- Open Access
Modeling consumers’ intention to use fashion and beauty subscription-based online services (SOS)
© The Author(s) 2018
- Received: 2 October 2017
- Accepted: 16 March 2018
- Published: 18 September 2018
This study examined one of the new consumption styles of modern consumers, subscription-based online services (SOS), which is often called as box retailing. The purpose of this study was to empirically test six antecedents—utilitarian motivations, hedonic motivations, fashion consciousness, consumer innovativeness, desire for unique products, and online transaction self-efficacy—as predictors of consumers’ attitude toward and intention to use fashion/beauty SOS. The theory of reasoned action was used as a theoretical foundation. With responses from 385 American consumers on an online survey, the theoretical model was tested in the fashion/beauty SOS context using structural equation modeling on LISREL. Results indicated that utilitarian and hedonic motivations, fashion consciousness, and online transaction self-efficacy indirectly influence intention to use fashion/beauty SOS, mediated by attitude towards fashion/beauty SOS. Instead of being mediated by attitude towards fashion/beauty SOS, consumer innovativeness and desire for unique products directly influence intention to use fashion/beauty SOS. Subjective norm positively influences intention to use fashion/beauty SOS. By identifying the factors that can predict consumers’ attitude towards and intention to use this new type of fashion/beauty consumption, this study addresses an evolving trend in home-based shopping behavior. Theoretically, as one of the earliest studies in this phenomenon, this study lays the theoretical groundwork paving way for further exploration in this area. Managers of fashion and beauty SOSs also can utilize these findings to more accurately target the appropriate consumer segment and streamline their marketing messages in accordance.
- Online subscription
- Fashion consciousness
A subscription-based online service (SOS) refers to an e-business that provides periodic delivery of a customized box of merchandise directly to the consumer’s home for a weekly, monthly or annual fee. By curating products to suit individual customers’ needs and likes, SOSs offer consumers a new way of acquiring the latest products from the comforts of their home. Today, SOSs in the US successfully sell a variety of products including art (e.g., Art in a Box), entertainment (e.g., Netflix, Spotify), food/meals (e.g., Carnivore Club, Blue Apron), and pet treats and toys (e.g., BestFriendBox) (Burlingham 2014; Roussin 2016). The recent explosive growth of the SOS business model, also called the “box model,” has given birth to a “subscription economy” (Whitler 2016). The box model is a retail business strategy where a customer can subscribe to an SOS of their choice for a weekly/monthly/annual fee and receive a box of customized and curated merchandise of their liking at their doorstep. The unique feature of the box model is that these SOSs alleviate the pressure on consumers to choose from thousands of brands and products by making those choices for them. The increase in popularity of the box model has also attracted traditional retailers, such as Walmart (e.g., Baby Box) and Sephora (e.g., Play by Sephora) into this promising new retail service model. The fashion and beauty industries are no strangers to this so-called subscription economy, with SOSs such as Birchbox, Dollar Shave Club, Le Tote, Me Undies, Rocksbox and Stitch Fix serving over a million subscribers.
While the box model has been extremely lucrative for such fashion and beauty SOSs where customer traffic to these websites has increased from 0.7 million to 21.4 million (3000% increase) in 3 years (2013–2016) (eMarketer 2016), some fashion and beauty SOSs such as CakeStyle, BeachMint and Wardrobe Wake Up have failed to succeed due to their inability to compete in the subscription economy. Pike (2016) argues that, such failure cases point out the uniquely challenging nature of the box model, especially for fashion and beauty products, citing the difficulty to identify the right target consumers, and understand their tastes and behavior. Such unique challenges faced by the fashion and beauty SOS industries, therefore, call for an exploration of the factors that can predict consumers’ attitude toward and intention to use fashion/beauty SOS. Though the SOS industry has grown rapidly generating $5 billion in revenue in 2014 alone (Pike 2016), virtually no research exists to explore the factors influencing consumers’ decision to use SOS in general. Moreover, the rise of such innovative and timesaving methods of shopping may indicate an evolution in fashion and beauty consumption behavior, thereby warranting an early attempt to empirically understand this emerging phenomenon.
To this end, this study aims at identifying and testing the factors that can predict consumers’ attitude towards and intention to use fashion/beauty SOS. In order to achieve this, the well-established behavioral science theory, theory of reasoned action (TRA) (Ajzen and Fishbein 1980), is used as a prediction tool in understanding consumers’ purchase intention of fashion/beauty SOS. By modeling the predicting factors in the TRA framework, the findings could provide interesting insights into specific consumer characteristics that have the most proclivity to form favorable attitudes toward and intention to use fashion/beauty SOS. In addition to contributing to theoretical understanding of the SOS phenomenon, such findings can help fashion/beauty SOS managers identify and segment their consumer groups, and deliver tailored marketing messages in accordance.
In the following sections, first, the SOS phenomenon is explored in detail followed by a review of the TRA. Further, the possible factors (antecedents) in forming favorable attitude towards fashion/beauty SOS are identified and defined. Based on this, a research framework and relevant hypotheses are developed before discussing the methods employed to test the framework. Finally, the results of the study are presented followed by a discussion of findings, implications and limitations.
Subscription-based online service (SOS)
Subscription-based online services (SOSs) in various product categories
Name of SOS
Art in a box
Fine art in ceramic, printmaking, painting, collage, digital prints etc. by Bay Area artists
Original art from artists from around the world
Makeup and other beauty related product samples
Cosmetic and wellness samples
Organic beauty products
Play by Sephora
Makeup and other beauty related product samples
Atlas coffee club
Coffee from around the world
Food and beverages
Ingredients and recipes for meals
Organic fruits and vegetables
Love with food
Organic, all-natural or gluten-free snacks
Clothing and accessories
Clothing and accessories
Swag of the month
Accessories, makeup, intimates and fitness
Dog fashion and accessories
Pet treats and toys
The subscription economy is currently growing at a rate of 109.1% (as of 2016) in comparison to a mere 29% in 2013 (McCann 2016). Juhas (2017) observes that the main reason for the success of the SOS model is the high lifetime value extracted from each customer in comparison to traditional retail models where the modern consumer constantly switches retailers. SOSs, especially in the fashion and beauty industry, have adopted the box model. In this model, in the case of a top beauty SOS, Birchbox, for instance, customers receive a box of four to five selected samples of makeup or other beauty products once a month for a fixed monthly subscription fee. The fashion SOS, Stitch Fix, works similarly, where upon providing personal information such as body size, shape, tastes, lifestyle, and other preferences on the company’s website, customers periodically receive a customized box of five fashion (clothing and accessories) items, curated by a stylist based on the customer’s preferences. The customer chooses any of the five items they wish to keep and sends the rest back to the company for no shipping charge. Stitch Fix charges its customers based on the number of pieces they retained, providing discounts for higher quantities purchased. Receiving a box of fashion/beauty merchandise that has been custom-picked for the consumer adds to the thrill of the shopping experience. In the process, the customer also gets to learn about new styles and brands that are trending in the market. In addition, the convenience and timesaving factors add to the benefits of this in-home shopping mode (Smith 2015).
Literature addressing consumer behavior toward SOS
Though the SOS model has gained popularity among consumers and marketers alike with fashion and beauty SOSs such as Stitch Fix, Birchbox and Le Tote revolutionizing the subscription economy, empirical research on consumer behavior with regards to subscription services has been very limited. Specifically, attempts to understand the factors influencing consumers’ attitude towards and intention to use SOS, especially for fashion and beauty products, is lacking.
Of the limited existing literature on subscription services, many focus on the pricing strategies of such services. In one such study, Danaher (2002) found that, when cell phone service providers employ a dual pricing system of a monthly subscription fee and a per-minute usage charge, customer attrition is higher with high access fees than usage charges. In another pricing-related study, Oster and Scott Morton (2005) observed that magazines that offer benefits for the future (such as investment magazines) charge higher subscription fees than those that offer immediate benefits (such as leisure magazines), thereby highlighting the change in pricing strategy based on the long- or short-term perceived benefits. Studying a subscription-type market such as car insurance, Dawes (2004) compared the impacts of price decreases and increases on defection rates and found the impact of price increases to be greater. By developing a model that predicts the lifetime duration of customers for SOSs, Dover and Murthi (2006) found that “customers who are billed monthly for annual subscriptions maintain their subscriptions longer than do customers billed quarterly” (p. 5), which leads to a higher lifetime duration.
Though these studies address ways to enhance customer retention through strategic pricing models, they reveal very less about the specific consumer characteristics or factors that lead customers to use the subscription service in the first place. More importantly, virtually none of the extant literature on subscription services, including the studies above, was focused on the emerging “box model” of online subscription-based services. The present study aims to fill this gap by identifying and testing the factors that influence consumers’ attitude towards and intention to use a fashion/beauty SOS using the theory of reasoned action (TRA), which is discussed in the following section.
Theory of reasoned action (TRA)
The TRA is a theoretical model developed by Ajzen and Fishbein (1980) that aims to predict an individual’s voluntary behavior based on the intention that the individual has to engage or not engage in that behavior. The theory posits that an individual’s intention to behave is predicted by two determinants (1) the individual’s positive or negative evaluations of performing that behavior, called attitude, and (2) the individual’s perception of the social pressures on him/her to perform or not perform that behavior, called subjective norm.
Factors influencing attitude towards fashion/beauty SOS
Utilitarian (UTL) and hedonic (HED) motivations
In an attempt to explain consumer shopping motivations, Hirschman and Holbrook (1982) posited that consumers behave either as problem solvers, where products or services are purchased to achieve functional goals (such as buying a washing machine), or as experiential enjoyers, where products or services are consumed to achieve aesthetic or emotional goals (such as going to a concert). The former refers to a utilitarian motive whereas the latter to a hedonic motive. Consumers who are motivated to gain utilitarian benefits seek convenience, time savings, and value for money, whereas those motivated to gain hedonic benefits, seek entertaining, adventurous and out-of-the-routine shopping experiences that can arouse and/or fulfill their senses (Overby and Lee 2006). Such consumers tend to choose shopping modes that align with their goals (To et al. 2007).
Voss et al. (2003) identify utilitarian and hedonic benefits as being integral in the formation of attitude towards a product or brand where the utilitarian component is derived from the product/brand’s functions whereas the hedonic component is derived from the experience involved in acquiring the product/brand. Other previous research has also established such an effect of utilitarian and hedonic benefits of a behavior on forming consumers’ positive attitudes toward the behavior in the context of shopping for a wide variety of product categories such as athletic shoes, dish detergent, food, jeans, jewelry, luggage, paper towels, personal computers etc. (Batra and Ahtola 1991; Crowley et al. 1992). This theoretical approach may be applied to the context of fashion/beauty SOS. The primary mode of using fashion/beauty SOS involves the consumer voluntarily creating an online profile indicating their likes and dislikes in terms of their product choices, based on which a stylist or curator selects and mails a customized box of merchandise to their doorstep. This activity reflects the consumer’s spontaneous engagement with the fashion/beauty subscription service, implying that the consumer must be motivated to form favorable attitudes toward using those fashion/beauty SOS.
H1: Utilitarian motivations positively influence attitude toward fashion/beauty SOS.
H2: Hedonic motivations positively influence attitude toward fashion/beauty SOS.
Fashion consciousness (FC)
H3: Fashion consciousness positively influences attitude toward fashion/beauty SOS.
Consumer innovativeness (CI)
Researchers interested in studying diffusion of innovations faced the challenge of accurately placing consumers into discrete adopter categories (e.g., innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority or laggard), which led to the conceptualization and development of a continuous variable, the consumer innovativeness measure (Goldsmith and Hofacker 1991). Consumer innovativeness is defined as “the predisposition to buy new and different products and brands rather than remain with previous choices and consumption patterns” (Steenkamp et al. 1999, p. 56).
H4: Consumer innovativeness positively influences attitude toward fashion/beauty SOS.
Desire for unique products (DUP)
Consumers’ desire to acquire unique products has been acknowledged by a plethora of scholars as a tendency of immense practical importance in marketing (Kang and Kim 2012; Lynn and Harris 1997; Tian et al. 2001). Desire for unique products is the “trait of pursuing differentness relative to others through the acquisition, utilization, and disposition of consumer goods for the purpose of developing and enhancing one’s self-image and social image” (Tian et al. 2001, p. 52). Nonconformity, or counter-conformity, and the avoidance of similarity are important behavioral manifestations of the desire to consume unique products (Tian et al. 2001). In other words, consumers who have a high desire to acquire unique products tend to choose products and brands that help them achieve a high level of social differentness while making choices of “good taste.”
H5: Desire for unique products positively influences attitude toward fashion/beauty SOS.
Online transaction self-efficacy (OTS)
H6: Online transaction self-efficacy positively influences attitude toward fashion/beauty SOS.
Influence of attitude (ATT) and subjective norm (SN) on intention (INT) to use SOS
H7: Attitude towards fashion/beauty SOS positively influences intention to use fashion/beauty SOS.
H8: Subjective norm related to fashion/beauty SOS positively influences intention to use fashion/beauty SOS.
Demographic characteristics of survey respondents
Age (mean = 33)
18–29 (Min. = 18)
60–66 (Max. = 66)
Choose not to disclose
White or caucasian
Hispanic or latino
Black or African American
Other or mixed
Choose not to disclose
$19,999 or less
$20,000 to $34,999
$35,000 to $49,999
$50,000 to $64,999
$65,000 to 79,999
$80,000 to $99,999
$100,000 or more
Some high school, no diploma
High school graduate
Some college but no degree
Employed for wages
Out of work and looking for work
Out of work but not looking for work
Unable to work
Survey administration and measurements
“A subscription-based online service (SOS) provides periodic delivery of a customized box of merchandise directly to your home for a weekly/monthly subscription fee. First, you sign-up online using an email address or a social media account, then you enter your personal information and product preferences, such as, your tastes, lifestyle, and what kinds of products interest you. Then you select a weekly/monthly service where you choose to get a personalized box of merchandise every week/month based on the personal information/preferences you gave them, or choose a particular curated box of your interest. Once you pay for the selected service/box online using your credit card, the company will send you a customized box of merchandise directly to your home via mail.
My Wardrobe (Fashion products): You enter your style, size and price preferences first, and then a box of 5 hand-selected clothing items is delivered to your door. You purchase what you like and send back the rest. You pay for only those products you decide to keep.
Make-up Box (Beauty products): You enter your skin type, makeup styles and preferences, and a personalized box of beauty samples will be delivered to your door every month. $10/month and $110/year.”
Upon reading the above description, respondents were asked to indicate their level of utilitarian (UTL) and hedonic (HED) motivations, fashion consciousness (FC), consumer innovativeness (CI), desire for unique products (DUP), online transaction self-efficacy (OTS), subjective norm (SN), attitude towards (ATT), and intention (INT) to use the fashion and beauty SOS.
Utilitarian motivations were captured using a, 20-item adapted scale that included six-dimensions—cost saving, convenience, selection, information availability, lack of sociality, and customized products or services–on a 7-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree) (To et al. 2007). Similarly, hedonic motivations were assessed using a 16-item adapted scale that included five-dimensions—adventure/explore, social, idea, value and authority and status—on a 7-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree) (To et al. 2007).
Participants’ fashion consciousness was measured using Sprotles and Kendall (1986) uni-dimensional “novelty-fashion consciousness” scale that included five items on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree). Consumer innovativeness was measured using Le Louarn’s (1997) scale, which has three factors, namely, attraction to newness, autonomy in innovative decision and ability to take risks in trying newness. The scale had six items on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree).
Respondents indicated their desire for unique products on Lynn and Harris’ (1997) “desire for unique consumer products” scale which had eight items on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree). Further, online transaction self-efficacy was measured using a 4-item scale developed by Kim and Kim (2005) on a 7-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree).
Measurement items and reliabilities
Reliability Cronbach’s α
To et al. (2007)
(1) I could save my money by shopping at such subscription-based online services
(2) I could spend less when I shop at such subscription-based online services
(3) Such subscription-based online service could offer me competitive prices
(4) I could shop at such subscription-based online services whenever I want
(5) I could shop at such subscription-based online services without going out
(6) Shopping at such subscription-based online services would not have conflict with my schedule
(7) Such subscription-based online service would be convenient to me
(8) I could access a variety of merchandises via such subscription-based online services
(9) I could access many brands via such subscription-based online services
(10) I could access a wide selection of merchandises via such subscription-based online services
(11) Such subscription-based online services would give me quick access to large volumes of information
(12) Information obtained from such subscription-based online services would be useful
(13) Such subscription-based online services would make acquiring information easily
Lack of sociality
(14) Such subscription-based online services would enable me to avoid social interaction with others
(15) Such subscription-based online services would enable me to avoid salespeople
(16) Such subscription-based online services would enable me to buy things online without embarrassment
Customized products or services
(17) Such subscription-based online services’ purchase recommendations would match with my needs
(18) I could order products that are tailored for my needs at such subscription-based online services
(19) Such subscription-based online services would be customized to my needs
(20) Such subscription-based online services would make me feel that I am a unique customer
To et al. (2007)
(1) Such subscription-based online services would make me feel like I am in my own universe
(2) I find such subscription-based online services stimulating
(3) To me, such subscription-based online services would be an adventure
(4) I could exchange information about such subscription-based online services with friends
(5) I could share my experiences with such subscription-based online services others
(6) I could develop friendships with other shoppers by shopping at such subscription-based online services
(7) I could extend my relationship with others by shopping at such subscription-based online services
(8) I could keep up with the trends by shopping at such subscription-based online services
(9) I could keep up with the latest fashion by shopping at such subscription-based online services
(10) I could see what new products are available at such subscription-based online services
(11) Shopping at such subscription-based online services would provide sales
(12) Shopping at such subscription-based online services would give me discounts
(13) Shopping at such subscription-based online services would enable me to hunt for bargains
Authority and status
(14) When shopping at such subscription-based online services I would feel in control
(15) At such subscription-based online services, I would have control over my shopping process
(16) Such subscription-based online services would allow me to control my shopping trip
(1) I usually have one or more outfits of the very newest style
Sprotles and Kendall (1986)
(2) I keep my wardrobe up-to-date with the changing fashions
(3) Fashionable, attractive styling is very important to me
(4) To get variety, I shop different stores and choose different brands
(5) It is fun to buy something new and exciting
Attraction to newness
Le Louarn (1997)
(1) I am the kind of person who tries every new product at least once
(2) When I hear about a new product, I try to know more about at the first occasion
Autonomy in innovative decision
(3) Before trying a new product, I try to learn what friends who possess this product think about ita
(4) I seek out the opinion of those who have tried new products or brands before I try thema
Ability to take risks in trying newness
(5) I’d rather choose a brand that I usually buy rather than try something I am not confident ina
(6) I never buy something I do not know anything about with the risk of making a mistakea
Desire for unique products
(1) I am very attracted to rate objects
Lynn and Harris (1997)
(2) I tend to be a fashion leader rather than a fashion follower
(3) I am more likely to buy a product if it is scarce
(4) I would prefer to have things custom-made than to have them ready-made
(5) I enjoy having things than others do not
(6) I rarely pass up the opportunity to order custom features on the products I buy
(7) I like to try new products and services before others do
(8) I enjoy shopping at stores that carry merchandise, which is different and unusual
Online transaction self-efficacy
(1) I am confident that I can obtain relevant information through online sources (e.g., online discussion groups, reputation sites, etc.) on the web vendor from whom I am planning to make online purchases
Kim and Kim (2005)
(2) I am confident that I am usually able to purchase exactly the item that I want from Web vendors
(3) I am confident that, in case my order does not come through in a satisfactory manner, I am able to take care of the problem(s) on my own
(4) I am confident that I am able to find a trustworthy web vendor based on ratings (e.g., the number of the stars or the smiley faces) provided by other consumers
Attitude toward fashion/beauty SOS
Childers et al. (2002)
(6) Not worthwhile/worthwhile
(7) Not useful/useful
(1) My family members (e.g. parents, spouse, and children) would think that it is a good idea to make purchase through SOS
Limayem et al. (2000)
(2) The media frequently suggests us to make purchase through SOS
(3) My friends would think that it is a good idea to make purchase through SOS
Intention to use fashion/beauty SOS
(1) I intend to purchase through SOS in the near future (e.g. next 3 months)
Limayem et al. (2000)
(2) It is likely that I will purchase through SOS in the near future
(3) I expect to purchase through SOS in the near future
Before testing hypotheses, a series of preliminary analyses were conducted to ensure the validity and reliability of the measurements. First, convergent validity of measurements was assessed through exploratory factor analyses (EFA) using principal component analysis with varimax rotation on SPSS. EFA indicated that all measurements report appropriate convergent validity, as the measuring items fell into the corresponding dimensions (for multidimensional variables)/constructs (for unidimensional variables) and the individual items within those same dimensions/constructs were highly correlated. For example, as theoretically proposed, utilitarian and hedonic motivations reported multi-dimensionality (one item in utilitarian and two items in hedonic motivation were deleted due to inappropriate factor loadings and were not included in hypotheses testing; some dimensions were merged when falling into the same factor), and the other constructs reported uni-dimensionality. The factors cumulatively explained over 60% of variances of all constructs, supporting the convergent validity of the measurements.
Inter-variable correlation analysis on SPSS showed that, while the items within each construct were highly correlated in EFA, there was no exceptionally high correlation between the constructs, thereby establishing appropriate discriminant validity of the measurements. Reliability of measurements was assessed using Cronbach’s alpha values. As Table 3 presents, reliabilities of all constructs were acceptable with Cronbach’s α values ranging between 0.630 and 0.975. Finally, in order to test the research framework and the hypotheses, maximum likelihood (ML) estimation method using structural equation modeling (SEM) was performed on LISREL. The results are presented in the following section.
Comparison of theoretical and revised models using chi square difference test
The results of the hypothesized paths in the revised model found support for the paths between utilitarian motivations (UTL) → attitude (ATT) (γ = 0.20, p < 0.01), hedonic motivations (HED) → attitude (ATT) (γ = 0.17, p < 0.05), fashion consciousness (FC) → attitude (ATT) (γ = 0.10, p < 0.05) and online transaction self-efficacy (OTS) → attitude (ATT) (γ = 0.14, p < 0.01). Therefore, H1, H2, H3 and H6 were supported. However, the paths between consumer innovativeness (CI) → attitude (ATT) (γ = 0.04, p > 0.05) and desire for unique products (DUP) → attitude (ATT) (γ = − 0.03, p > 0.05) were not significant, thereby finding no support for H4 and H5. Further, the hypotheses in the TRA, i.e., attitude (ATT) → intention (INT) (γ = 0.30, p < 0.001) and subjective norm (SN) → intention (INT) (γ = 0.69, p < 0.001) were significant, thereby supporting H7 and H8. In addition to the hypothesized paths, two additional significant paths between consumer innovativeness (CI) → intention (INT) (γ = 0.09, p < 0.05) and desire for unique products (DUP) → intention (INT) (γ = 0.10, p < 0.05) revealed new relationships in the revised model that were not originally hypothesized. Figure 3 displays both the theoretical and revised models with path coefficients.
In terms of the relative weights of the coefficient values, for consumers’ attitudes toward fashion and beauty SOS, utilitarian motivations reported the highest impact (γ = 0.20), followed by hedonic motivations (γ = 0.17), online transaction self-efficacy (γ = 0.14), and fashion consciousness (γ = 0.10). However, the differences between these coefficient values were rather marginal (i.e., 0.03–0.10). For consumers’ intentions toward fashion and beauty SOS, subjective norm was little more influential (γ = 0.65) than attitude (γ = 0.31).
This study began with the aim of identifying and testing the factors that influence consumers’ attitude towards and intention to use fashion/beauty subscription-based online services (SOS), an emerging phenomenon in retail services, by using the TRA model as a theoretical foundation. The results of data analyses found support for six of the eight hypotheses, in addition to two unexpected relationships revealed by the SEM approach that were not originally predicted by the TRA model.
Firstly, as predicted, consumers’ utilitarian (H1) and hedonic (H2) motivations were found to positively influence their attitude towards using fashion/beauty SOS and they in turn significantly predicted intentions to use fashion/beauty SOS. In other words, consumers’ perception of the utilitarian benefits—convenience, time-saving, and lack of sociality (i.e., no need for interacting with sales personnel in stores)—and hedonic benefits—exploratory nature, adventurousness, and giving (fashion) ideas—of fashion/beauty SOS drove their favorable attitude towards and intention to use those services. This result has support in online retailing literature (Childers et al. 2002; Monsuwé et al. 2004), where utilitarian dimensions such as “ease of use” and “usefulness,” and hedonic dimensions such as “enjoyment,” were found to be significant determinants of consumers’ attitude towards online shopping sites. In fact, prior research even suggests that consumers’ attitude towards certain products and brands may have underlying utilitarian and hedonic dimensions (Batra and Ahtola 1991; Voss et al. 2003), revealing the integral relationships between these constructs.
This study also found that consumers who rate themselves high in fashion consciousness (H3) indicated favorable attitudes towards fashion/beauty SOSs. This finding is consistent with prior research (Zhang and Kim 2013), which means that fashion conscious consumers seek to fulfill their need to stay up-to-date with trends by subscribing to fashion/beauty SOSs. This therefore may indicate that fashion/beauty SOSs could be used as a source of information and product acquisition with regards to the latest fashion and beauty trends, which in turn allows these fashion conscious consumers to maintain their status in their social circles (Lertwannawit and Mandhachitara 2012).
The next finding revealed that, contrary to what was predicted, consumer innovativeness (H4) and desire for unique products (H5) did not have a significant positive influence on attitude towards fashion/beauty SOS. However, the modification indices in the structural model indicated that, instead of being mediated by attitude, consumer innovativeness and desire for unique products directly influenced intention to use fashion/beauty SOS. This finding reveals evidence that is different from the mainstream literature built upon TRA, which assumed that consumers form a positive attitude first to guide their behavioral intention (H4 and H5 were built upon this theoretical assumption). This finding is inconsistent with the original TRA model, but might suggest that highly innovative consumers with strong desire for unique products can directly form an intention to use fashion/beauty SOS, without a pre-formed positive attitude towards those services. Since some recent research studies also observed such an attitude-intention gap (Cowart et al. 2008; Vermeir and Verbeke 2006), further investigation is needed to verify if this finding against the mainstream theory (i.e., TRA) is worth reconsidering the theoretical proposition of the literature.
Further, consumers with high online transaction self-efficacy were found to form favorable attitude towards and, in turn, intention to use fashion/beauty SOSs (H6). This finding is in line with literature (Kim and Kim 2005), confirming that consumers who have belief in their capability to transact on online shopping websites, such as SOS, are likely to have positive attitudes towards such services. The need to perform tasks that require some basic level of computer operations and e-commerce use make this a prerequisite for a consumer to have proclivity to use a fashion/beauty SOS as opposed to shopping from other types of fashion/beauty retailers.
Finally, the causal relationships between attitudes, subjective norm, and behavioral intentions in the TRA model were found to be significant, which means that, in the fashion/beauty SOS context, a consumer’s attitude and subjective norm significantly influences their intention to use those SOS. In other words, consumers with positive evaluations of a fashion/beauty SOS, along with a perception of referent group expectation towards usage of that SOS will intend to use that fashion/beauty SOS. This supports a plethora of other studies that confirm these theoretical relationships. More interestingly, in our findings, subjective norm was a little more influential in driving consumers’ intentions to use fashion and beauty SOS than their attitudes, based on the comparison of coefficient values; this implies that for this particular behavior of using fashion and beauty SOS, the role of consumers’ reference groups could be especially critical in enhancing their intentions to use such SOS.
The findings of this study offer important theoretical and managerial implications. This study contributes to early theoretical explorations in the context of SOS, an emerging phenomenon in online retail services, specifically in the fashion and beauty arena. Though the fashion and beauty SOS market has achieved enough success to attract leading global retailers towards the box model (Randall et al. 2016), research to understand consumer behavior in this type of service has been limited. As one of the first studies in this area, this study was conceptualized with the notion that theoretical explorations of this topic could potentially reveal evolving trends in consumption behavior of fashion and beauty products towards a modern version of home-based shopping modes, namely SOS. By employing the TRA as a theoretical foundation, this study not only found factors that influence attitude towards fashion/beauty SOS, namely, utilitarian and hedonic motivations, fashion consciousness and online transaction self-efficacy, but also found interesting relationships between consumer innovativeness → intention and desire for unique products → intention, which was an unexpected extension of the original model. Further, even though this study was conducted specifically in the fashion/beauty SOS context, except for fashion consciousness, other factors including utilitarian and hedonic motivations, consumer innovativeness and online transaction self-efficacy can be theoretically applied to most other product categories being sold using this popular box-model of subscription service.
As implications for managers and marketers of fashion and beauty SOS, this study suggests the traits of consumer groups who have favorable attitudes and intention to use fashion/beauty SOS and helps understand their motivations and needs. Subscription-based services operate based on a loyal group of customers, the “subscribers”. The success of the SOS model highly relies on how well the service providers identify these subscribers and maintain satisfactory relationships by continuously providing them with the benefits they are looking for, and this applies to fashion/beauty SOSs as well. The findings of this study suggest targeting consumers that are looking to fulfill utilitarian (functional) and hedonic (aesthetic) needs through their shopping experiences with SOSs. Focusing on the “convenience” of subscribing to a fashion and/or beauty SOS combined with the “adventurous, surprise-seeking” aspect of the shopping experience in the marketing message could attract consumers who are likely to provide a high lifetime value to the company. In addition, fashion and beauty SOSs can streamline their promotional efforts toward fashion conscious and innovative consumers by highlighting their services of providing latest trend and fashion information, uniqueness and customized-aspect of their product offerings.
In addition, subjective norm—how consumers believe that their reference groups expect them to activate a certain behavior—was found to be a significant driver of consumers’ intention to adopt fashion and beauty SOS in the current study. Based on the comparison of coefficient values, the impact of subjective norm was even more influential than consumers’ own attitudes toward fashion and beauty SOS. Based on this finding, fashion and beauty SOSs should consider utilizing consumers’ subjective norm in designing their marketing strategies. For instance, they can provide a free 1-month subscription to highly rated fashion/beauty bloggers and/or YouTubers who could in turn promote the SOS website/app to their followers. In addition, SOS marketers can provide a referral bonus to subscribers who invite friends and/or family, leveraging the effect of subjective norm to expand their subscriber base.
On the flipside, the findings of this study revealed some potential barriers for customers in adopting SOS. Since consumers’ online transaction self-efficacy increased their attitudes and intentions to use fashion/beauty SOS, consumers with low online transaction self-efficacy are likely to find it challenging to use SOSs. In such case, the SOS providers might consider using phone or mail-based registration, style profiling, payment, and customer service in addition to the online interface to include those with low online transaction self-efficacy to their subscriber base.
Although this study suggests theoretical and managerial contributions, a few limitations remain. First, though this study collected reliable and valid data by first providing a description of SOS followed by capturing responses to the construct measures, an experimental approach where participants browse through a hypothetical fashion/beauty SOS website and then answer questions on relevant measurement items could provide a more engaging setting for the respondents. Secondly, this study only focused on fashion and beauty SOS among a variety of other product categories that are sold using the SOS business model. Since some of the selected variables (e.g., fashion consciousness) might be less relevant to the other product categories, future research can explore new antecedents and moderating variables to extend the TRA model to other SOSs. Also, some findings of this study were inconsistent with the established theory (i.e., TRA), such as the direct influence of consumer innovativeness and desire for unique products on consumers’ intentions to use SOSs than on attitude. With a few other researchers who found similar counterarguments (e.g., Cowart et al. 2008; Vermeir and Verbeke 2006), further exploration and debate is needed on the conceptualization of the direct/indirect relationship between consumer attitudes and intentions. Finally, the use of crowd-sourcing websites, such as MTurk, has been recently contested with fair population representation being one of the issues raised and can be a limitation to this study. To address this limitation, future studies can use another source of recruiting participants, such as proportional sampling by a professional survey firm, in addition to complement the data captured by MTurk in order to ensure wider representation.
To summarize, this study found that consumers who seek utilitarian and hedonic benefits, and are fashion conscious, with online transaction self-efficacy, would have positive, favorable attitudes towards fashion/beauty SOS, which, along with subjective norm, leads to purchase intention. On the other hand, consumers with high innovativeness and desire for unique products directly intend to use fashion/beauty SOS without necessarily forming favorable attitudes towards such services first.
BR participated in ideation, survey development, and data collection, and carried out data analyses, interpretation, and drafting and revising the manuscript as the lead author. HW participated in ideation, survey development, data collection, manuscript revision, and managed submission process as the corresponding author. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Dr. Bharath Ramkumar is an Assistant Professor of Fashion and Textiles in the Department of Human Ecology at the State University of New York at Oneonta. His current research areas include entrepreneurship and small business, e-consumer behavior, and mindful consumption practices of apparel and textiles. Dr. Hongjoo Woo is an Assistant Professor of Apparel Merchandising in the Department of Consumer and Design Sciences at Auburn University. Her research program is focused on consumer behavior, fashion branding and merchandising, and international retailing.
Ethics approval and consent to participate
This study was subject to the Human Subject Participant-based study and was reviewed and approved as an exempt protocol by The State University of New York at Oneonta and Auburn University Institutional Review Boards (IRB). Following their instructions, written informed consent was provided to the participants and their agreements were obtained.
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