Since 2005, Korean apparel market has been recovering from the recession period, reaching to 24.5 trillion dollars of the apparel market size of Korea in 2009 (KAIA 2010). As a public interest in recreational activities and health is growing, the demand for knitwear products is also increasing (Hong et al. 2002). According to the recent report of KAIA (Korean Apparel Industry Association 2010), the amount of consumed and imported knitwear products is increasing as a 6.6% consumption growth and a 3.7% import growth while the amount of produced and export knitwear products is decreasing as a 7.2% production decline and a 12.8% export decline between 2005 and 2009. The previous research relevant to knitwear products in Korean apparel market includes the analysis of knitwear designer’s artworks, knit patternmaking, knit brand, attribute evaluation, and consumption pattern (Han and Kim 2000; Lee et al. 2007). Regarding the emerging demand of knitwear, there is a clear need to explore consumer evaluation process of knitwear products.
Evaluative criteria are important to understand consumer evaluation process and choices (Forney et al. 2005). Eckman et al. (1990) suggest that researchers need to examine the effect of multiple criteria at making purchase decision as the cognitive process of product evaluation. They can provide valuable information to manufacturers and marketers because they reflect underlying consumer values, attitudes, knowledge, experience, and various psychological, sociological, and economic influences (Forney et al. 2005). Evaluative criteria vary by purchase situation (Dickson 1982), the nature of alternatives evaluated (Corfman 1991), involvement level (Gensch and Javagli 1987), knowledge level (Lee and Park 2006a), age (Han and Kim 2000), and ethnicity (Jin et al. 2010).
Involvement has frequently been discussed with consumer attitudes or evaluations in prior research (Lee and Park 2006a; Swoboda et al. 2009). Involvement is an important issue in fashion apparel because it describes a symbolic consumption area for consumers (O’Cass 2000). Individuals purchase clothing for more than functional performance (e.g., warmth or protection), for example, to express their social status and personality. How involved consumers become in their clothing provides understanding of the dynamics of consumer behavior (O’Cass 2000); involvement of an individual affects both emotional and cognitive processes (Park et al. 2007b). Though influence of involvement on consumer behavioral dynamics is confirmed, there is still a lack of consensus in determining the role of involvement. Involvement has been found as an antecedent, for example, a variable influencing knowledge and evaluative criteria (Lee and Park 2006a) and having a positive effect on perception of brand status and brand attitude (O’Cass and Choy 2008). However, involvement has also been discusses as a moderator, for instance, a variable influencing the relationships between perceived retailer attributes and retailer brand equity (Swoboda et al. 2009) and between customer satisfaction and loyalty (Suh and Yi 2006). Thus, there is a need to investigate the role of involvement as both a moderator and an antecedent, a mediator, and to examine which one better explains the role of involvement.
Regarding product attribute evaluation, especially for knitwear, Han and Kim (2000) studied knitwear evaluation criteria with information searching behavior when buying knitwear. Park et al. (2007a) also examined differences in knit product evaluation criteria according to consumer gender, age, and interest and their purchasing behavior. However, there is little research on knitwear involvement and attribute evaluation or evaluative criteria in Korean apparel market. Lee and Park (2006a) examined product attribute evaluation criteria with objective knowledge, subjective knowledge, and apparel involvement of Korean consumers, but they examined a general category of clothing, not focused on a specific category of clothing, for example, knitwear.
Regarding the continuous demand and importance of knitwear market in Korean apparel industry, there is a clear need to examine product evaluation criteria, especially for knitwear products. In the previous literature, involvement was found as one of the most influential variable to explain product evaluation or evaluative criteria (Lee and Park 2006a; Swoboda et al. 2009). Thus, knitwear involvement was specifically investigated in the present study to identify the role of consumer involvement in explaining product evaluative criteria. Also, considering the dearth of an itemized study especially in the knitwear segment, an endeavor to explore the relationships among knitwear involvement, evaluative criteria, and consumer responses will enhance our understanding of consumer behavior in the knitwear context. In addition, regarding the lack of consensus in role of involvement, there is a need to examine the role of involvement as an antecedent and a moderator. Accordingly, the purpose of this study is to identify the role of knitwear involvement on evaluative criteria and consumer responses (e.g., satisfaction and dissatisfaction) to knitwear products. To accomplish this purpose, two models are tested employing involvement variable as an antecedent and a moderator. First, a theoretical framework is developed to examine knitwear involvement as an antecedent of evaluative criteria, satisfaction, and dissatisfaction. Second, knitwear involvement is examined as a moderator affecting the relationships among evaluative criteria, satisfaction, and dissatisfaction.
Involvement refers to “a construct linked to the interaction between an individual and an object” or “the relative strength of the consumers’ cognitive structure related to a focal object (e.g., products)” (O’Cass 2000). In the context of fashion, involvement is defined as “the extent to which the consumer views the related fashion activities as central part of their life” (O’Cass and Choy 2008, p. 342). Previous literature discussed the existence of various types of involvement (O’Cass and Choy 2008). Consumers can be involved in various objects such as products, advertisements (or communication) for the product, purchase decision, consumption, and brand decision (O’Cass 2000; O’Cass and Choy 2008). O’Cass (2000) proposed four types of involvement; product involvement, purchase decision involvement, advertising involvement, consumption involvement, and a higher order construct of these four, called consumer involvement. Involvement can also be classified as either situational or enduring (Huang 2006; Lee et al. 2005). Involvement with the product has been classified as enduring in nature (Mittal 1989), but O’Cass (2000) noted that the degree of the involvement changes as a result of interaction with a stimulus or the environment, which can be classified as situational (O’Cass 2000). In the present study, to focus on a consumer-knitwear relationship, knitwear involvement refers to the overall profile of involvement in knitwear products perceived by consumers, which is enduring, not changing by a situation or environment in a short period of time.
When comparing and assessing alternatives, consumers use evaluative criteria as the specifications or standards to make a decision (Forney et al. 2005). Evaluative criteria are defined as “the particular dimensions or attributes that are used in judging the choice alternatives” (Engel et al. 1995, p. 208). Clothing researchers frequently examined evaluative criteria (Eckman et al. 1990). Their categories and classifications vary by a purchase situation (Dickson 1982), the nature of alternatives evaluated (Corfman 1991), involvement level (Gensch and Javagli 1987), and individual differences and environmental influences (Eckman et al. 1990). Evaluative criteria previously examined by researchers include price, style, quality, design, size/fit, color, fabric, coordination with other clothing, comfort, pattern, pleasantness to others, appropriateness, brand name, and country of origin (Eckman et al. 1990; Hsu, and Burns 2002; Jin et al. 2010; Lee and Park 2006a; Ong et al. 2010).
However, there are common factors measuring evaluative criteria across products, consumers, and retail stores. Previous research classified evaluative criteria as intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic cues refer to “product attributes that cannot be changed or manipulated without also changing the physical characteristics of the product itself” such as product composition, performance, quality and sex appropriateness (Eckman et al. 1990, p. 14). Extrinsic cues are “product attributes that are not component parts of the physical product but that are applied by the manufacturer of retailer” such as price, brand, country of origin, coordination and stores (Eckman et al. 1990, p. 14). Eckman et al. (1990) classified intrinsic criteria used for making garment purchase decisions into aesthetic criteria, usefulness criteria, and performance and quality with extrinsic criteria. They found aesthetic criteria (i.e., color/pattern, styling, fabric, uniqueness, and appearance) as the most important for apparel assessment. Fiore and Damhorst (1992) also discussed the importance of the evaluative criteria relevant to aesthetics to determine the overall quality of women’s pants. Lee and Burns (1993) identified evaluative criteria used in clothing purchase decision as three categories fashion and attraction (aesthetic criteria), quality (performance criteria), and brand name (extrinsic criteria) and revealed the significant relationship between the personal trait of self-consciousness and attitudes toward clothing purchase criteria. Forney et al. (2005) identified the dimensions of evaluative criteria used when purchasing the extended brands of casual apparel and home furnishings as four; image, quality, color/style, and design/beauty. Their findings revealed that image was the strongest predictor of purchase decision of the brand extension when brands are extended from apparel to home furnishing products (Forney et al. 2005). Lee and Park (2006a) examined evaluative criteria with consumer knowledge and apparel involvement. They identified evaluative criteria as three dimensions depending on the characteristics of apparel attributes; intrinsic, social, and economic. In their study, the attributes of intrinsic criteria included design, color, fit, fabric, and comfort that were not changeable in terms of the physical characteristics of the product itself. They divided extrinsic criteria into two dimensions, social and economic criteria with the empirical supports. Social criteria were composed of the attributes that can be influenced by social judgments such as model, advertising, country-of-origin, and brand name. Economic criteria referred to the attributes relevant to a pursuit for economic benefits such as discount and price. In the present study, three dimensions of evaluative criteria suggested by Lee and Park (2006a) are used because their classification of social and economic criteria better reflect the characteristics of Koreans when evaluating apparel products than the other research employing the Western sample. Also, these criteria are also applicable to explain consumer evaluation of knitwear products. Thus, to examine the evaluative criteria of knitwear, the current research employed the dimensions developed by Lee and Park (2006a). To explore the relationships between evaluative criteria and consumer responses (i.e., satisfaction and dissatisfaction), the importance placed on evaluative criteria by consumers is investigated in the study following Fiore and Damhorst (1992) and Hsu and Burns (2002), because evaluative criteria constructs reflect consumers’ perceived importance of each evaluative criteria (i.e., intrinsic, social, and economic criteria) in judging the choice alternatives.
Satisfaction and dissatisfaction
Consumer satisfaction and dissatisfaction is the psychological response to fulfillment of expectation of product after purchase (Day 1984). Consumer satisfaction and dissatisfaction are defined as “an emotional response manifested in feelings and is conceptually distinct from cognitive responses, brand affect, and behavioral responses” (Day, 1983, p. 113). While satisfaction was frequently studied as a variable to assess consumer response (Oliver 1997; Yi 1990), dissatisfaction received relatively little attention in consumer research (Giese and Cote 2000). Accordingly, Giese and Cote (2000) suggested that there are two approaches to conceptualizing the dissatisfaction construct; consumer dissatisfaction as the bipolar opposite of satisfaction (completely satisfied/very dissatisfied) (Mittal et al. 1999) vs. consumer dissatisfaction as a separate dimension from satisfaction, using unipolar satisfaction and dissatisfaction measures (Mano and Oliver 1993; Westbrook and Oliver 1991). For dissatisfaction, the literature does not provide a clear conceptualization, but dissatisfaction is regarded as usually more extreme, occurring sooner, and lasting longer than satisfaction (Giese and Cote 2000). Also, consumers can be satisfied with one attribute or experience, but dissatisfied with another (Giese and Cote 2000). Previous research on knitwear found that consumers were satisfied with design, color, styling, comfort, fit, quality and coordination with their wardrobe, but dissatisfied with pilling problem, durability, laundering properties or retention of shape (Swan and Combs 1976). Adopting Giese and Cote’s discussion (Giese and Cote 2000), the present study distinguish satisfaction from dissatisfaction and employ two unipolar variables of satisfaction and dissatisfaction to effectively assess consumer responses to knitwear products.
Influence of evaluative criteria on satisfaction and dissatisfaction
Previous literature discussed the influence of evaluative criteria or attribute evaluation on consumer responses such as satisfaction and dissatisfaction (Park 2012; Yeo and Rhee 1996). Evaluative criteria may not play a critical role in purchase decision, but enhance satisfaction and likelihood to buy (Eckman et al. 1990). For example, consumers may reject the pants if those fit and appearance are not evaluated as satisfactory (Eckman et al. 1990). Park (2012) examined the purchase appraisal standard and post-purchase satisfaction of natural dyeing products. Research findings indicated that product attributes such as product quality, kinds of item, color change, and product lifespan affected post-purchase satisfaction. Yeo and Rhee (1996) examined the decision making procedure of consumer’s post purchase for social daytime wear. In their study, post-purchase clothing evaluative criteria (e.g., fit, utility, management, transformation, and wearing/sewing) were found as important antecedents of satisfaction and brand attitude. Further, satisfaction positively affected brand attitude, and both satisfaction and brand attitude positively influenced repurchase intention.
Involvement as an antecedent of evaluative criteria, satisfaction, and dissatisfaction
Given that involvement reflects the relevance, value, interest, or need that consumer has in product, it is an important element to define and assess dimensions of product evaluation (Mano and Oliver 1993). O’Cass and Choy (2008) investigated the effect of fashion clothing involvement of young Chinese as an antecedent on specific brand related responses. They found that a consumer’s fashion clothing involvement represented by two factors of fashion clothing product involvement and fashion clothing purchase decision involvement positively affected consumer’s perception on brand status and brand attitude. Chae et al. (2006) examined the relationship among pre-purchase and post-purchase satisfaction and fashion involvement of women who participated in a tennis tournament by employing the Engel, Blackwell, and Miniard model on consumer decision making. They found a positive relationship between fashion involvement and satisfaction. Among clothing attributes, comfort and fit were important for women to achieve satisfaction before and after their purchase. Tsiotsou (2006) examined the effects of perceived product quality (an element of intrinsic criteria) and overall satisfaction on purchase intentions using sport shoes products. Findings showed a direct and an indirect effect of perceived quality on purchase intentions through overall satisfaction and a direct effect of overall satisfaction on purchase intentions. Involvement was found as an antecedent of perceived product quality and as having its indirect effect on purchase intentions through perceived quality and overall satisfaction. Lee and Park (2006a) revealed a significant, positive effect of apparel involvement as an antecedent on product evaluation criteria, evaluation of intrinsic, social, and economic attributes. In their study, consumer involvement was measured by interest in clothing, symbolic importance of clothing, and sensitivity to clothing trend perceived by consumers. The result found that consumers with a higher interest in apparel product but not in trends considered intrinsic attributes more importantly; consumers who pursue for latest trends considered social attributes more importantly; consumers who want to express their self-image but not to pursue for trends considered economic attributes more importantly.
Hypothesis 1: Knitwear involvement will positively influence evaluative criteria (H1a: intrinsic criteria, H1b: social criteria, H1c: economic criteria).
Hypothesis 2: Evaluation criteria (H2a: intrinsic criteria, H2b: social criteria, H2c: economic criteria) will positively influence consumer satisfaction with knitwear.
Hypothesis 3: Evaluation criteria (H3a: intrinsic criteria, H3b: social criteria, H3c: economic criteria) will negatively influence consumer dissatisfaction with knitwear.
Involvement as a moderator of the links among evaluative criteria, satisfaction, and dissatisfaction
Involvement was frequently examined as a moderator to determine purchase decisions (Celsi & Olson, 1988). Swoboda et al. (2009) examined a moderating role of involvement in building a retail brand. They employed consumer sample spread over five retail sectors (grocery, clothing, DIY, electronics, and furniture). Using multi-group structural equation modeling, they found differential influences of the perceived retailer attributes on consumer response, brand equity depending on the involvement level of customers; service and assortment had a greater effect on retail brand equity in the low involvement group; price/value-ratio, communication, and store design had a greater effect on retail brand equity in the high involvement group. Lee and Park (2006b) examined differences of clothing criteria (esthetic, quality performance, and extrinsic criteria) and web service criteria (reliability, product assortment, easiness of transaction, satisfaction, and promotion and policy) of consumer groups depending on their involvement and Internet use ability levels. Four groups identified by high and low consumer involvement and high and low Internet use ability differed in their evaluations of esthetic, quality performance, and extrinsic criteria. Both high-involvement and high-ability group and high-involvement and low-ability group were found to consider every evaluation criterion of clothing more important than the other groups. Regarding web service evaluation, both high-involvement and high-ability group and high-involvement and low-ability group considered every criterion more important than the other groups. Especially, in terms of clothing product evaluation criteria, the level of the consumer involvement factor appeared as more important than the ability factor. Consumers highly involved in clothing were found as feeling more risk in purchasing clothing products and taking various clothing evaluation criteria into more consideration than those who are lowly involved in clothing. Suh and Yi (2006) also found a moderating role of product involvement in the relationship between customer satisfaction and loyalty toward a large household goods and cosmetics company. Product involvement was found to decrease the direct effects of satisfaction on brand attitudes and loyalty, while to increase the indirect effects of ad attitudes and corporate image. Since there is little study to examine the moderating role of involvement in the relationships among evaluative criteria, satisfaction, and dissatisfaction, based on the previous discussion, involvement is hypothesized to play a moderating role in evaluative criteria-satisfaction and evaluative criteria-dissatisfaction relations. Accordingly, the following hypotheses are proposed.
Hypothesis 4: Knitwear involvement will moderate the relationships among evaluative criteria, satisfaction, and dissatisfaction (H4a: intrinsic criteria – satisfaction, H4b: social criteria – satisfaction, H4c: economic criteria – satisfaction, H4d: intrinsic criteria – dissatisfaction, H4e: social criteria – dissatisfaction, H4f: economic criteria – dissatisfaction).