Sahni H.(a), Khan B.M.(b) and Barad K.(c)
a) Dept. of Fashion Management Studies, National Institute of Fashion Technology, Gandhinagar, Gujarat, India
b) Dept. of Business Administration, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, India
c) Shanti Business School, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India

Keywords: product attachment; longevity; customer experience; product-attachment framework; sustainability.

Abstract: Designing longer lifetimes for products is a prerequisite for a sustainable future (Cooper, 2005). In yester years, apparel products had a definite life-span and were used for their entire active life which was even extended through alternative use. In today’s times of changing consumer psychology and increasing disposable incomes, consumption has changed its meanings and dimensions. Over consumption has reduced product lifespans, inducing quicker discards and huge disposals. In order to make sustainable development an achievable goal, consumer involvement is essential. Manzini (1994) argues that the actual focus in sustainable development should be on people’s consumption behaviour. Mugge et al. (2005) argue that if a consumer feels attachment to some product s/he will handle it with good care, repair it and even postpone its replacement.

Niinimaki and Koskinen (2011) identified the elements of proactive sustainable fashion design and explored person-product relationships. They identified alternative methods in design for sustainability and the impact of sustainable design on clothing consumption and customer satisfaction. The current study aims at identifying attributes of apparel products (besides core design; such as usability, maintenance etc.) and elements of retail interface and service-scape that are instrumental in creating product-attachment and longevity. The study will also explore the role of customer experience in inducing product attachment. Finally, a product attachment framework will be developed by aligning customers’ psychology and behaviour patterns through the construction of unique experiences.

Product attachment

Mugge (2007) defines product attachment as the strength of the emotional bond a consumer experiences to a specific product. According to Mugge, Schifferstein and Schoormans (2006), if people feel strongly attached to a product, they are more likely to handle the product with care; to repair it when it damages and put in their best efforts to postpone its replacement as long as possible. Consumers become attached to certain products, because these products convey a personal and special meaning over and above the utilitarian value (Mugge, 2007). Consumers’ emotional attachments to products can increase their lifespan (Mugge, Schoormans, and Schifferstein, 2005) and this can prove valuable in the context of environmental damage, caused by premature disposal before the active life of a product has been reached.

Factors influencing product attachment

Various factors related to product features, usage, retailer or brand name, retail environment, service interface, social environment, affect consumers’ psychology towards the product. In different studies, researchers have identified four factors that induce product attachment (Richins 1994; Kamptner 1995; Kleine, Kleine, and Allen 1995).

a)  Self-expression (Distinguishing oneself from others through the product)
b)  Group affiliation (Establishing social connections and obtaining social approval through product ownership)
c)  Memories (Unique and lasting remembrances related to the product and its purchase) and
d)  Pleasure (Enjoyment obtained during purchase and consumption).

Self-expression relates to endorsement of product through association with product personality which is “the set of characteristics that people use to describe a specific product variant and discriminate it from others” (Govers 2004). It gets manifested through the product’s shape, material, colour, texture, retail interface and usage (Govers, Hekkert, and Schoormans 2002; Jordan 2002). Consumers bond strongly with products that have a ‘personality’ congruent to their own and communicate their individuality through these products (Govers and Mugge 2004). Sporty people get attracted towards Nike products and adventurous people value Patagonia products due to its product personality. Armani enables its customers to flaunt a distinguishable elegance.

Apparel products and concept of attachment

Fashion products, especially apparel, are greatly influenced by evolving concepts, climatic conditions, body measurements, fit aspects etc. (Solomon & Rabolt, 2004). Product attachment and sustainability have difficultly fitting in the fashion world where people indulge in over-consumption and throw-away activities due to psychological and social pressures underlined by changing trends. The challenge is not just to increase the physical lifespan of apparel but also to extend the psychological life. Here consumer approval and acceptance for the aging apparel product is maintained at a considerably high level, and is not decreased by new offerings in the market.

Role of customer experiences in apparel attachment and longevity Customer experience is the sum of all experiences a customer has with a supplier of goods and services, over the duration of his/her relationship with that supplier (Roebuck, 2012). Customer experience is “the takeaway impression formed by consumer’s encounters with products, services, and businesses—a perception produced when humans consolidate sensory information” (Carbone & Haeckel, 1994). It is the key factor for companies to use, in building loyalty to brands, channels and services (Badgett, Boyce & Kleinberger, 2007).

According to Schmitt (1999) customers encounter sensory, emotional, cognitive, behavioural and social experiences during various phases of product purchase and use. These experiences have significant impact on consumers’ psychology and behaviour towards the product, and can result in attachment. Product features, store attributes, retail environment and service-scape act as experience determinants. Experience also emerges from the social environment (need of social acceptance, social status, reference group opinion) and from the natural environment (awareness of environmental issues, and customers’ psychological and behavioural responses). The study by Gentile et al. (2007) identified the constructs of customer experience as –Sensorial (senses), Emotional (affective system of generation of mood, feelings, emotions), Cognitive (mental processes, problem solving), Pragmatic (practicality, usability), Lifestyle (values, beliefs related to lifestyle & behaviour) and Relational (social context, relationship with other people).

Customer experiences play an important role in developing associations between consumers, products, brand and elements of the retail environment (Verhoef et al., 2009; Puccinelli et al., 2009). When actual experiences match customers’ expectations, they are happy and retain memories of product-purchase and product-usage for longer periods. When actual experiences exceed customer expectations, they feel delighted and build stronger associations with the brand or product. Figure 1 gives the customers’ experience-attachment relationship.

The experience-attachment relationship

The below given Table 2 depicts the Customer experience and product-attachment matrix. Apparel is a form of self-expression and reflects a consumer’s lifestyle and personality. Apparel purchase decisions are characterized by a high degree of consumer involvement and depend on various crucial attributes such as look and feel, fit and comfort, relevance to the latest trends, styles etc. and various clues related to the retail store, services etc.

Apparel brands and retailers are interestingly and innovatively using customer experience constructs to explore the different dimensions of experience, and constructing enthralling and intriguing experiences. ModCloth, a trendy, fashion-forward women’s apparel retailer creates true social-shopping experience by improvement and growth. Burberry, the British luxury brand, introduced an innovative digital strategy to motivate pleasure for consumers. partnered with Google to provide its customers with an interactive and visually- immersive experience through its campaign Burberry Kisses. This allows users to send letters sealed with a virtual kiss to friends and loved ones across the globe. Concept stores provide not only great interiors but also, lifestyle experiences to customers. Urban Outfitter, the American multinational clothing corporation, through its concept stores such as “his and hers” and “Space Ninety 8”, provides its customers with a completely enthralling shopping experience. This includes different levels of shopping, interaction with local designers, music shops, vintage shops, roof-top dining and so on.

The experience-attachment matrix

Objectives

The objectives of the study are:

  1. To identify the attributes that creates attachment to apparel products and increase product longevity
  2. To identify the constructs of customer experiences acquired through product use, retail environment and service interface, that induce apparel product attachment
  3. To develop a product-attachment framework for developing long-term product relationships by constructing experiences.

Customer experience & product- attachment attributes identified from literature review

Methodology

An empirical study was undertaken. Attributes creating attachment and longevity for apparel products and the related customer experience constructs were identified through a consumer survey. Respondents were in the age group 15- 60 years. Data collected from structured questionnaires was analysed using SPSS. The aim was to identify constructs of product attachment that emerge from attributes of apparel products, retailing and associated services that generate positive customer experiences using Factor Analysis.

From an extensive review of extant literature, elements that could possibly induce apparel product-attachment were identified. Table 2 provides the customer experience & product attachment attributes that were used in the survey.

Factor analysis was done to find out significant factors and experience determinants that affect customers’ attachment to apparel products and which may motivate them to use the apparel products for a longer time.

Results of factor analysis

Initially Factor Analysis was performed in SPSS using the Principal Component Approach with a Varimax rotation. The result of Bartlett’s test of Sphericity (0.00) and KMO (0.813 > 0.5) indicated that data was appropriate for factor analysis. Using principal component analysis, twenty items were extracted by five factors. Only the factors having Eigen value greater than one were considered significant; others were discarded. All the five factors together accounted for 67.520 percent of the total variance. However through Rotated Component Matrix it was observed that three items were cross-loading in the matrix. These items were the “possibility of delayed disposal as a concern towards environmental damage” with loading value of 0.554 in factor one and 0.618 in factor two, “store staff services for product maintenance” with loading value of 0.675 in factor one and 0.500 in factor two and “store staff suggestions for product reuse and renewal” with loading value of 0.525 in factor one and 0.526 in factor two. Cross-loadings depicted ‘insignificance’, hence, these three items were deleted from the variable list and final round of analysis was performed.

In the final round of analysis, results of Bartlett’s test of Sphericity (0.00) and KMO (0.741 > 0.5) indicated that data are appropriate for factor analysis. Using principal component analysis, seventeen items were extracted by four factors. However items named “possibility of reuse and refurbishing” did not have any value, indicating that respondents’ did not express any opinion. Factors with Eigen value less than one were discarded. All the four factors together accounted for 62.458 percent of the total variance. Items having factor loading more than 0.5 were included in the interpretation. Tables 3, 4 and 5 summarize the Factor Analysis results.

KMO and Bartletts Test.

Total Variance explained

Rotated Component Matrix

Findings

Identification of attributes that create attachment to apparel products

From Factor Analysis Product factors, Store /Brand factors, Consumer factors and Social factors emerged as most significant in explaining apparel product attachment and thus motivating customers to use the apparel products for a longer period of time. Table 6 depicts the reduced factors. It emerged from the study that the listed factors impact customers’ experiences, attachment with apparel products and product longevity. For each factor, the significant attributes are arranged in order of consumer preference (starting with the most important attribute).

The Attribute-Experience construct mapping

Factors significant factors for customers’ experiences

Identification of customer experience constructs that induce apparel product attachment

Experience dimensions impact consumers psychology by generating related values (lifestyles, cognitive, emotional, relational, pragmatic and sensorial) (Gentile et al., 2007) which have behavioural implications (re- purchase intention, increased frequency of purchase, product attachment, positive word- of-mouth, advocacy).

The attributes obtained from Factor Analysis were mapped with the experience constructs which represent the different dimensions of customer experiences (Gentile et al., 2007). An adapted version of Attribute-Value Mapping (a Systematic Inventive Thinking method, adopted from Genrich Altshuller’s TRIZ) was used to map the significant attributes to the causal stimuli which further traced the respective experience dimension or construct responsible for its behaviour.

Figure 2 shows the Attribute-Experience construct mapping. The experience constructs that emerged relevant for attachment to apparel products are:

  1. Lifestyle
  2. Cognition
  3. Emotions
  4. Relations and
  5. Senses

The dashed lines shows relevance to more than one construct. For instance, the product attributes are mapped to Product stimuli. However, attributes of ‘Uniqueness’ & ‘Consumer involvement’ show more relevance to Lifestyle construct, whereas ‘Quality’ and ‘Maintenance’ signify cognitive association. ‘Consumer involvement’, at the same time has emotional relevance, also. Similarly consumers’ approval of ‘Eco-friendly practices of the store’ relates to lifestyle, cognition, emotions and relations constructs in addition to sensorial constructs

Product-attachment framework

Proposed product-attachment framework

The proposed product-attachment framework is based on the mapping of significant attributes that create consumer-product attachment and the experience constructs that contribute in development of long-term product relationships by formulating experiences. Figure 3 depicts the Product-Attachment framework. The consumer-scape is arranged horizontally and brand-scape is presented vertically. It highlights the building blocks of customer experiences that can induce product attachment, the psychological and physiological implications of experiences and the consequent behavioural outcomes. The experience creation parameters for the brands are also proposed.

Conclusions

It can be concluded that the apparel consumers and the fashion-conscious are ready to compromise with protecting the environment, but not with the aesthetics, tastes, styles, design and concepts of uniqueness and newness related to apparel products. They are ready to discard the apparel product irrespective of the fact that it is costly or cheaper, even if there exists several methods to preserve it, or it is in good condition and can also be renewed or refurbished. However, there is more likelihood of retaining and reusing the apparel if it was designed as per their choice or it is especially gifted or was bought for special occasions. The limited concern for sustainability is shown by the respondents’ appreciation for eco-friendly apparel retail outlets. It can be inferred that the majority of apparel consumers in all age-groups are more “fashion conscious” and less “environment conscious”.

In addition, their apparel consumption is affected by emotions, lifestyle and social environment. Cognitive and sensory experiences also play significant roles in apparel consuming decisions.

Apparel brands are innovatively orchestrating mesmerizing experiences for their customers. But in order to induce product-attachment with a sustainability concern, it is important for brands to converge the different experiences that they provide to their consumers to a focal point of environment ownership and restitution. Sustainability concern needs to be woven into the company’s communication, offerings and its touch-points in such an integrated manner that consumers subconsciously start learning a more responsible approach of apparel consumption and move towards ‘Fashioning with Sensitivity’.

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