Tag Archives: perceived quality

Sparklers, Bagels, and Value

I have a 6-year-old, which means I also must have sparklers on the 4th of July. (And that’s about it; I don’t trust my klutziness to be in the proximity of most explosives.) So this year, I drove down to South Carolina on the eve of the 4th to make my purchase. I got 96 sparklers for $5.00 – WOW, that’s only 5.2 cents per sparkler, I thought – what a great value! We got them home, night fell, emotions got high, and my kid was concerned that our sparklers would be so fantastic that all the neighbors would come to watch. (“Do we have enough seats in the yard?” he asked.)

It was dark… we were ready. We lit the sparklers. Expecting a ball of sparks at least 6 inches in diameter, I jumped back after I lit the end of the stick. I was looking forward to the part where we could write our names in the dark air, letting the letters hang there – a rite of passage in youth, or so I assumed. A little tiny penny-sized flare zizzled up, and a few sparks shot out straight to the ground, and 10 seconds later it was over. Just 3 sparklers left giant, noxious clouds of irritating ash and dust that filled up the neighborhood, to the point where we couldn’t light any more after just one round.

WHAT????!!? I thought. I wasn’t alone… I looked over and saw a sad, puzzled face looking back at me. “Are you sure you got real sparklers this time?” I was sure, but what I’d purchased – though a great perceived value, at first – turned out to be very low perceived quality. Why? My expectations were that any decent company making sparklers would have standards… nice ball of sparks, 60-second-plus duration, smoky cloud that would not put you in the hospital or give you Black Lung. My expectations were unmet by the product, and as a result, both perceived quality and perceived value plummeted.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, there is a difference between how you perceive quality, and how you perceive value (according to Mitra, 2002):

  • Perceived quality happens before you buy, adopt, or experience something.
  • Perceived value depends on how well the product, service or experience meets your expectations after you buy, adopt or experience it.
  • Perceived quality and perceived value are moderated by your expectations. Your expectations can (and often do!) change after you buy, adopt or experience something. Perceived value is NOT invariant, nor is it independent of perceived quality – your perception of value can change after you buy, adopt or experience similar products or participate in similar activities, because then you have a more rich basis for comparison.

This made me wonder just why people are buying these sparklers… as a sparkler connoisseur since this incident, I have noticed that pretty much all sparklers that are sold are the exact same variety that we got. Which means there must be a lot of people buying this brand of sparklers… and the company certainly wouldn’t be making them if people weren’t buying them. If we keep buying low quality products, how will manufacturers ever know that they’re not meeting minimum quality standards? I know this is significant in safety critical industries, or industries where there’s intense competition, but this whole sparkler debacle made me realize that as consumers, there are probably many fronts where we’re selling ourselves out. I’m sure there are plenty of families who also bought the same sparklers and thought they sucked, but they probably rationalized it by thinking that any sparklers are better than no sparklers for my kids. I might have thought the same thing, but I’m now of the opinion that NO sparklers are better than crappy sparklers, because buying duds sends the wrong message into the Invisible Brain of our Invisible Hand-guided global economy.

So what does this have to do with bagels? Here’s what. As I was lamenting the sad state of the sparklers, I thought to myself, “This would never happen in New York City if we were dealing with bagels.” Why? Because people there know a good bagel when they eat one, the price point is well known (as is willingness-to-pay), and people will not tolerate bagels that are subpar. They will vote with their feet. Bad bagels will cease and desist. The market will eat them, if they don’t meet the very high quality standards of the local bagel consumers.

My appeal to consumers is to ask yourselves this question. How bad does the quality OR value of a consumer product have to get before you’ll just say no, and send a proper signal back into the economy? If you don’t signal now, what makes you think the quality levels will stay the same as they are now?

LET EVERYTHING BE YOUR BAGEL. Don’t settle for minimally acceptable quality unless you’re ready for it to sink even lower.

Quality, Expectations, Value & Harrisonburg Bars

I met a guy named Brent at the Artful Dodger in Harrisonburg, VA last Friday. He’s behind @hburgnews on twitter, so I started following him, and through his tweets found a neat blog post detailing one person’s experience with Harrisonburg bars: In Vino Veritas: A Meditation on Value by Andrew Jenner, posted on February 11, 2010.

I think about quality and value all the time, so naturally (notwithstanding my intrinsic interest in learning more about Harrisonburg social venues, ie. bars) I read his blog post through an academic lens. My 2 cents of review on the quality and value of Harrisonburg bars, based on HIS review, is thus the substance of this post. (Does that make my review a re-review, or is that redundant?)

Typically when we think of quality, we think of the quality of a product or service. Lots of organizations, though, choose to emphasize the quality of the customer experience – which relates the transcendent, aesthetic involvement of a person with that product or service. The “customer experience” in a bar at happy hour (or any other time) has several components: Do you like the atmosphere of the place? Are you spending time with people whose company you enjoy? Does the environment suit your mood at the time? Do they serve the beer you like? Does the beer meet your price points? If you don’t want beer, do they have something else you’re interested in? Do you have any other criteria that are specific to your personal perception of quality and value?

The answers to these questions define your personal quality attributes, against which you set your expectations and judge your experiences. And there is a difference in how you perceive quality, and how you perceive value (according to Mitra, 2002):

  • Perceived quality happens before you buy, adopt, or experience something.
  • Perceived value depends on how well the product, service or experience meets your expectations after you buy, adopt or experience it.
  • Perceived quality and perceived value are moderated by your expectations. Your expectations can (and often do!) change after you buy, adopt or experience something. Perceived value is NOT invariant, nor is it independent – your perception of value can change after you buy, adopt or experience similar products or participate in similar activities, because then you have a more rich basis for comparison.

Andrew Jenner reviewed seven venues. I’ll review them too, based on my experiences and in light of the perceived quality <-> expectations <-> perceived value chain, plus one more that I have to throw in.

1. Clementine Cafe. This one’s really easy… because I’ve never been there. I have no pre-set expectations beyond what I’ve experienced in other venues in this locale. Andrew notes that this place has a “good beer for $3” price midpoint. I can deal with that, but it wouldn’t (on its own) sway me to try this place, unless my friends and colleagues were going there and I wanted to spend time with them.

2. Dave’s Downtown Taverna. They have really (really) cheap, low-quality beer, and reasonably priced high-quality beer on draft. Meets all of my basic expectations. But what I really like about this place are the little blue lights above the tables, the level of lighting, the cool spiral staircase in the corner, and the fact that sitting upstairs reminds me of being in the Bayou in DC before it closed. I have a good emotional anchor that influences my appreciation for this place. Even if the beer was twice as expensive, I’d go there just for the good feeling… which completely enhances my perception of the value of this place.

3. Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint. Andrew’s review skipped this place, because it was so crowded he couldn’t get in. The first time I went there, it was equally crowded – and I didn’t really like it, so I left. Why? Because I have nerve damage in one of my ears, and for some reason, there’s interference in the front of the place from the loud music and it was like nails on a chalkboard – and because one of my expectations was to hang out and talk to a few people, I couldn’t actually accomplish this there. But fast forward a few months, and now I really enjoy this place. They have an otherworldly selection of beers and tons of good imports. I’ve discovered a couple of new ones, so they have expanded my world view on beer. And later at night, when you’ve already talked to your people and you just want to go drink more beer and listen to heavy, edgy music, there is no comparable place in the town to achieve the same kind of mood. This place, to me, really feels like a Summit County, CO bar (another good emotional anchor for me). And now that I’ve reset my expectations to sit in the back (where the noise interference isn’t as pronounced) and to lip read (so I can understand what people around me are saying) I really enjoy it here.

4. Cuchi Guido’s. Never been there. Andrew wasn’t impressed by their slow service or challenged ambiance. (If there’s a process improvement opportunity here, I’ll have to go check the place out sometime.)

5. Cally’s. I’ve been there once, and they only had four beers on tap. One of my key expectations is that a place has a good selection, so perceived quality (as I walked in) took a hit. The place feels like an Applebee’s, and I typically like my bars to have some sort of unique characteristic that makes them interesting to look at while you’re drinking. None… perceived quality takes another hit. The beer was more expensive than any of the other places in town, and wasn’t particularly good. Perceived value takes a hit. As a result, this place is not on my short list (but might be the perfect venue for someone whose expectations are different).

6. Artful Dodger. I think this is the first (or second) bar I ever went to in Harrisonburg… on a Monday night. Quiet, laid back, and their very unique beers change a lot (add one on my perceived quality rating). They have a funky pricing schedule (which Andrew also noted) that makes your tabs always come out to even numbers (add one to perceived quailty for “cool” factor, as well as helping you add things when you’re signing the tab after multiple beers). Even though I don’t know tons of people around town, I’m finding that I can run into people I know or recognize here pretty readily (that’s one of my “nice to haves” on the expectations list). Fast forward to Fridays, when you get to see this place in its full Jekyll and Hyde best. Loud, unorthodox, and an extremely diverse crowd (I especially liked the girl in the full-suit alien costume last week). Reminds me of my crazy high school where folks like Adam Majewski used to wear full-suit astronaut uniforms to class. What a great way to open your mind. Perceived value on Fridays is, based on my expectations, now through the roof.

7. Local Chop & Grill House. Never been there, but Andrew’s post sets an expectation for me: really cheap, good beer. The name of the place doesn’t really stir me. It says “we want to be like Applebee’s” – so to me, that’s one step down in terms of perceived quality. Without any prodding, the promise of high-quality, cheap beer will not get me in here.

8. Chili’s. (Yes, I know Andrew didn’t review Chili’s, but I’m compelled to). But they have decent, high-quality beer on tap, it’s so inexpensive (during Happy Hour) you almost don’t notice it on your tab, and I’m always here with people who are fun and whose company I really enjoy. The bartender, Camille, is really great. I really don’t care that the ambiance is so nominal. High perceived value, based on my set of expectations, and moderated by good-experience-upon-good-experience.

The bottom line: Value is heavily mediated by your expectations, your prior experiences which influence your evolving expectations, and the quality attributes that YOU personally attach to your “customer experience”. This means you can’t just rely on one person’s reviews to see whether you will like a product, service, or experience yourself… you have to have the experience and then make your evaluation.