Consumer Ability to Determine Actual Quality and Level of Education: An Abstract
Quality evaluation, analyzed from the perspective of diverse disciplines, is a recurring topic in the marketing literature. The purpose of this paper is to contribute to the understanding of the consumer’s ability to distinguish quality levels of a product, compared to an objective (i.e., expert) measurement, within the product category of coffee. Furthermore, the paper aims to explore the moderating effect of the consumer’s level of education in his ability to discriminate qualities. Through the use of the Brunswik model (1955) and a multi-attribute performance approach, perceived and objective quality are compared by means of a set of product attributes, to determine which of these has the greatest explanatory power with regard to overall product performance measurements. Although several researchers have addressed the topic of objective vs. perceived quality, few have enriched their analyses with theories such as Brunswik’s, while fewer still have included moderating variables in the analysis.
Pearson correlations between the significance of the attributes to overall evaluations of objective quality vs. perceived quality revealed differences in the way experts and consumers use attributive cues. In the analysis of the four selected cues (aroma, body, flavor and residual flavor), the key attribute in defining an overall objective measurement of quality turns out to be residual flavor, showing the highest statistical correlation, whereas for the consumer’s overall perceived quality assessment, flavor has the highest correlation. Regression analyses were consistent with these results. The general achievement index (−0.133) reveals the consumer’s inability to recognize quality in this product. A breakdown of this negative value into its components indicates that coffees of higher objective value were rated the worst by consumers, and the objectively worst as the best.
Consumers may rank the cues differently than experts do. Regarding the moderating effect of some of the consumers’ characteristics on their level of achievement, it appears that level of education may not be relevant in establishing a significant difference between high and low achievers. Experts in this product category have stated that while it is true that there is a trend towards better quality coffee, consumers are not able to identify the level of quality, as their preferences are mostly based on local consumption traditions (Hernández 2017).
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