Are Consumers’ Perceptions of Price–Quality Relationships Well Calibrated?

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Past research has shown that, to varying degrees, consumers tend to believe price is an indicator of quality, even though there is in fact often very little correlation between objective measures of price and quality (PQ). Moreover, consumers have been observed to be poorly calibrated in their knowledge of precisely which categories exhibit the strongest association between PQ for products. Given the profound changes that have occurred in consumer markets, such as the rise of the Internet and the flood of product quality information now readily available online, the present work seeks to update this line of research. Specifically, it seeks to determine if changes in the marketplace have affected (1) consumers’ perceptions of the PQ relationship; and (2) consumers’ PQ calibration. Data from two sources were collected and compared: (1) Subjective ratings of the PQ relation for various common products, collected using a questionnaire format in a survey of 313 US consumers; and (2) Objective estimates of the actual PQ association of the same products, gathered from independent third-party information providers who report both prices and rank-ordered quality measures for each. Results indicate that consumers today (1) continue to perceive a modest positive relationship between PQ (more so for durables, less for non-durables); and (2) are modestly calibrated for durable products. But they are much less well calibrated in the realm of non-durables, where consumers expect a positive link between price and quality in precisely those product categories in which the relationship is actually negative. Relative to past research, the calibration of consumers has apparently ‘flipped’ from non-durables to durables today. Potential explanations for this result include (1) the rise of the Internet as an information source for quality ratings of durables; (2) a higher level of perceived risk for durable goods purchases; (3) a greater tendency for durables to exhibit a positive correlation between actual quality and price; and (4) the rising quality level of private label brands, which may render prior price–quality perceptions for non-durables outdated or obsolete.


This article was originally published in International Journal of Consumer Studies. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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International Journal of Consumer Studies


© The Authors. Journal compilation © 2008 Blackwell Publishing Ltd