Impact of media use on consumer product knowledge
There has been an upswing in online purchasing while people are spending more time at home owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. From this perspective I was interested to read this study—which examines how traditional media (e.g., newspapers, outdoor advertising) compare with general network media (e.g., social media sites, search engines) and professional network media (i.e., forums designed to disseminate specific professional information) when it comes to influencing consumer product knowledge—in the context of many of us needing to shop solely online when lockdowns and other access restrictions do not allow us to visit physical stores. The study also investigated the mediating effect of consumers’ learning stage, which is the amount of knowledge individuals possess in regard to a product, and the moderating effect of the perceived risk of the product.
The author found that all three media types influenced the formation of consumer product knowledge, but that general network media had the greatest impact overall. This effect was mediated by learning stage, such that respondents who were at an advanced learning stage already possessed sufficient knowledge about the product, so they tended not to seek out additional information from any of the media sources. The perceived risk of a product also had a significant moderating effect: A low level of perceived risk was associated with a lower tendency to look for more information, whereas a high level of perceived risk meant that participants were more likely to try to gather as much information as possible about the product, particularly from traditional and professional network media sources.
In terms of how these findings apply to the current pandemic situation, we, as consumers, might wish to keep in mind the potential biases we hold when seeking product information, especially for high-risk products. Further, companies with low-risk products that need to switch from using traditional media advertising to network media could benefit from focusing on general media, given the greater influence of these channels compared to that of professional network media. However, for companies offering higher risk products, in the absence of traditional media channels—which are what the author recommended for use in this context—they would do well to target professional network media to convey to consumers that the product knowledge they are conveying is backed up by high-quality sources.
The focus in this study on a product range with a narrow target market, that is, mother-and-baby products, although chosen deliberately with the intent of examining a product category with which participants were unlikely to be familiar, no doubt has an impact on the generalizability of these results to other market segments and groups of respondents. It would be interesting to see whether they would hold true if this study were to be replicated in other contexts.
Sarah Krivan | Copyeditor