Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Effect of a Class Action Suit on Consumer Repurchase Intentions

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Effect of a Class Action Suit on Consumer Repurchase Intentions

Article excerpt


The majority of consumer purchases are potential repeat purchases. With the exception of one-time purchases, consumers buy similar products repeatedly or make repeated purchases from similar sellers. Thus, the majority of purchases represent one in a series rather than an isolated event. Understanding of any current purchase must be based on an understanding of the influence of prior purchases on later purchases. Major questions are how often and under what circumstances consumers make another purchase of a product they have tried or purchase from a seller they have previously patronized.

Recognition of the importance of repeat purchases has led to increased examination of determinants of repurchase behavior. Most research on factors affecting repurchase behavior has focused on consumer (dis)satisfaction and complaint behavior; consumers who are less satisfied complain more and are less likely to repurchase the product (Cronin and Morris 1989; Folkes, Koletsky, and Graham 1987; Gilly 1987). Much of the work on consumer (dis)satisfaction and complaint behavior has been based on expectancy theory (Tse and Wilton 1988). The basic premise of this approach is that consumers form prepurchase expectations regarding products and form post-purchase evaluations based on these expectations. Products which do not meet expectations generate dissatisfaction and complaints and reduce repurchase behavior. In its simplest form expectancy theory focuses on the degree to which product quality meets prepurchase expectations. However, more sophisticated process models recognize that satisfaction and complaints are not 'outcomes' but transient states and that post-purchase service can transform satisfaction and dissatisfaction into their opposites.

Substantial research has examined the marketing response to consumer complaints and its effect on repurchase intentions. If consumers are satisfied with the handling of their complaints, dissatisfaction can be reduced and the probability of repurchase increased (Gilly 1987; Gilly and Gelb 1982; Lewis 1983). Studies reviewed by Gilly (1987) indicate that satisfaction with the response to complaints varies (40-80 percent), and satisfaction is higher with manufacturer response than retailer response (Kelly 1979). Consumers often expect a (partial) rebate of their purchase amount, complimentary goods or services, replacement of the defective product, or even an acknowledgement or apology from the appropriate party (Kelly 1979; Lewis 1983).

Bitner, Booms, and Tetreault (1990) have suggested that there are a number of "critical events" in the relationship between consumers and the firms from which they purchase products. These events may color the entire consumer experience and even change well-established brand preferences. With some critical events there may be overt dissatisfaction, perhaps progressing to the point that consumers initiate complaints. Equally important are those instances in which the meaning of the event is initially ambiguous, that is, consumers do not have clear expectations of what should happen or who is at fault. Consumers may be impressed if firms meet extraordinary performance standards (e.g., by overcoming an accident beyond their control). Failure may lead to dissatisfaction and complaints, while success may lead to increased satisfaction and consumer loyalty.

In the present study, one type of "critical event," a class action suit, is examined. These suits have become common over the last two decades and represent an important intersection between the regulatory system and the marketplace ("1987 Class Action Statistics" 1988). The particular suit examined in this paper was against the manufacturer and dealers of an automobile. Automobile purchasers were notified that they were victims of dealer wrongdoing and that they would be receiving compensation. In an earlier paper the authors reported that participants in this class action suit were less positive than nonparticipants in their attitudes toward the manufacturer and dealers (Van Doren et al. …

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