Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Consumer Information and Education Effects on Knowledge and Choice of Fire Resistant Upholstery

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Consumer Information and Education Effects on Knowledge and Choice of Fire Resistant Upholstery

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Projections from fire data gathered by the Office of the Fire Commissioner of Canada (Phillips and Kasem 1985) demonstrate that annually in Canada over 4,000 fires occur in upholstered furniture and that these account for five percent of all fires, 14 percent of all fire deaths, ten percent of all injuries, and three percent of all property losses due to fires. Upholstered furniture fires cause more deaths than any other category of material first ignited and are the second highest cause of injury. Reducing this hazard is an important policy issue.

In general, two approaches to hazard reduction have been considered for upholstered furniture. First, governments can enact regulations which require either that all products meet specified safety standards or that those products which fail to meet such standards be labelled accordingly. Such an approach has been followed in Great Britain. An alternative approach is for the upholstered furniture industry to introduce a voluntary program, establishing industry standards for the product and labelling those products which meet the standards. Manufacturers in Canada have recently adopted such a voluntary program for domestic furniture. Imported furniture is not included in the program, although the U.S. industry has a similar program.

The present study is undertaken within this context to assess consumers' probable reactions to the industry program and to assess the promotional and educational requirements for its effective delivery. This study, therefore, focuses on the impact of consumer information (CI) and consumer education (CE), both individually and combined, on consumers' choice of upholstered fabrics. Specifically the objectives are

(1) To develop several strategies combining consumer information (CI) and consumer education (CE) on the topics of upholstered furniture and textile flammability; and

(2) To measure the effect of different strategies on

(a) Consumers' awareness and understanding of textile flammability and related issues; and

(b) Consumers' evaluation of and choice among selected pieces of upholstery fabric which vary on several factors including fire resistance.

The following null hypotheses are tested to meet the second objective.

Hypothesis 1: Consumers exposed to different CE/CI strategies will not differ significantly in (a) knowledge gain with respect to fire resistance or fabric serviceability, or (b) number of fabric attributes mentioned during the choice exercise.

Hypothesis 2: No significant association exists between exposure of subjects to different CE/CI strategies and (a) fire resistance of the selected fabric or (b) suitability of the selected fabric for intended use.

BACKGROUND AND RELATED LITERATURE

In order to understand the possible effects of CI and CE, it is important to consider these strategies within the broader context of consumer decision making. Several authors have proposed comprehensive models of the consumer decision process (Howard and Sheth 1969; Engel and Blackwell 1982; Engel, Blackwell, and Miniard 1986). The Engel and Blackwell (EKB) model built on earlier work and is used as the conceptual framework for this study. The model postulates a decision process with five stages--problem recognition, search, alternative evaluation, purchase, and outcomes. This decision process is influenced by the information available to the consumer and the way in which the consumer processes that information. This is the focus of an alternative model (Bettman 1979) which explicitly considers the process of consumer information acquisition. The decision process is also influenced by the consumer's beliefs, attitudes, and intentions as well as many other individual characteristics. Two stages in the decision process are particularly relevant to this study: search, that is whether the consumer seeks label information when selecting upholstery fabric, and alternative evaluation, that is, whether or not the consumer uses label information in considering product alternatives. …

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