewing the alternatives, they were in-
various evaluative dimensions that can be incorporated structed to use at least one of four shopping aids described
into the personalization manipulation. Also, pretest on the following page of the survey. To access these aids,
respondents exhibited variation in preference heterogeneity respondents had to come up to the experimenter and
and knowledge for this product category. request a specific booklet. When they finished viewing the
Stimulus materials: A total of seven brands of PDAs contents of one or more shopping aid booklets, respon-
were selected for use in the study, representing the test dents could then request the next part of the survey. (This
store’s product assortment. These were actual brands and procedure was used to ensure that respondents were
models (and associated product information) available on actually exposed to and made use of the information
the market at the time of the study. Each brand description provided by the shopping aids.) This section of the survey
was accompanied by a thumbnail image and included item asked respondents to confirm that they reviewed the
name, price, and a few product feature highlights. requested shopping aid booklet(s) and offered them
The four shopping aids investigated in this study were another opportunity to browse the store selection before
represented by four clearly labeled booklets that respon- proceeding to the final stage of the study.
dents could choose to consult during the shopping trip/ Respondents were then asked if they wanted to purchase
decision-making process: any of the PDAs in the store. If yes, they indicated the
specific brand and model of PDA they would purchase. If
 The booklet for the ‘‘expanded selection’’ condition not, they were asked why and to describe their next steps
contained seven additional products that were not sold (e.g., ‘‘look for additional product alternatives,’’ ‘‘collect
in the store but available for purchase by respondents. more information,’’ ‘‘think further about the purchase
 The booklet for the ‘‘additional information’’ condition decision,’’ etc.). Respondents then assessed the usefulness
contained detailed supplementary product specification of the shopping aid(s) that they had used earlier (using
information for the PDAs sold in the store. measures adapted from Venkatesh and Davis, 2000).
 In the ‘‘personalization’’ condition, a contingency table Finally, measures of satisfaction with the decision process
was provided showing the relationships between pre- were taken (using scales adapted from Westbrook et al.,
ferred features (with explanations) and the correspond- 1978 and Fitzsimons et al., 1995, including the dimensions
ing product recommendations. The specific features of the evaluative process, product selection, and pre-
listed—ease of use, battery life, display, synchroniza- purchase information).
tion, and convenience—were the same dimensions used
by Consumer Reports magazine to evaluate PDAs. 5. Results
 The booklet for the ‘‘evaluative information’’ condition
listed overall product ratings (on a 0–100-point scale) of The following sections (1) provide background informa-
each brand/model in the store, based on Consumer tion on sample characteristics and descriptive statistics on
Reports data. the choice of shopping aids, (2) test the hypotheses
concerning the relationship between respondent character-
Procedures and measures: Each respondent was handed a istics and the use of specific shopping aids, and (3) compare
survey upon arrival at the lab. Respondents were told that the percentage of respondents who purchased, as well as
the purpose of the study was to understand how consumers average decision satisfaction ratings, across the four
make purchase decisions in everyday shopping situations. shopping-aid groups. Note that all measures exhibited
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adequate reliabilities (Cronbach’s a4:70); thus, an average brands were more likely to choose an expanded selection
score was calculated for each latent construct (i.e., product than those who did not have a brand in mind, as predicted
knowledge, preference heterogeneity, usefulness of shop- by H1. The difference in the two statistical tests may be due
ping aid, decision satisfaction; all on nine-point scales). to the observed correlation between product knowledge
Descriptive statistics: Of the 126 participants in the and need specificity (r ¼ :4, po:001). A cross tabulation
study, only 18% (n ¼ 22) owned a PDA. Sixteen percent (with a median split on product knowledge) revealed that
(n ¼ 19) of respondents reported having a desire for a high knowledge respondents were more likely to have a
specific brand while 82% (n ¼ 103) expressed a more specific purchase need, whereas low knowledge respon-
general need. The former group (specific-need respondents) dents tended to have a broad need; w2 ð1Þ ¼ 14:62, po:001.
had a higher level of product category knowledge than the Additional research is necessary to disentangle the effects
latter (M’s ¼ 6:53 vs. 4.29, tð120Þ ¼ 4:79, p ¼ :000). of prior knowledge and need specificity on choice of
Most respondents chose to use only one shopping aid shopping aid. By experimentally manipulating the con-
(74.6%, n ¼ 94), whereas 22% (n ¼ 28) used two shopping sumer’s product category knowledge and need state, one
aids and 3% (n ¼ 4) used three aids. When two or more could measure the independent effects of these variables on
shopping aids were selected, we assumed that these the consumer’s use of an expanded selection.
decisions were independent. Among the four shopping H2 predicted that consumers with high product category
aids, evaluative product information was used most often knowledge would be more likely to select the ‘‘additional
(52.4%), followed by additional product information product information’’ shopping aid than those with low
(29.4%) and personalized product recommendations knowledge. While this relationship was not observed, usage
(29.4%). Expanded selection was used least frequently of additional detailed product information was signifi-
(17.5%). In terms of shopping aid usefulness, all the aids cantly related to preference heterogeneity (Wald statistic
were evaluated favorably and deemed as useful (all greater ð1Þ ¼ 7:02, po:01). Those respondents who considered the
than 7.7 on a nine-point scale). In other words, respondents product category high in preference heterogeneity were
believed that the shopping aid(s) they had used could help more likely to choose to use additional product informa-
them make better purchase decisions in real shopping tion than those who considered the category low in
situations. preference heterogeneity. It appears that when people have
Considering both the store’s product assortment and mixed feelings about products, they are more motivated to
information obtained from the shopping aid(s), 30% ‘‘drill down’’ to understand the details of product
(n ¼ 37) of the respondents decided to delay their purchase. performance.1
Most of them cited ‘‘collect more information’’ (n ¼ 17) The use of personalized product recommendations was
and ‘‘think further about the purchase decision’’ (n ¼ 9) as not found to be significantly associated with any pre-
their next steps for the purchase of a PDA. Only four dictors. Therefore, H3 was not supported. As noted earlier,
respondents said they would ‘‘look for additional product this shopping aid was only used by 29.4% of respondents,
alternatives,’’ and another five respondents offered other perhaps due to the difficulty of working through the
reasons such as price concerns and online research. contingency table of recommendations. Also, Burke (2002)
Modeling choice of shopping aids: A series of logistic reports that some consumers express resistance to the idea
regressions were conducted to identify which factors were of being told which product to buy based on their personal
associated with respondents’ use of a particular shopping information.
aid. Shopping aid choice was modeled as a function of H4 predicted that consumers would be most likely to use
consumer need state, product category knowledge, and evaluative information when they perceived that other
preference heterogeneity. consumers had similar preferences. This prediction was
The first logistic regression revealed that the respon- supported (Wald statistic ð1Þ ¼ 7:33, po:01). Respondents
dent’s level of product knowledge had a significant impact who considered the product category low in preference
on his/her use of the ‘‘expanded selection’’ shopping aid heterogeneity were more likely to choose to use evaluative
(Wald statistic ð1Þ ¼ 9:39, po:01). Consumers with high product information than those who considered the
levels of product knowledge were more likely to explore the category high in preference heterogeneity. The findings
expanded selection than those with limited product knowl- demonstrate that consumers will be most likely to seek out
edge. It appears that consumers must have a sufficient overall product ratings when they believe that others share
understanding of the product category before they are the same evaluative criteria.
willing to take on the task of evaluating a larger set of Overall, respondents who chose to use the aid of
alternatives. additional product information had the highest purchase
While the full regression model did not show a rates (76%), followed by those who used evaluative
significant relationship between consumers’ need specificity information (73%), personalization (68%), or expanded
and the choice of the ‘‘expanded selection’’ shopping aid, a
simple w2 analysis was statistically significant; w2 1
Also note that the correlation between knowledge and preference
ð3Þ ¼ 10:85, p ¼ :013. Those shoppers with a specific heterogeneity measures was :205 ðpo:05Þ. Higher knowledge respondents
brand/model preference and those with a preferred set of tended to consider the product category more heterogeneous.
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selection (67%). Respondents who used additional product used to develop the recommendations. Instead, a con-
information had the highest satisfaction levels (6.36), tingency table was provided.
followed by those who used expanded selection (6.23), Overall, additional product information produced the
evaluative information (6.06), or personalization (5.98). 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
6. Discussion and conclusions ‘‘collect more information’’ as their next step, highlights
the importance of providing additional product informa-
This research demonstrates the importance of consider- tion, particularly in a complex and heterogeneous pre-
ing consumer characteristics when designing a retail store ference product category.
and selecting shopping aids to enhance the customer This research can be extended in several ways. First,
experience. These aids have the potential to overcome retailers are concerned about the impact of retail shopping
obstacles at various stages of the shopping process (e.g., aids on consumer behavior and store loyalty. Future
insufficient product information, difficulty in evaluating research should explore the relationship between the use of
alternatives, limited product assortment), thereby increas- retail shopping aids and purchase conversion, decision
ing purchase conversion rate. However, consumers are satisfaction, and future shopping intentions. Second,
unlikely to use these tools unless they are tailored to alternative research designs should incorporate actual
shoppers’ unique characteristics and requirements (product shopping situations and shopping aids to gather real-world
category knowledge, need states, and preference hetero- consumer data and confirm the findings from the
geneity). This research thus contributes to our under- laboratory experiment. Longitudinal studies may be
standing of consumer choice of retail shopping aids and conducted to investigate the long-term effects of installing
has practical implications for retailers regarding the in-store shopping aids on various dependent measures (e.g.,
effectiveness of shopping aids in various situations. sales, return on investment, service and merchandise
The empirical findings showed that overall product quality perception, shopping experience costs). Finally, it
ratings were the most popular shopping aid, probably would be useful to investigate how the shopping aid
because they provided simple performance information for adoption decision in the retail store is affected by such
the available set of brands, directly connecting consumers’ factors as the consumer’s attitude toward technology,
goals with desired outcomes. At the other extreme, the trialability, complexity, and situational influences.
expanded selection was the least popular option, perhaps In conclusion, with the prevalence of retail shopping
because it increased decision complexity in an already aids, both low- and high-tech, manufacturers and retailers
challenging category. are challenged to take full advantage of their capabilities
As predicted, the results indicated that evaluative for enhancing the customer experience and purchase
information had the greatest appeal when preference conversion. This study demonstrates that consumer beha-
heterogeneity was low. In addition, low preference hetero- vior research can help to identify which shopping aids
geneity was associated with low product knowledge. Thus, consumers will be most likely to use and benefit from in
consumers were most interested in having access to overall specific situations.
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 Acknowledgment
knowledge consumers, who tended to have a specific
purchase need. It appears that expertise had the effect of The authors gratefully acknowledge the support of
mitigating information overload brought about by ex- Indiana University’s Center for Education and Research
panded selection. Prior research suggests that, if indivi- in Retailing. The paper has also benefited from the
duals do not know what they are specifically looking for, comments and suggestions of the reviewers.
an excessive assortment may actually cause frustration and
have detrimental consequences for motivation (Huffman
and Kahn, 1998; Iyengar and Lepper, 2000). References
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