Presenter: Megan M. Huffman
Advisor(s): Dr. Nancy Cassill
Author(s): Megan M. Huffman, Dr. Nancy L. Cassill, Dr. George L. Hodge, Dr. Michelle R. Jones, Mark Messura
Graduate Program: Textile and Apparel, Technology and Management

Title: Today's Apparel Retail Purchase Environment:  A Comparison of Retail Associates' Perceptions with Consumers' Attitudes and Opinions

Abstract: The purpose of the research is to determine the level of disconnect between retail associates and consumers through a comparison of perceptions, attitudes, and opinions of evaluative criteria within the apparel retail purchase environment. Specifically, the research examines the influence of store displays, retail associate product knowledge, retailer return policies, and product attributes on consumers’ purchase decision process as described by the research framework, the Consumer Decision Process by Blackwell, Miniard, and Engel (2001). The study provides marketing implications to retailers by allowing them to a) adapt marketing mixes and tailor competitive strategies to retain their current target market in the changing US apparel market and b) to better shape training programs in order for the retail associates to more accurately meet the needs and demands of consumers, thus leading to a higher level of customer satisfaction and loyalty, as well as profitable measures for the retailer.

A two-phase methodology is used to collect qualitative perceptions from 40 retail associates followed by the collection of quantitative attitudes and opinions of 800 consumers in three different retail channels, department, national chain, and specialty. Data was analyzed using analysis of variance, chi-square, and paired t-tests. In general, store displays bring consumers into the store and influence them to buy by displaying the style of the store and coordinating outfits. Retail associate product knowledge, while somewhat important, does not have a large impact on consumers’ purchase decisions. Consumers are more influenced by the variety of products and location of the retail store. In terms of retailer return polices, many retail associates would like to shorten time limits and most consumers feel that one to three months is an adequate amount of time to return an apparel item. Finally, consumers are most concerned with fit, comfort, and quality when purchasing apparel.