Methodology: Clothing Quality Research

Useful In Understanding The Research Process

4.1 Introduction

This chapter is about research methods which would be used for taking the research further. It forms the basis for the entire approach used , tools of data collection, methods. Bryman and Cramer (1990) gave the research model. This model is very useful in understanding the research process and it makes the research more easy and simple to follow and understand.

Adapted from: Bryman and Cramer (1990), Research Process

4.2 Research design

Hakim (2000) compares a researcher designing a research project with an architect designing a building. Rajendra kumar (2008) defines research design as a logical and systematic plan prepared for conducting a research study. The research uses qualitative research which is the basis of the study and deductions. The qualitative approach to research is concerend with subjective assesment of attitudes , opinions and behavoiur (kothari ,2008). The understanding of the research design helps to further form the basis for this chapter.

4.2.1 Research approach

There are two types of approaches which are used those are deductive and inductive approaches. The inductive approach is being used here in which the data is collected first and then a theory is developed as a result of data analysis.

4.3 Methods for data collection

The approach used in this research includes both primary and secondary data. Secondary data includes a wide range of existing literature on the issue of branding and quality. This literature may include books, research papers and reports, project or annual reports. Both the qualitative and quantitative information would be gauged from the entire accessible source. In the primary research it would include focus group and high street interviews. Robson (2002) says that collection of primary data can be time consuming and tedious but can be rewarding if the research for information remains close to the issues relevant to the research topic.

For the primary data structured qualitative questions were used.

4.3.1 Focus groups

Focus groups, sometimes called a focus group interview, is a group interview that focuses clearly upon a particular issue, product, service or topic and encompasses the need for interactive discussion amongst participants (Carson et al., 2001).

For this research a structured questionnaire was used and a group of six respondents were interviewed. The interviews lasted for 25 minutes. The keys issues in the focus group was brand image, their perceptions, clothing quality, current fashion, branded labels, customers loyalty.

4.3.2 High street interviews

The high street interview was another form of primary data. Most of the respondents were randomly selected. The interview lasted for 5 -7 minutes and in a structured questionnaire form. This form of data collection seemed to be easy and quick and the respondents were told to opt out anytime they felt like. The interviews were conducted in three days time. The questionnaire used was in the same format used in focus group.

4.4 Methods

Consumer responses reported in previous clothing quality research (O’Neal, 1988; Lennon and Fairhurst, 1994; Hines and O’Neal, 1995) formed the basis for developing the questionnaire used in this study. The questionnaire included statements to assess consumers’ use of informational cues to evaluate clothing quality and their expectations of high-quality garments. The informational cues used in this study were grouped into four categories: Intrinsic cues: concrete characteristics that are inherent within the product; changing these would change the product (examples, fabric and workmanship).

Extrinsic cues: concrete characteristics that can be changed without altering the structure of the product (examples, brand and price). Appearance cues: characteristics that affect how the product looks (examples, style and fit). Performance cue: characteristics that affect how the product functions (examples, durability and wrinkle resistance). Sixteen informational cues were used in this study. Three were intrinsic, three extrinsic, five appearances and five performances (see Table 1). All the statements to evaluate the importance of informational cues began with the statement ‘When considering the quality of a garment, I look at …’ The consumers’ expectations of high-quality garments were grouped into four categories based on the findings of Hines and O’Neal (1995): Aesthetic expectations: image and style expectations of a high-quality garment (examples, more style details, more fashionable).

4.5 Summary

This chapter tells about the data collection method and the approach used. This forms the basis for the next chapter which tells about the data findings and the discussion.


Data Analysis & Findings

5.1 Introduction

This chapter tells about the findings of the data analysis and further discusses about the findings which came out of the data gathered.

5.2 Findings

A total of 30 respondents completed the questionnaire. The majority of the respondents were female (93%), between the ages of 18 and 24 (96%), and majoring in fashion merchandising (71%). Eighty-seven per cent reported they select their own clothes and 64% pay for most or all of their apparel purchases. Most (65%) stated that quality was important when buying clothing. Means and standard deviations were calculated for each of the informational cue statements. An analysis of the data indicated that 75% of the cues were used by the respondents (M=3.25) when considering the quality of a garment. These included 67% of the extrinsic cues, 100% of the appearance, 80% of the performance, and none of the intrinsic cues. Means and standard deviations were calculated for each of the consumers’ expectations of high-quality garment statements. The respondents agreed that 36% of statements (M=3.25) closely reflected their belief about high-quality garments. The analysis of the responses show that the perception of M&S and GAP as a brand totally denotes quality and that came out as the most apparent factor in determine the purchase decision. These included 50% of the aesthetic statements, 50% of the economic statements and 40% of the social/psychological statements.

An additional analysis was conducted to determine the respondents who identified quality as an important criterion in influencing the purchase decision in making clothing purchasing decisions (65%) rated the statements differently from respondents who did not identify quality (35%) as an important criterion. Mean scores were calculated for both groups on each of the 16 informational cues and 11 expectation statements. Independent t -tests were used to determine if significant differences existed between the means. Statistical significance was tested at a=0.05. Analysis of the data indicated statistically significant differences in six of the 16 informational cues and in none of the expectations statements. Significant differences occurred between the ‘quality important’ respondents and the ‘quality not important’ respondents on all three of the intrinsic cues, construction (t=2.54, P<0.01), fabric (t=2.43, P<0.02), and notions (t=3.22, P<0.002) and three of the five performance cues, fabric will hold shape (t=2.98, P<0.003), fabric will pill (t=2.79, P<0.006), and garment will wrinkle (t=2.64, P<0.009). The ‘quality important’ respondents more strongly agreed that they used the above cues when considering the quality of the garment than the ‘quality not important’ respondents (see Table 5).

A second t-test was conducted to determine if respondents majoring in fashion merchandising (71%) rated the statements differently than those in other majors (29%). There were no significant differences between the two groups on any of the informational cues or expectation statements.

The study was conducted to determine the types of informational cues used by consumers when evaluating clothing quality and their expectations of a high-quality garment. The results of the study support previous findings that suggest consumers’ perception of clothing quality is multidimensional. There is also a significant positive relation between the perception of consumers about the brand which first triggers the want development and eventually buying the products. The clients were found to have a positive perception about the organizations discussed and relate the brands significantly to high quality apparels and accessories.

All of the 30 respondents completed the questionnaire. The majority respondents were female (93%), between the ages of 18 and 24 (96%), and majoring in fashion merchandising (71%). Eighty-seven per cent reported they select their own clothes and 64% pay for most or all of their apparel purchases. Most (65%) stated that quality was important when buying clothing. Means and standard deviations were calculated for each of the informational cue statements. An analysis of the data indicated that 75% of the cues were used by ≥ of a garment (see Table 3). These included 67% of the extrinsic cues, 100% of the appearance, 80% of the performance, and none of the intrinsic cues.

Means and standard deviations were calculated for each of the consumers’ expectations of high-quality garment statements. The respondents agreed that 36% of statements (M ≥ 3.25) closely reflected their belief about high-quality garments (see Table 4). These included 50% of the aesthetic statements, 50% of the economic statements and 40% of the social/psychological statements.

The findings indicate the importance of appearance cues in evaluating clothing quality and supports findings of other studies that have included aesthetic cues. Even in the Hines and Swinker (2001) study where subjects rank-ordered their use of a variety of informational cues for evaluating clothing quality, the appearance cues ranked higher than other types of cues. These results suggest that consumers in these studies will not consider a garment high quality unless it is a current popular style that looks and feels good on them. Consumer behavior studies have shown price is often used as a predictor of quality, regardless of the product (Zeithaml, 1988). An interesting finding in this study was that although there was strong agreement that cost was important when evaluating quality, when subjects were asked to respond to the statement, higher-priced garments are higher in quality than lower-priced garments. Customer expectations were broadly categorized into 2 parts that is Economic expectations and Psychological Expectations. Economic expectations: serviceability and financial expectations of a high-quality garment (examples, last longer than low-quality, saves money). Physiological expectations: comfort and fit expectations of a high-quality garment (examples, feels better, fits better). Social/psychological expectations: how one feels or believes others view a person in a high-quality garment (examples, feel good about self, appear more successful). Eleven statements were used to assess expectations of a high-quality garment. Two were aesthetic, two economic, two physiological and five social/psychological. An example of an ‘expectations of a high quality garment’ statement is: A high-quality garment will last longer than a low-quality garment. The respondents in this study were students enrolled in a beginning fashion merchandising course at two state-supported universities in the United States. Students completed the survey during the first class meeting, before any discussion of clothing quality occurred. Respondents were asked to rate their level of agreement with each statement on a 5-point Likert-type scale. Response categories were anchored by strongly disagree (1) and strongly agree (5). The ‘quality important’ respondents more strongly agreed that they used the above cues when considering the quality of the garment than the ‘quality not important’ respondents.

While researchers have studied the retail experience at the level of individual components, the practitioners and academics that developed the concept designed it to function as a holistic mechanism. For example, Pine and Gilmore (1999) identified that retail experiences consist of holistic realms (aesthetic, entertainment, education, escapist), which allow flow between the various static and dynamic elements within the experiential environment. It is the flow between static and dynamic elements that helps the consumer to become immersed and engaged within the retail event (Csikszentmihalyi 1997). For this reason experiential elements do not work in isolation; they function as a holistic mechanism driving the customer’s retail experience. Static design elements are the cold, hard, tangible features of the store that facilitate the functional characteristics of the product(s), and the sensual and psychological benefits that emanate from the store’s hard design features. These benefits include sensory pleasures such as sights and sounds, and feelings of status, privacy and security (Pullman & Gross 2004). Schmitt (2003) describes static elements as aesthetic qualities that include: (1) the physical goods (its functional attributes); (2) the look and feel of the store, which includes the logos and signage, packaging, brochures and advertising that help to establish the store’s identity and brand experience; and (3) the experiential theme/message. In addition, static design elements are represented by the atmospheric/ambient conditions of the store (visual, aural, olfactory and tactile cues), which can be used to increase a consumer’s rate of consumption, and influence customer product evaluations and purchase behaviour. These elements are considered to be static as they are delivered in a pre-designed state.



Through the study conducted under this research it has been found that the consumer’s preference towards the brands GAP and Marks & Spencer has been primarily because of these organisations continued focus and awareness towards these static elements and designing them exactly as per the consumer’s tastes and preferences. It has also been seen that in an effort to constantly keep themselves appraised with the client preferences and pointers which trigger the buying decisions, consumer surveys are done at the floor of the retail store whereby the perception of the client’s retail experience is understood. Based on these inputs derived by the evaluation of the survey results, the static elements of the store and positioning of the brand is modulated. This enables the store’s to get the consumers associate to the brand and get sticky and hooked towards the products and also allows the brand to develop a sense of loyalty towards it and its products.

From an experience perspective, insights from a ‘living’ retail environment can lead to revelations on how to tailor experiential designs to:

1) The customer’s desired level of functionality;

2) The correct emotional characteristics that facilitate consumption;

3) Types of behavioural responses to holistic in-store cues

(are these cues really working?);

4) Ongoing relationships with the store brand after they have left the store;

5) How the experience design fits with the store brand; and

6) Is the current/proposed experience strategy an avenue for competitiveness?

As Mariampolski (1999) states, the physical and situational surroundings, which provide a basis for the meaning and significance related to roles and behaviours, cannot be separated from the way we buy, or how we feel about it.

There are, however, two sectors which are particularly relevant to the discussion on quality. Those staples to human survival, food and clothing, exhibit characteristics which have put leaders in those areas in the forefront of the quality revolution. They may not have called their management approach “total quality management” but the nature of their businesses intuitively led them along that path. Marks & Spencer and J. Sainsbury are prime examples of the quality approach. Their management has been and generally still is based on the principles of continuous improvement. Indeed, not only have they been ahead of their manufacturing brethren but also their management practices have driven their concepts into food processing and clothing.

Quality concepts must be rooted in the organization. That is not enough, however, to achieve quality continuously in the eyes of the customer. Every organization is impacted by external factors such as the quality of their suppliers. The leading retailers have demonstrated this simple truth from the beginning.

The major retailers have devoted a substantial proportion of their management resource to ensuring that this chain operates effectively to satisfy the final external customer. Some own and control their distributors but most combine an element of their own distribution with outside distribution companies. They actively involve themselves (some say interfere) in the management of their distributors and suppliers.

This of course is an exercise of their buying power, and many commentators have criticized the way they use such power. Some retailers certainly have caused havoc in this arena but usually to their own long-term disadvantage. The best have usually built long-term associations with their distributors and suppliers in which all work as part of a team to the advantage of both. Marks & Spencer are a leading example of this approach and their relationships and achievements with suppliers have been well documented. It can be said that in yet another area of industrial and commercial success the retail industry has shown the way.

Retail store image is considered one of the most important determinants of success (Amirani and Gates, 1993), and there have been numerous studies attempting to define store image (see, for example, Martineau, 1958a; Hirschman et al., 1978; Lindquist, 1974; Mazursky and Jacoby, 1986; Greenberg et al., 1983; Oxenfeldt, 1974; Sewell, 1974; Zimmer and Golden, 1988; McGoldrick and Greenland, 1994). These and other scholarly contributions provide us with a multifaceted explanation(s) of image made up of components or attributes, both physical and psychological, all of which depict the fashion store in the mind of the targeted customer. It is these functional qualities and psychological attributes embedded in the shopper’s mind, which helps differentiation and maintains competitive advantage for the fashion retailer. It is critically important therefore, to understand how store image shapes customer choice criteria.

On first examination the task of defining store image would seem to be a difficult one. For example, consumers’ perceptions of fashion stores (retailers) are quickly and unthinkingly formed (Sewell, 1974; Oxenfeldt, 1974), and time-dependent (Martineau, 1958a; Osman, 1993). It is also clear that store image can be context specific (Davies,

1992) as it is dependent on the purchase situation, and may change with customer experiences (Osman, 1993; Birtwistle et al., 1998). The physical environment (e.g. store atmosphere and layout) is also responsible for influencing customer behaviour (see Baker, 1987; Booms and Bitner, 1981; Kotler, 1974; Shostack, 1977; Upah and Fulton, 1985; Zeithaml et al., 1985; Bitner, 1990; Bitner, 1992 and Baker et al., 1994). In addition, store image attributes can vary across the retail sector (Fisk, 1961; Lindquist, 1974; Oxenfeldt, 1974; Kotler, 1974; Schiffman et al., 1977; Hansen and Deutscher, 1977; Birtwistle and Shearer, 2001). Adding to the level of complexity, previous research suggests that consumers tend to mentally abstract image attribute information (Martineau, 1958b; Boulding, 1956; Newman, 2003), such as styles, trends, ranges, and the reputation the retailer has for stocking certain fashion items.

In the context of this research, it is possible to assign attributes that relate to fashion stores in general, and are highly indicative of retail management strategy. For example, prior work (Birtwistle and Shearer, 2001) suggests that customers will be aware of the types or style of clothing regularly stocked in the store. Hence, for young fashion seeking consumers, merchandise, or the styles on offer, are critical determinants of store patronage. Indeed, Greenberg et al. (1983) stresses that range of merchandise, promotions and the atmosphere of the stores are the most important factors influencing consumer choice. Later work by Berman and Evans (1992) confirms

this view and adds further dimensions of service and price. In this research, fashion styles may be considered to overshadow other attributes due to the criticality of this factor for the target market. Hence, a store chain may be considered to be in, or, out-of-step with the latest fashion statements. A visit to the store may confirm or disconfirm this view, and in this sense conforms to Davies’s (1992) assertion that store image is likely to be situation specific. Crucially, however, merchandise selection, and by this we mean the fashion styles on sale in a particular store chain, evokes an image that consumers use to judge the coolest retailer brand.

Branding in the fashion sector is highly important, and by managing brand loyalty a retailer may achieve substantial increases in sales (Reichel, 1994). Hence, brand loyalty is a significant indicator of success (Ehrenberg et al., 1990), and particularly for fashion retailers (Birtwistle et al., 1998). Young fashion consumers seek out both functional and symbolic benefits that are essential to their experiences (Leung et al., 2000). These attributes are encapsulated within branding statements, and the visual messages that convey them. Images of this nature are invariably linked to fashion styles and trends or, in more precise terms, the types of merchandise that retailers are known to carry.

An essential and implicit part of the brand is the service element, which includes (sales) staff-customer interaction. Value can thus be added to the merchandise through services. Berman and Evans (1992) attest to the importance of “store service” and “sales service”, which they conceptually link to returns, exchanges and courteous, knowledgeable, helpful sales staff, respectively. As image components these attributes are likely to be internalized and abstracted as part of the overall assessment of the retailer. Strategically, and over time, the service element can strengthen the retailer’s market position (Birtwistle et al., 1998), and improve differentiation (Turnbull and Wilson, 1989). Quality service contact makes for closer customer/retailer relationships (Berry and Parasuraman, 1991), which engenders positive word-of-mouth, greater sales and customer loyalty retention (Beatty et al., 1996).

Customers’ perceptions of merchandise quality are often affected by the brand name it is associated with (Forsythe, 1991; Mazursky and Jacoby, 1986; Nevid, 1981; Wheatley and Chiu, 1977). In general, however, quality is very difficult to define (Roger and Lutz, 1990). For example, Brown and Rice (1998) assert that a high price garment is likely to represent high quality to the customer and vice versa. Accepting this view suggests that price is related to quality and may be used to compare garments. However, this stance does not take into consideration where the item was purchased, and retailer image. For example, branding and brand loyalty has a great impact on fashion followers shopping in high street locations from retailers such as Marks and Spencer and Gap. When retailer brand image and market positioning are factored in, which incorporates customers’ views concerning the clothing styles that particular retailers are known to sell, quality may be defined in a much broader manner. Hence, comparing pricing strategies across the sector is by no means a definitive method of determining the true market positioning of a particular retailer. The US retailer Gap, for example, is one of the most expensive brands on the high street (Whitehead, 2002), and yet this retailer’s positioning strategy seems to be out of kilter with the customers it targets and fails to meet expectations.

Chapter 7

Learning and Reflections

During the period of data collection it was learnt that interviews are hard work. I have found out the hard way that doing too many in a day leaves you very tied! This is because they require you to engage in a lot of different activities at once. These include: following the schedule, asking the questions, keeping track of the flow of the conversation, taking notes, listening and, importantly, maintaining the required ‘face. The collection of data was the hardest part as taking high street interviews sometimes I struggled with convincing and holding respondents’ interest. As for the focus group the task of arranging was a bit hard because of the time restraint and had to organize with so many people at the same time. The thing I really wanted to do but failed to get permission was interviews with the managers of the two organizations. I had high hopes but it was declined. I think my research is limited because of the time frame if I were to start again I would definitely be much more organized the second time ,would have a clear understanding about the way the whole process is to be taken.

Through this research I learnt the importance of my supervisor, for there were times I was completely lost and confused. I consider myself to be lucky to have my supervisor as her immense support and guidance helped me in attainting my research aims and to be on the right track. The research had some difficulties and challenges but as it is well said nothing is impossible and if one has the motivation and dedication one can conquer the world.


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