|Abstract or Summary
- The increasing popularity of catalog shopping has prompted many retailers to enter the market. Consequently, competition among catalog retailers has escalated. To maintain or expand their customer bases, catalog retailers must now find better ways to serve consumers. Many consumers are apprehensive to shop for apparel via catalog because they associate a higher degree of risk with purchases made through catalogs as opposed to purchases made in a store. Such risk is associated with consumers' uncertainty of purchase outcomes. While in a store, consumers may physically inspect garments before making a purchase decision. However, when shopping via catalog, consumers must rely upon pictures and written descriptions to evaluate garments' color, style, fit, and overall appearance. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to investigate ways that information within Norm Thompson catalog apparel descriptions can be presented in order to increase the perceived ability to evaluate specific garment characteristics and to decrease the amount of perceived risk associated with catalog apparel purchases by a sample of women in Oregon. The research project proceeded in two phases: focus groups and an experiment. In the first phase, focus groups were conducted in which female participants evaluated written word descriptions of four apparel items within a Norm Thompson catalog: pants, jacket, blouse, and turtleneck. The first objective of the focus group sessions was to identify what information within the catalog was important to a sample of female consumers. The second objective was to identify what important information was unclear to the sample and to investigate ways to clarify such information. Three focus groups were conducted with a total of seventeen female participants. The information most important to them when making catalog apparel purchase decisions included garment sizing and fit, color, fabric and fiber content, style and detail, country of origin, and laundering instructions. Based upon the focus group participants' suggestions, the researcher altered the garment descriptions to better communicate the information important to the participants. The pant and blouse descriptions were altered to include more specific fabric and fiber content information. The jacket and turtleneck descriptions were altered to include more specific sizing and fit information. The original and altered descriptions were used in the experiment phase. The experiment was a between subjects, repeated measures design with two independent variables: the type of description, original or altered, that subjects were exposed to and whether or not subjects were exposed to a Norm Thompson catalog cover page. Four different catalog formats resulted. Women from a sorority alumnae mailing list were randomly assigned to the four treatment groups. All four catalog formats were accompanied by a rating scale that measured subjects' perceived ability to evaluate specific garment characteristics, such as garment fabric and fiber content and garment sizing and fit, and the degree of risk subjects associated with the purchase of each of the four garments described within the simulated catalog. The third and fourth objectives of the study were addressed in the experiment phase of the study. The third objective was to determine if a sample of female consumers' perceived ability to evaluate specific characteristics of a garment, such as fabric and fiber content or sizing and fit, was a function of the type of written description to which they were exposed. As hypothesized, subjects who were exposed to the altered pant and the altered blouse descriptions perceived greater ability to evaluate the fabric and fiber content of the pants and the blouse. However, contrary to what was hypothesized, subjects exposed to the altered jacket and turtleneck descriptions did not perceive greater ability to evaluate the sizing and fit of the jacket and turtleneck. The fourth objective was to determine if a sample of female consumers' perceived risk regarding the purchase of the catalog apparel items under investigation was a function of the type of description to which they were exposed and whether or not they were exposed to a Norm Thompson catalog cover page, with perceived risk less for subjects exposed to the altered descriptions and less for subjects exposed to the Norm Thompson catalog cover page. None of the four hypotheses pertaining to the fourth objective were supported. Subjects exposed to the altered pant, jacket, blouse, and turtleneck descriptions did not perceive a lesser degree of risk than subjects exposed to the original descriptions. Furthermore, subjects exposed to the Norm Thompson catalog cover page did not perceive a lesser degree of risk than subjects not exposed to the Norm Thompson catalog cover page. Experiment results did not support data from the focus groups phase and data from past research. A focus group methodology, as opposed to an experiment, seemed to attain the most valuable data. It is advisable that in the future, focus groups be conducted to identify ways to better communicate garment information about sizing and fit, fabric and fiber content, style and detail, and color. Furthermore, catalog apparel retailers may use the information extracted in the focus groups phase of the present study to better understand the information needs of female consumers and to improve their catalog layouts.