New study examines information source usage and purchase satisfaction.

If you have bought a car recently, you doubtless recognize the experience as a prime example of a big consumer purchase decision—one that motivates most people to search various information sources before buying.

Anthony D. Miyazaki

Marketers and advertisers concerned with effective media planning always are keen to learn which types of information sources have the most influence on a final purchase decision—and which make the greatest impact on purchase satisfaction.

Research conducted by Anthony D. Miyazaki, Knight Ridder research professor, Department of Marketing, College of Business Administration, and a colleague from industry, sheds light on the topic, specifically in the context of product-focused print media.

“We found that while the majority of research on consumer information gathering focuses on the amount of searching, very little has examined the types of sources people look at to get information,” Miyazaki said. “Our study concentrated on investigating source usage and its consequences. We chose the automobile purchase process because it represents a significant purchase of a ubiquitous durable good to which most people can relate.”

Study focuses on two types of print media and two aspects of information acquisition.

According to Miyazaki, the study incorporates two types of national, product-focused magazines as information sources: advertiser-supported automotive magazines, such as Car and Driver, where information is presented as either editorial content or advertising; and non-advertiser-supported magazines, such as Consumer Reports, that dedicate particular sections or issues to auto buying.

“We employed two aspects of information acquisition,” he said. “The first—information access—relates to how available information is or, more specifically, how readily the consumer perceives it to be available. The second—information comprehension—reveals how much the consumer actually learns or benefits from that information. Language skills, education, and economics are among the key consumer demographic characteristics that play key roles in determining and predicting the use of information sources.”

Taking it to the streets: survey poses real questions to real people.

To collect data for their study, the researchers used a tried-and-true survey method: interviewing people on the street.

“We developed an extensive survey with questions geared to our target consumer audience—real people who recently purchased a car,” Miyazaki said.

The approach proved effective. Of the 275 individuals surveyed who were current automobile owners, the interviewers collected 209 usable surveys for an effective response rate of 79 percent.

They constructed the survey to measure the extent to which respondents were satisfied with their purchases at the time they bought their cars and after they conducted any post-purchase information searches. Responses were rated on a seven-point scale, ranging from “extremely dissatisfied” to “extremely satisfied.”

To measure search effectiveness, for example, respondents indicated whether or not they believed they would have purchased a different car if they had used alternative information sources.

Results confirm importance of information source usage in purchase decisions.

The research indicates that by considering information access and comprehension, marketers and others can make determinations about how particular demographic characteristics affect the use of specific information sources related to automobile purchases.

“We learned that non-advertiser periodicals had a strong effect on purchase satisfaction, on product satisfaction, and on choice efficiency,” Miyazaki said. “Our study indicates that creating an information access and comprehension framework can aid marketers in evaluating communication programs to determine if people are likely to use their pre-selected information channel. It also can show how they can make provisions to increase consumers’ access to and comprehension of currently used information sources.”

The findings of the study appeared in the Journal of Advertising Research, a leading journal for marketers, advertisers, and media planners. Titled “Information Source Usage and Purchase Satisfaction: Implications for Product-Focused Print Media,” the article was co-authored by Miyazaki and Laura L. Pingol, national account representative, Communication Technology Acquisition Partners (CTAP).

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