The relationship between physiological product characteristics and consumer quality perception was at the heart of market-oriented product development: In order to design products which will be accepted by consumers, it was necessary to translate consumer demands into proÂduct specifications that were actionable from the produÂcer's point of view. This relationship was especially complicated because the way consumers perceive expected quality before a purchase was often difÂferent from the way quality was perceived after consumpÂtion, and may be related to various physiological product characteristics.
The symbolic meaning of products had become increasingly important. Nowadays, differentiating products based on their technical functions or quality was difficult (Dumaine, 1991; Veryzer, 1995). Since the wave of the quality controls in the 1980s, products can be expected to fulfill their functions reasonably well. Symbolic meaning provides another way to be attributed. Due to symbolic meaning, otherwise, indistinguishable products become differentiated in the eyes of the consumer. Similarly Salzer-MoÂ¨rling and StrannegaËšrd (2004) recently stated:
Due to its increasing relevance, many articles had investigated the symbolic meaning of products. The range of topics studied was very broad, varying from the cultural meaning of products (e.g. Kleine et al., 1993; McCracken, 1986), semiotics of consumption (e.g. Holman, 1981; Mick, 1986), products as tools for self-expression (e.g. Belk, 1988; Prentice, 1987), and impression formation based on possessions (e.g. Belk, 1978; Dittmar and Pepper, 1994; Gosling et al., 2002).
A little Part of this literature was somehow specifically concerned with the use of personality related concepts, such as brand personality (Aaker, 1997; Biel, 1993), and product-user image (Sirgy, 1982; Sirgy et al., 1997; Sirgy et al., 2000). Parts of the symbolic meaning of products were captured by these concepts. However, some of the symbolic meaning had not been accounted for. Brand personality refers to "the set of human personality characteristics associated with a brand" (Aaker, 1997) and the product-user image reflects the stereotypical image of users of a product class or brand (Sirgy et al., 1997). Yet, the physical product itself also carries symbolic meaning.
That part of the symbolic meaning that refers to the physical product itself and was described with human personality characteristics was called product personality (Jordan, 1997, 2000). In order to avoid confusion between "brand" and "product", we use the term "product variant" instead of "product" to refer to a single physical product. A product variant was defined as "a distinctive unit contained by a brand or good line that was discernible by size, cost or facade", while a brand was described as "the name, related with one or other items in the good line that was used to classify the source or quality of the items" (Kotler, 1997, p. 432). In accordance, product personality was defined as the profile of human personality characteristics that people use to describe a specific product variant and to discriminate it from others (Govers, 2004). The qualities of a product variant that were described with personality characteristics cannot be reduced to a single tangible attribute. Product personality was a high-level description of the product variant as a whole and was strongly influenced by product appearance (Govers et al., 2004). It was what designers refer to as "character" (Janlert and Stolterman, 1997). The most notable difference between brand personality and product personality was that product personality was product variant specific. It was less abstract than brand personality and directly related the product itself.
The relevance of product personality stems from the fact that brands often feature product variants in a great variety of appearances and thus create differentiation within a brand. As a consequence, consumers do not only choose for a brand, also choose for a specific product variant. Moreover, companies not only had to make marketing decisions at the level brands, also had to decide at the level of product variants. During product development, companies manipulate characteristics s of the product variant in order to increase consumer preference.
While this had been acknowledged repeatedly in the literature (e.g. Grunert et al., 1996; Poulsen et al., 1996; Steenkamp and van Trijp, 1996), despite the obvious practical consequences of better knowledge on how phyÂsiological product characteristics and quality perception before purchase and after consumption interact, research shedding light on this issue had been very sparse.
Taste was considered as one of the prime aspects of product characteristics in food industry. The study by Steenkamp and van Trijp (1996) combined physiological product characteristics, quality cues and quality criteria. Six physiological characteristics were measured, some of them by several indicators: colour, fatness, pH value, water-binding capacity, and shear force and sarcoma length. Eight quality cue measures were combined into three latent constructs: freshness, visible fat and appearÂance, which together determined quality expectations. Likewise, seven quality criteria measures were comÂbined into three latent constructs: tenderness, non-meat components and flavor, which together determined quality experience. The main results were as follows:
colour had a significant impact on quality expectaÂtions only
fatness had a negative impact on quality expectaÂtions and a positive impact on quality experience
water-binding capacity, sarcomere length and pH value had an effect on both quality expectations and quality experience
shear force affects quality experience only
there was no significant relationship between quality expectation and quality performance.
Information about the product attributes plays a vital role in consumers' product evaluation process. For most product evaluations, only partial information was available, thus consumers often form evaluations for various products on the basis of the available information and form attribute covariance inferences about the missing information (Pechmann and Ratneshwar, 1992; Ross and Creyer, 1992).
A shortcoming of the product attribute covariance studies by Elliott and Roach (1991; 1993) was that the subjects were not provided with any information about the products that were asked to rate. With the absence of any product specific information, the subjects in the Elliott and Roach (1991; 1993) studies were not afforded possible inference indicators for the product performance. To better understand how consumers evaluate products prior to choice, the effects of relevant, yet incomplete, product information received prior to the product ratings should be considered. The relevancy of product information was defined here as the consumer's information that was useful for the product ratings tasks.
When exposed to new information, people may resist changing their long-term memory attribute covariance beliefs (Shweder, 1980; 1982). However, were likely to use available relevant information to make more discerning attribute covariance inferences, which in turn increase the accuracy of their overall attribute evaluations (Kozlowski and Mongillo, 1992).
2.4 Product Usage
Although it was generally accepted that prior expectation does influÂence usage and performance, there was considerable uncertainty regarding the nature of its impact. Anderson (1973) suggests that there were at least three theories concerning the relationship between expectations and product satÂisfaction. Empirical studies on the relationship between expectation and product usage and performance had generated inconsistent results with exÂpectation being shown to had positive, negative and no effect on performÂance (for a brief review see Kristensen, et al., 1999). In part, this was due to complexity of expectation as a concept (researchers had differing concepÂtualisations) and the difficulty of capturing it empirically (Gronroos, 1993; Cronin and Taylor, 1992; Kristensen, et al., 1999. Kristensen, et al., (1999, p.602) observes that expectation was such a complex concept that it was hard to achieve reliable and valid measures.
One of the important characteristics s that can be concluded from the various academic domains which were interested in usage, performance, satisfaction and brand switching behavior was that there was a reciprocal relationship beÂtween the object and the person. Within the paradigm of marketing, the litÂerature on loyalty contains a number of models. Dick and Basu (1994) observe that empirically those models use various combinations of satisfacÂtion, quality, performance, involvement and switching costs as variables. Gremler (1995) suggests that the marketing oriented models join together the literature on performance, consumer satisfaction, quality and brand loyalty. Railey et al (2001) observe that the models represent dispositional apÂproaches to loyalty which follows the line that evidence of the depositional variables within the model come from their ability to predict behavioral inÂtentions. According to Reichheld (1996), what keeps customers loyal was the value receive and one of the reasons so many businesses fail was that too much of their learning revolves around profit and too little around value creaÂtion. Piercy (1997), states that the harsh truth was that value was not created in the factory or the back office; customer value exists only on the customer's terms and reflects the customer's priorities and preferences. Shukla (2001) conÂfirms the same by noting that how a company perceives its performance may differ from how its customers perceive it. In fact, discrepancies between company's perceptions and customers would not be at all unusual; a comÂpany routinely encounters such discrepancies when interviewing its service staff as well as its customers. So, even if the company was working itself to the proverbial bone, if customers view it as unresponsive, then it was unresponsive - in their eyes. The reverse was also true: If the company was really unresponsive, but customers perceive it to be delivering superior service, then the company will do (in their eyes). This view was not advocating bumble headed service, of course, but merely emphasizing that customer satisfaction was driven by cusÂtomers' perceptions. Their perceptions were their reality, and any overlap beÂtween their view of the world and of a company's own may be simply one of those delightful coincidences.
In general, product classification was the pre-requisite of product characteristics. Tangibility and intangibility were two major characteristics that were frequently used to describe a product or service (Rayport and Sviokla, 1995; Peterson et al., 1997; Koppius, 1999; Poon and Joseph, 2000; Phau and Poon, 2000). As a result, product classification, product quality, price, packaging and taste etc, were considered as predominant characteristics of product needs to be studied.
2.5 Consumer Characteristics
When developing a product, insight into what characteristics of the product were most important to consumers was useful. This helps ensuring that the resulting product design fits to and communicates the characteristics that were important to consumers. For example, when aesthetic value was most important to consumers, efforts should be taken to make sure that consumers find the product looking attractive. However, when ease of use was important for consumers, attention should be paid to make sure that operation was clear and easy and that the appearance of the product does not look complex. Of course focus on one characteristic does not mean that other characteristics s can be neglected. However, the optimal design for one characteristic may conflict with the design that best suits other characteristics. Buttons in a contrasting color may contribute to the ease of use of a clock radio, while at the same time diminishing the aesthetic attractiveness of the product. Therefore, in developing a product, it will be beneficial to focus on the product characteristics that were most important for consumers in buying the product. In order to do so, knowledge about the importance consumers attach to different product characteristics s was needed. The importance of certain product characteristics s in buying durable products differs with demographic characteristics, such as gender, age, and social class (see, e.g. Henry, 2002; Holt, 1998; Williams, 2002). For example, younger people pay more attention to expressive product characteristics s than older people (Henry, 2002). Insight into differences in product characteristics importance with demographic characteristics such as age, gender, education and income, will be of practical utility to product managers. In addition, this knowledge was useful for attuning marketing communication to specific target audiences (see Henry, 2002).
In prior studies, associations between the significance of functional and self-expressive product characteristics and demographic variables such as gender, age and social class had been point out (see, e.g. Henry, 2002; Holt, 1998). However, within these general categories of functional and expressive product characteristics s, more specific characteristics s can be distinguished. Knowledge of the relation of demographic variables to these specific product characteristics was more useful for product development purposes. More specific functional product characteristics were functionalities, quality and ease of use (see, e.g. Holbrook et al., 1986). More specific expressive product characteristics s were aesthetic and symbolic characteristics s (see, e.g. Mittal, 1988; Ratchford, 1987). Relations with demographic variables may differ for the specific product characteristics s within the more general expressive and functional categories. For example, older people may attach more importance to ease of use, but not to quality, even though these were both functional characteristics s. Therefore, our study focuses on the relation of demographic variables with the importance of this more specific product characteristics s: aesthetic characteristics s, symbolic characteristics s, functionalities, quality and ease of use. Knowledge of these relations will help companies to better adjust product designs to consumer preference.
Williams (2002) looked into the relation of demographics with more specific purchase evaluation criteria (see Table I). Several of these criteria concerned extrinsic product characteristics s, such as price, warranty and well-known brand name (these were between brackets in Table I). In our study, we focus on product characteristics s that plays a role in physical product design. Criteria investigated by Williams (2002) that concern intrinsic product characteristics s were performance, durability and reliability (which were both dimensions of quality, see Brucks et al. 2000), and style/appearance. Ease of use was not included in William's study, and style/appearance can be important for both aesthetic and symbolic reasons.
2.5.1 Demographic variables and product characteristics importance
The expectations for the relation between the product characteristics identified above - aesthetic, symbolic, functionalities, quality and ease of use - and the demographic variables gender, age, education and income was formulated over there. An overview of the most important studies concerning the relation between purchase motivation or purchase criteria and demographic variables can be seen in Table I.
2.5.2 Gender and product characteristics importance
Concerning the influence of gender on the importance of certain product characteristics s, the following findings were found in the literature. Henry (2002) found that males use more functional purchase criteria than females. Williams (2002), who had respondents indicate the importance of several evaluative criteria for nine types of products, found that performance, durability and reliability (i.e. quality), and style/ appearance were more important to females. Research into object attachment shows that males, more often, indicate functional items that were valued for their instrumental value as their favorite possessions. On the other hand, females mention items for which beauty and notions of prestige (i.e. expressive characteristics s) were important (Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton, 1981; Wallendorf and Arnould, 1988). Dittmar et al. (1995) found that in impulse buying, men tend to buy instrumental items, even as women are liable to buy emblematic and self-expressive products concerned with manifestation and emotional characteristics s of self. Furthermore, Smith (1995) found females to be more sensitive to the color of an electronic scanner than males, which points to more attention to aesthetic characteristics.
These literature findings lead to the following expectations. Concerning the expressive characteristics, females pay more attention to aesthetic and symbolic product characteristics in making a purchase decision. Based on the findings listed above, the expectations for functionalities were not clear. Most of the findings point to a higher importance of functionalities for males, although Williams (2002) found performance (expected functionality) to be more important for females. There was no previous research available on the relation between gender and importance of ease of use, so our study will be the first to look into this relation. In accordance with the findings of Williams (2002), females attach more importance to quality.
2.5.3 Age and product characteristics importance
The following findings concerning the relation between age and importance of certain product characteristics s were reported in the literature. Henry (2002) found that younger people use more expressive purchase criteria. In addition, in research into object attachment, Wallendorf and Arnould (1988) found younger people to focus more on hedonic pleasures in choosing their favorite objects. Hsieh et al. (2004) found that older people were more sensitive to utilitarian brand image characteristics s. However, Wallendorf and Arnould (1988) found older people less likely to choose functional as opposed to display items as favorite possessions. This seems to indicate an importance of symbolic value in buying products. However, these possessions had symbolic value for older people as represent something from their history (Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton, 1981; Wallendorf and Arnould, 1988), which was something different than buying a product because it portrays a certain image to others. One could expect older people to pay more attention to ease of use, as may had more problems dealing with complex operation. For in getting older, cognitive abilities such as working memory capacity, symbol and language comprehension diminish (Rousseau et al., 1998).
Based on these findings, younger people pay more attention to aesthetic and symbolic product characteristics than older people. However, older people pay more attention to utilitarian characteristics in buying durable products.
2.5.4 Education and product characteristics importance
The relation between education and importance of product characteristics was not directly investigated in previous studies. However, education was often included in determining social class (Holt, 1998; Williams, 2002). Determination of social class was often impractical for managers, since it requires extensive and detailed information. Therefore we look at education, which was a good predictor for social class (Williams, 2002). Our study assesses whether findings for social class also apply to education alone.
People of lower social class were found to use more functional, practical purchase criteria (Henry, 2002), and to value goods more for functional and practical reasons (Holt, 1998). For example, according to lower social class informants, home furnishings must be comfortable, functional, durable and easy to care for (Holt, 1998). Higher social class people use more expressive purchase criteria, pertaining to taste and self-expression (Henry, 2002; Holt, 1998). Williams (2002) found an increasing importance of both functional and expressive purchase criteria with social class, but for socially significant products only. Many of the products used by Henry (2002) and Holt (1998), such as clothing and furnishings, are socially significant, so their findings on the expressive characteristics s agree with Williams (2002). However, their findings concerning importance of functional characteristics s differ with those of Williams.
Based on the findings above, an influence of education on product characteristics importance was highlighted. For socially significant products only, more highly educated people will pay more attention to aesthetic and symbolic product characteristics. There was no clear expectation for functional characteristics; Henry (2002) and Holt (1998) found a negative relation between social class and importance of functional product characteristics, while Williams (2002) found a positive relationship.
2.5.5 Income and product characteristics importance
Although somewhat surprising, studies suggest that income level does not associate highly with social class (Williams, 2002; Coleman, 1983). Therefore we look at income level independently. There was little research about the relation of income to the importance of various evaluative criteria (Williams, 2002). Williams found a negative correlation between income and the importance of utilitarian purchase criteria, especially for less socially relevant products. Therefore, it was expected that higher income leads to less importance of functional characteristics and will assess whether this goes for functionalities as well as quality and ease of use. Williams (2002) did not find a relation between income and importance of expressive characteristics. It will be assessed whether this goes for both aesthetic and symbolic characteristics and whether it generalizes to another country, using a more differentiated set of products.
Furthermore, numerous studies had identified consumer value consciousness as a strong predictor of private brand purchase (Burton et al., 1998; Garretson et al., 2002; Glemet and Mira, 1993; Jin and Suh, 2005; Richardson et al., 1996). The improved quality and image of private label products appeals to a segment of value-conscious consumers (Davis et al., 1986; Martell, 1986; McGoldrick, 1984; Patti and Fisk, 1982). Value consciousness was defined as a concern for price paid relative to quality received (Lichtenstein et al., 1993). Based on the consistent support for the strong effect of value consciousness reported in the literature, our study also explores whether the effects of product characteristics on private brand purchase vary by consumer level of value consciousness.
Despite the obvious importance of detecting the general product and store attributes that influence consumer decisions, related research suggests that the importance of specific criteria may be partially determined by the demographic characteristics of the consumers. This may lead to heterogeneous preferences that vary over people with different demographic profiles. For example, Tigert et al. (1992) had concluded that warehouse club members were distinctly "upscale from the general population", while Stone (1995) found that the demographics of warehouse club members and supermarket shoppers differ significantly. Also, Arnold (1997) provided empirical evidence that the demographic profile of consumers who shop at the large format stores was different from the profile of the non-shoppers.
Individual difference traits had been classified into demographic/socioeconomic factors and consumer personality traits (Schaninger and Sciglimpaglia, 1981). Demographic/socioeconomic factors had long been used to profile consumer groups because firms can present more precise adjustment of service and marketing related with specific target-market segments. For example, given that early adopters of new technology products were generally young and male consumers (Lu et at, 2003), marketers can portray a situation where young people or males actively use new technology products in advertisements. In addition to demographic factors, consumer personality traits notably influence the adoption of SST (Dabholkar, 1996; Meuter et al. 2005). Previous studies had examined a variety of consumer traits, such as technology anxiety, self-efficacy, novelty seeking, and need for interaction, as the antecedents of consumer adoption of SST (Dabholkar and Bagozzi, 2002; Elliott and Hall, 2005; Meuter et al, 2005). Understanding how individual differences in consumer characteristics influence the adoption of retail self-checkouts may help retailers determine whether to install retail self-checkouts, to which type of consumer was prone to use such options, and how to appeal to different consumer groups.
Recently, Kim and Jin (2001) compared the profiles of the domestic versus the multinational discount store shoppers. Except for group differences in terms of occupation, data analysis had not shown any significant differences between the two groups of shoppers with respect to age, family size, income and education.
In the US market, the average price of private brands was 26 per cent lower than manufacturer brands (ACNielsen, 2005). Private brands, particularly in the USA, had been promoted as low-price alternatives, which had been reflected in consumer perceptions of private brand products and in the characteristics associated with private brand consumers. Private brands used to be perceived as inferior to national brands, and perceived as being poor quality, having poor packaging, and lacking brand recognition (Cunningham et al. 1982; Dick et al., 1995). Consumers of private brands had been profiled as financially constrained, highly price conscious, and not very quality conscious (Ailawadi et al., 2001; Baltas, 1997). Quality consciousness had thus, in the past, deterred consumers from purchasing private brands, because private brands were perceived as inferior in quality (Cunningham et al., 1982; Myers, 1967). These studies imply that private brand consumers buy products for low price, despite low quality. Low price alone, however, may not account for consumer choice of private brands. If low price itself was the predictor of private brand sales, there should be a direct correlation between price variances and the market share of private brands. However, the product categories that had the largest share - such as refrigerated and frozen food, paper products, and plastic bags/wraps - had the smallest price differential (ACNielsen, 2005).
Consumer private brand quality perceptions had been improving and were now close to those of national brands; the stigma attached to private brands as poor quality was thus disappearing (Fitzell, 1992; Quelch and Harding, 1996). Burt (2000) argued that private brands had evolved from an inferior quality product substitute for a lesser price in the 1970s and 1980s to a true quality brand alternative. In fact, North American retailers had been introducing private brands that sell at a slightly lower price and offer quality that matches or exceeds national brand quality. Furthermore, successful European retailers had expanded private brands beyond a price-point, and had focused on consumer demand for premium quality brands and health-focused alternatives (ACNielsen, 2005).
Consequently, it was evident from the foregoing discussion that the simultaneous examination of product characteristics as well as the demographic characteristics of the consumers will considerably increase understanding of consumer behavior and thus provide empirically determined insights for design of segmentation and marketing strategies.
2.6 Sales Promotion
According to Shimp (2003), sales promotion pertains to those incentive used by a corporation to encourage the trade - wholesalers, merchants, and further channel members - or customers to purchase a product and to induce the sales force to insistently sell it. Retailers too use promotional incentives to induce desired behaviors from consumers. Sales promotion was more of a short-term oriented and capable of influencing behavior. Totten and Block (1994) affirmed that the term sales promotion pertains to many types of selling incentives and techniques prone to produce instant or short-term sales effects. Classic sales promotion entails tokens, samples, in-pack first-class, price-offs, put on show, and so forth.
A large literature of research upon consumer responses towards sales endorsements (e.g. Blattberg and Neslin, 1990; Bawa and Shoemaker, 1987 and 1989; Huff and Alden, 1998; Leone and Srinivasan, 1996) had amassed over the past few periods due to the mounting importance of this marketing lever.
Over the last few decades sales promotion had become of great interest to researchers. This had been said; however, research studies had focused on some tools of sales promotion, such as price reductions and couponing, and had put little emphasis on others. One particularly important promotional tool that was largely ignored in the literature was product sampling (Bawa and Shoemaker, 2004; Heiman et al. 2001). Commenting on the lack of research on product sampling Bawa and Shoemaker (2004) conclude:
Although usage of free samples appears to be high compared with usage of other consumer promotions such as coupons alone, little was currently known about the brand and consumer characteristics that were related to this behavior. Clearly more studies on product sampling were needed to identify its determinants and understand its effects on sales, purchase intentions, free samples trial and brand image.