Store format choice behavior for planned purchases – a case of bulk grocery
Anand, Kamaljit S.
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Store format choice is recognized as a significant and relatively long term decision for retailers as well as the consumers. The thesis studies this choice decision from consumer perspective in a planned purchase situation like bulk grocery shopping and conceptualizes it in a deterministic attitude-behavior framework. The thesis further evaluates the role of affect vis-à-vis cognition in impacting behavior and explores the impact of consumer involvement on attitude behavior linkage. Affect is the feeling based global measure of Attitude which in this study is treated independent of Cognition, the beliefs based evaluative component of attitude that has been captured as net cost-benefit valence. The consumer involvement has been captured as a composite of involvement with the product category as well as shopping as an activity. Such utilization of net involvement, affect and net valence in an attitude behavior framework would be a new contribution to the attitude behavior as well as store format choice literature. The study utilizes the deterministic construct from Theory of Planned Behavior, which establishes attitude-behavior mediation through intention and the role of subjective norm and perceived behavioral control in a subject’s willingness or ability to carry out a behavior. A strong subjective norm would mean that social group approval is important in the context of the given behavior while a strong perceived behavioral control would mean a good control or relative ease in the ability to perform the desired action. One of the main findings of the work is that the store format choice for a given purchase incidence is primarily driven by the global assessment of the format rather than an elaborate multi level evaluation. However, as different formats are in different stages of evolution or consumer’s evaluation hierarchy, one observes different roles of affect and cognition across formats and there is merit in treating the two components of attitude separately. In general, affect emerges as a more significant driver of behavior than cognition indicating that consumers operationalize the feeling based component of attitude more strongly than the beliefs based component even in a planned behavioral situation like store format choice. This indicates that a good part of the consumer decision making is based on the global cues and therefore the marketers can create favorable consumer attitude through generically positive communication rather than a heavily utilitarian message alone. The communication addressing both types of cues may have a more comprehensive impact on decision making. The cue processing mechanism may actually follow a two tier process in which new cues or newer formats may initially go through the evaluation phase and hence cognitive cues may be more impactful as evaluative attitude component played a significant role in the case of hypermarkets. The formats which would have already gone through this cycle may just require affective cues to impact decision making. The results also show that net involvement plays a significant role in the attitude-behavior linkage, suggesting that the products and services offered by a retail format may be aligned with the type and level of involvement of its customers. The study showed that that intention to use a store format is a good predictor of actual use of the format. The relationship between attitude and behavior is mediated strongly by behavioral intention in the studied planned purchase situation. In such scenario where the impulsive choice of store format is likely to be minimal, a favorable attitude is likely to translate into the desired action much more effectively. It may be interesting to determine the strength of this attitude behavior relationship in impulse purchase situations. Perceived behavioral control also plays a significant role in impacting behavior. It was found so for Internet and discount stores where the perceived ability to access the store may have been low. It had the least impact in the case of regular kirana stores indicating a high volitional control. Past experience seemed to have a significant impact only in the case of internet customers, where intention is not the most significant driver of actual behavior indicating role of barriers and lesser role of planning in the internet purchase of groceries. The hypothesis that involvement has a process (shopping) as well as object association (grocery as a category) was also supported and the net involvement showed a positive impact on store format choice, although literature in general has described grocery as a low involvement category. Store format choice being a long term decision and consumer’s association of risks with bulk grocery shopping may have played a role in establishing this impact of involvement. The internet customers showed no involvement either with shopping or the category, which indicates an indifferent or a highly goal-oriented purchase behavior. An e-tailer as a result may need to determine the specific goal of its customers and respond to it by aligning its value proposition and services in accordance. In case of other formats like hypermarket and kirana, where the customer involvement is high, it becomes imperative for the retailer to enrich the process part of the bulk grocery purchase through better in-store experience and the object part through a focused emphasis on the category or good merchandising practices. A key contribution of this thesis has been the development and testing of a comprehensive framework for understanding the store format choice through attitude behavior relationship. The importance of including involvement and net valence in the framework gets well justified in this study. The research looks at format level choices instead of store level choices as mostly reported in the literature and also integrates physical and virtual store formats in a single study. The study is likely to have relevance for the early stage retail evolution in emerging economies.
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