Antecedents of word-of-mouth as a component of brand loyalty towards luxury fashion brands and its moderating factors

Master's Thesis, 2016

94 Pages, Grade: A






2.2.1. LUXURY
2.4.2. TRUST








Appendix A - Online Questionnaire

Appendix B - Survey Questions - Scale Overview

Appendix C - Ethics Minimal Risk Approval

Appendix D - SPSS Outputs

Index of Tables

Table 1 - Demographic characteristics of the sample

Table 2 - Luxury categories and social identity groups

Table 3 - Satisfaction: One sample t-test results

Table 4 - Trust: One sample t-test results

Table 5 - Commitment: One sample t-test results

Table 6 - Word-of-mouth: One sample t-test results

Table 7 - Materialism: One sample t-test results

Table 8 - Possession: One sample t-test results

Table 9 - Social Identity: One sample t-test results

Table 10 - Multiple regression analysis (MRA): expected predictor variables

Table 11 - MRA: Satisfaction, trust and commitment

Table 12 - MRA: predictors, expected predictors and moderation

Table 13 - Summary of hypotheses testing 50


In today’s competitive marketplace, companies need to establish a loyal customer base in order to be successful. In particular, the fashion industry relies on a loyal customer base and a good reputation to achieve sustainable financial growth. To survive the current challenges of growing competition, marketers must ensure that customers do not only develop a personal relationship with brands but also speak favourably of them. Prior research has focused on word-of-mouth as a component of brand loyalty and its antecedents. However, this topic turned out to be inadequately investigated in the specific context of luxury fashion brands.

Hence, the aim of this study is to examine how satisfaction, trust and commitment but also socio-psychological factors influence the consumer and thus have an impact on word-of-mouth. The nature of this study led to a quantitative methodological approach: an online survey investigating the sources of word-of-mouth. As a conclusion, this paper confirmed that trust and commitment were among the most important predictor variables of word-of-mouth. The main finding was, however, that socio-psychological factors such as materialism, social identity and possessiveness also increased positive word-of-mouth. However, since materialism and possessiveness are regarded as negative personality traits and cannot strengthen the effect of satisfaction, trust and commitment on word-of-mouth it is recommended that marketers concentrate on positive dimensions of word-of-mouth and brand loyalty (i.e., trust and commitment) in order to build a strong customer relationship.


I would like to thank my supervisor Shintaro Okazaki for the guidance and support throughout this Master dissertation. In addition, I am very thankful for all the support I got from my friends and family and especially the participants who made time to complete my questionnaire.


The development and maintenance of consumer brand loyalty is key to every successful company (Albert and Merunka, 2013; Delgado-Ballester et al., 2001; Fournier, 1998). That explains the current focus in literature on relationship marketing and the importance of establishing a close customer brand relationship (Fournier, 1998). Some scholars argue that loyalty and word-of-mouth may be among the most important factors describing a successful brand relationship (Aaker, 1991; Brown, 2005; de Matos and Rossi, 2008). In the light of this, it is not surprising that many managerial-oriented articles, as well as academic research, examine the sources of word-of-mouth (Garnefeld et al., 2010; Kozinets et al., 2010; Wolny and Mueller, 2013).

Especially luxury fashion companies rely heavily on a prosperous customer relationship and positive consumer feedback since they operate in a highly competitive and volatile market (Tungate, 2012; Kim and Ko, 2012; Okonkwo, 2009). Particularly, the rapid rise of fast-fashion retailers has an undeniable and growing impact on the consumption of luxury fashion: “[t]he fact that near-identical copies of luxury fashion designs are available on the high street dilutes luxury labels’ brand equity and makes their products less desirable” (Business of Fashion, 2016). Therefore, to compete in this market, a good reputation and a loyal customer base are essential (Business of Fashion, 2016). Thus, luxury brand marketers must ensure that customers do not only develop a personal relationship with brands but also speak favourably of them (Anggraeni and Rachmanita, 2015). One reason for this is that word-of-mouth is considered as one of the most trusted and valuable forms of marketing (Brown et al., 2007). Furthermore, positive word-of-mouth has become even more important due to the growth of the Web 2.0, which has empowered customers to share enormous amounts of information about a brand (Castells, 2009; Kozinets et al., 2010). Furthermore, according to Solomon (2015, 524), word-ofmouth “influences two-thirds of all consumer goods sales.” For marketers it is therefore vital to know how to generate word-of-mouth and why people engage in it.

Whereas previous research in the brand loyalty domain provides a fundamental contribution, additional research is needed to understand word-of-mouth and its predictor variables. So far, most studies have focused on the relationship between satisfaction, trust, commitment and word-of-mouth. Only a few studies concentrate on the direct relationship between socio-psychological factors and word-of-mouth. This thesis intends to determine the extent to which social identity, possessiveness, and materialism increase the likelihood to engage in word-of-mouth.


One objective of this paper is to analyse how the engagement in word-of-mouth, as a form of brand loyalty, will be affected by brand satisfaction, brand trust, and commitment towards a luxury fashion brand. Existing research recognises the critical role played by these three key variables. However, little attention has been paid to the specific context of word-of-mouth and luxury fashion brands. Additionally this study aims to fill a gap in the literature by investigating to what extent social identity, materialism and possessiveness directly affect word-of-mouth. Moreover, it will be examined whether these variables strengthens the positive relationship between satisfaction, trust, and commitment, and word-of-mouth. It is important to mention that this study does not aim to show a cause-and-effect relationship between the independent variables and word-of-mouth. Instead, this study intends to demonstrate whether there is a positive relationship between the independent and dependent variables.


In chapter 2, the existing literature in the discussed research field is examined to gain a better understanding of the topic under study. Following the insights obtained from the reviewed literature on word-of-mouth and its antecedents, the conceptual framework and the hypotheses were established.

The following chapter will clarify and justify the chosen research methods while further explaining the epistemology of the research approach.

In the following chapter, the chosen research methods are clarified and justified explaining the epistemology of the quantitative approach. Furthermore, the sampling technique is explained along with the design and construct of the survey. Additionally, the ethical considerations for this study are presented. Chapter 5 contains the results gained from the research in the form of t-tests and multiple regression analysis. Chapter 6 provides an in-depth discussion aligned with existing literature, which led to final conclusions. Lastly, managerial recommendations, the limitations of the research, as well as, future recommendations are addressed.



The following chapter will review relevant existing theories on luxury fashion, wordof-mouth as a form of brand loyalty, and its antecedents, namely, satisfaction, trust, and commitment. Additionally, expected predictor variables of word-of-mouth are examined and reviewed: social identity, materialism, and possessiveness.


As one purpose of this paper is to discuss how the aforementioned predictor variables will affect the likelihood to engage in word-of-mouth about a luxury fashion brand, the term “fashion” needs be defined. Solomon (2015, 550) argued that the fashion system consists of “all the people and organizations that create symbolic meaning and transfer those meanings to cultural goods.” This implies that fashion in its broadest sense relates to the creation of change within human society. Yet, throughout this thesis, fashion will be used in the sense of apparel and related products such as handbags, shoes and accessories.

The motivation behind the research focus on fashion derived from the notion that fashion “exerts a very personal effect on individual behaviour” (Solomon, 2015, 551). This assumption is supported by Davis (1984), who argued that fashion is an important social symbol. According to Davis (1984), fashion is worn daily, publically displayed, and it is a meaningful and easily controllable status symbol. Moreover, fashion consumption is a social process, through which people establish their place within society (Solomon, 2015). Davis (1984, 326) also noted, that clothing reflects a personal choice, which in turn can be observed by others: “clothing is readily observable and believed to be a personal choice of the individual (…) causing clothes to be a form of nonverbal communication about various aspects of the individual.”

McCracken (1985, 74) holds a similar view, stating that clothing help to differentiate between individuals:

“[t]hus, the clothing that distinguishes between men and women or between high and low classes also reveals something of the nature of the differences that are supposed to exist between these categories” lothes can therefore serve as a symbol for one’s status, interests, group membership, age, sex, and values, just to name a few.

2.2.1. LUXURY

Given that this paper focuses on luxury fashion rather than conventional fashion, the term “luxury” merits some explanation. While reviewing various literature on fashion and consumer research, it became evident that especially luxury items could have a great impact on consumer psychology and behaviour (Okonkwo, 2009; Kim and Ko, 2012; Dubois et al., 2005). Overall, these studies highlight that luxury fashion is an insightful topic to shed light on the domain of brand loyalty.

One must acknowledge that luxury embodies a multitude of definitions and theories (Okonkwo, 2009; Kapferer, 2012; Dubois et al., 2005). Furthermore, there have been several findings explaining consumers’ motivations for buying luxury brands, namely, a need for affirmation and uniqueness, materialism, conspicuous consumption, and prestige-seeking consumer behaviour, just to name a few (Hung et al., 2011; Truong et al., 2008; Vigneron and Johnson, 1999; Tynan et al., 2010). Hung et al., (2011, 458 f.) also reported that:

“some individuals consume a luxury brand for the symbolic meaning it communicates to the world about the owner’s wealth and value (…) including fashion goods, to satisfy their voracious appetite and self-esteem.”

Kapferer (2012) claimed, that luxury is enduring and timeless, with its value propositions exceeding that of tangible and functional aspects. He further argued that luxury is defined as a dream linked to scarcity, heritage and culture while giving individuals a sense of elevation: “Buying a luxury brand makes people feel elevated. Luxury is about elevation” (Kapferer, 2012, 67). Similarly, Okonkwo (2009) identified nine core characteristics of luxury brands, which are, a strong identity, exclusivity, recognisable style, high quality, enhanced emotional and symbolic associations, high awareness, uniqueness, limited distribution and premium pricing. Although different definitions and ideas still exist, there appears to be some agreement that luxury is something very unique, scarce, and desirable (Dubois, 2005; Kapferer, 2012; Okonkwo, 2009).


The recent focus in the literature on relationship marketing highlights the importance of establishing a close consumer brand relationship (Albert and Merunka, 2013; Delgado-Ballester et al., 2001; Fournier, 1998). Some scholars argue that loyalty towards a brand is one of the most important factors describing a brand relationship (Fournier, 1998; Hess and Story, 2005; Morgan and Hunt, 1999; Oliver, 1999). These studies suggest that brand loyalty refers to the extent to which customers feel positively connected to the brand, company, or service. Customers can express their loyalty towards a brand via various behaviours, such as the engagement in repurchasing a product (behavioural loyalty) or word-of-mouth (attitudinal loyalty) (Delgado-Ballester et al., 2001).

Chaudhuri and Holbrook (2001, 82) agreed by stating that:

“[b]ehavioral, or purchase loyalty consists of repeated purchases of the brand, whereas attitudinal brand loyalty includes a degree of dispositional commitment in terms of some unique value association with the brand.”

This study, however, will only focus on word-of-mouth as a form of brand loyalty. The terms brand loyalty and word-of-mouth will therefore be used interchangeably throughout this paper. Measuring repurchase intention has been disregarded since this is beyond the scope of this research. The term word-of-mouth is used in its broadest sense to refer to all positive recommendations of a certain luxury brand, offline as well as online.

It is necessary to clarify the dimensions of ‘word-of-mouth’, for what reasons people engage in it, why it is so important to companies, and to what extent it is a component of brand loyalty. In existing literature, the term word-of-mouth refers to the information about a company, service, product, or brand, which is communicated from one customer to another (Brown et al., 2005; de Matos and Rossi, 2008; Kozinets et al., 2010; Okazaki, 2009). Consumers can engage in word-of-mouth via face-to-face interaction, online on for instance social media platforms, and through various other communication channels (Garnefeld et al., 2010). It is crucial to mention that word-of-mouth can be either negative or positive (Weber, 2009).

However, since this research focuses on brand loyalty, only positive word-of-mouth is relevant.

As mentioned earlier, positive word-of-mouth is an important component of brand loyalty: it was shown that loyal customers are more likely to recommend the brand to their friends and peer group (de Matos and Rossi, 2008).

There are several reasons why word-of-mouth is highly important to companies and consumers. Firstly, according to Okazaki (2009, 439) “word of mouth (WOM), has often been particularly influential in consumer decision making, and has received considerable attention in marketing.” Additionally, word-of-mouth is regarded as one of the most trusted and valuable forms of marketing (Brown et al., 2007). Secondly, a strong consumer brand relationship and what customers say and think about a brand or company is ever more important in today’s networked society: because of the advent of the Internet and Web 2.0, individuals can share “massive amounts of information about brands, products, and companies” (Keller, 2009, 139). That explains why Weber (2009) argued that word-of-mouth is regarded as the strongest form of brand equity. Additionally, Aaker (1996) noted that brand awareness is not only measured by mere brand recognition and recall anymore, but by the recommendations and conversations around a brand. Weber (2009, 99) further added, “the stronger the dialogue, the stronger the brand.” In the best case consumers think so favourably of a brand, that they are willing to engage in positive word-ofmouth. This is crucial since “the more positive information consumer get about a product from peers, the more likely they will be to adopt the product” (Solomon, 2015, 525). Aaker (1991) further recognised that the real value of loyal customers is their impact on other people rather than their own repeat purchases (Brown et al., 2005). Positive word-of-mouth is particularly crucial for the fashion industry, which relies on positive consumer feedback in order to be successful (Tungate, 2012).

Especially since luxury brands do not only compete in their own market, but are also challenged by the growing popularity of fast-fashion retailers such as H&M and Zara (Okonkwo, 2009). These retailers often take their inspirations from catwalk trends and copy them at great speed and low costs (Okonkwo, 2009). This phenomenon has led to a gradual slowdown in the luxury industry (Okonkwo, 2009). Therefore, in order to compete in this market, marketers must ensure that customers develop a personal relationship and feel emotionally connected with fashion brands (Anggraeni and Rachmanita, 2015). Word-of-mouth, which is regarded as a very trustworthy and reliable form of information shared about a company is therefore a valuable and vital brand asset (Solomon, 2015).


A broad body of research on the antecedents of word-of-mouth has been established over the last years (Brown et al., 2005; Delgado-Ballester et al., 2001; Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010; Swan and Oliver; 1989; Weber, 2009). Prior research has identified the three most relevant antecedents of brand loyalty, namely, satisfaction, trust, and commitment (Delgado-Ballester et al., 2001; Wolny and Mueller, 2013 Morgan and Hunt 1994; Oliver, 1999). Throughout this study, the term predictor variables will refer to these antecedents.

The following review of relevant literature will give an understanding of the determinants of word-of-mouth. Additionally, this research focuses on the extent to which social identity, materialism, and possession further increase the likelihood to engage in word-of-mouth.

Existing empirical studies pointed out that one important variable to predict brand loyalty is overall satisfaction with the product or service (Chaudhuri and Holbrook, 2001; Delgado-Ballester et al., 2001; De Matos and Rossi, 2008; Hess, 1995; Morgan and Hunt, 1994; Oliver, 1999). In addition to this variable, commitment, plays another key role influencing brand loyalty. This construct can be described as an emotional bond with the brand (Dowling and Staelin, 1994). Brand trust has been identified as a third variable (Chaudhuri and Holbrook, 2001; Delgado-Ballester et al., 2001; Lau and Lee, 1999). These three dimensions of brand loyalty will now be elaborated in the specific context of luxury fashion brands.


A generally accepted definition of customer satisfaction in marketing is defined as “an indication of expected future performance based on meeting past performance expectations” (Hess and Story, 2005, 315). This means that the customer decision journey does not end with the final purchase, because “the consumer compares the level of performance with expectations and is either satisfied or dissatisfied” (Belch and Belch, 2004, 120).

Hess and Story (2005, 315) described satisfaction as “perceived quality and reliability of products or services”. In the same sense, Delgado-Ballester et al. (2001, 1239) noted that, “it is widely considered that loyalty is one of the ways with which the consumer expresses his/her satisfaction with the performance of the product or service received”. This definition highlights that fulfilling customer expectations creates satisfaction, which can eventually lead to word-of-mouth. This view is additionally supported by Ly and La (2004) who suggested that customer satisfaction is built when the brand fulfils or exceeds expectations of brand performance. De Matos and Rossi confirmed:

“[t]he level of customer satisfaction has an influence on two purchase behaviors, namely, repurchase intentions and WOM (…) the extent to which the product or service performance exceeds the customer’s expectations might motivate him or her to tell others about his or her positive experience (2008, 580)

It is necessary to mention that satisfaction is suggested to be the weakest antecedent of word-of-mouth, whereas commitment has been regarded as the strongest predictor to generate word-of-mouth (Wolny and Mueller, 2013; Bloemer and Kasper, 1995). Some scholars (e.g. Oliver, 1999) argued that only frequent satisfaction leads to brand loyalty, whereas individual satisfaction is less likely to have an influence on brand loyalty: “[f]or satisfaction to affect loyalty, frequent or cumulative satisfaction is required so that individual satisfaction episodes become aggregated or blended (Oliver, 1999, 34). Yet, most findings (Hess, 1995; Morgan and Hunt, 1994) provided evidence that overall satisfaction with a brand generates brand trust, “because it indicates the brand consistency in the fulfillment of its commercial promise” (Delgado-Ballester et al., 2001, 1244) and will therefore ideally result in brand loyalty. The same idea was pointed out by Hess and Story (2005, 315) who argued that “satisfaction explains some customer behavior, but not until placed in the context of trust.”

2.4.2. TRUST

The second dimension, used in relevant literature to describe brand loyalty, is trust. Satisfaction and trust are both highly related concepts. Some researchers (e.g. Sirdeshmukh et al., 2002) identified satisfaction as a key component of trust. However, as aforementioned, most scholars suggested that satisfaction is an antecedent of trust rather than a component (Delgado-Ballester et al., 2001; Morgan and Hunt 1994). This approach is in accordance with a study by Hess and Story (2005) on trust-based commitment:

“[a]ny personal relationship, whether interpersonal or between a person and a brand, is built on trust. In a marketing context it is impossible to completely detach trust from satisfaction” (Hess and Story, 2005, 315).

According to Hess (1995), this goes beyond perceived quality and reliability. Contrary to satisfaction, trust can build a personal relationship between the brand and the consumer. A very common view, which is supported by Morgan and Hunt (1994), defines trust as the willingness to rely on the brand. As aforementioned, trust is generally considered as one of the key determinants of word-of-mouth (DelgadoBallester et al., 2001; Kim and Ko, 2010; Lau and Lee, 1999). Moreover, it has been reported that trust towards a brand implies that the brand is perceived as more than just a mere product (Fournier, 1998; Delgado-Ballester et al., 2001; Lau and Lee, 1999). This means that there is a relationship between brand and consumer, where the brand is regarded as a person rather than a product. Trusting a brand is especially important when it comes to brand loyalty towards fashion brands: fashion items, which are publically displayed, are suggested to say a lot about an individual’s personality (Belk, 1988). Specifically, it is suggested that this product category is associated with a high-perceived social risk (Solomon, 2015). Trust might therefore reduce the risk associated with fashion apparel and push the individual towards engaging in word-of-mouth (Dowling and Staelin, 1994).

Nevertheless, to do so, trust may need to develop into something more emotional (Hess and Story, 2005). Many scholars emphasise the “importance of trust in developing positive and favourable attitudes (…) resulting in a commitment to a certain brand as the maximum expression of a successful relationship between the consumer and the brand” (Delgado-Ballester et al., 2001, 1240).

This implies that trust can lead to an enduring relationship, which can be defined as brand loyalty (Delgado-Ballester et al., 2001; Morgan and Hunt, 1994; Hess, 2015). It is therefore reasonable to assume that there is a positive relationship between trust and word-of-mouth.


As aforementioned, many scholars hold the view that commitment is the strongest predictor of brand loyalty (Delgado-Ballester et al., 2001; Dowling and Staelin, 1994; Morgan and Hunt, 1994). Commitment is defined as “the maximum expression of a successful relationship between the consumer and the brand (...) that leads to longterm loyalty” (Delgado-Ballester et al., 2001, 1240). This indicates that the customer desires to “maintain a valued relationship” with the brand (Moorman et al. 1992, 316). Hess and Story (2005) used the term commitment to refer to a consumer’s deepest relationship including attitudes, behaviours, and beliefs toward the brand. They also indicated that the level of commitment is determined by the combination of functional (satisfaction) and personal (trust) connections.

Morgan and Hunt (1994) pointed out that commitment is a result of trust. Meaning that without trust customers cannot develop commitment towards the brand. Cook and Emerson (1978, 728 cited in Morgan and Hunt, 1994, 23) described commitment as a variable that is “central in distinguishing social from economic exchange.” It is therefore assumed that luxury fashion brands with their perceived high quality, high intangible value, and uniqueness (Kapferer, 2012) lead to customer commitment, which then results in long-term loyalty (Delgado-Ballester et al., 2001).

It is important to mention that “[t]he notion of commitment provides an essential basis for distinguishing between brand loyalty and other forms of repeat purchasing behavior and holds promise for assessing the relative degrees of brand loyalty” (Jacoby and Kyner, 1973, 3).

After reviewing various literature on commitment, a common theme seems to emerge: commitment is regarded as a central factor to develop a close relationship with a brand, and therefore a key determinant of brand loyalty. Bloemer and Kasper (1995, 314) further clarified the relationship between brand loyalty and commitment:

“[t]he critical part of our definition of true brand loyalty is brand commitment, since, brand commitment is a necessary condition for true brand loyalty to occur. We define brand commitment as: the pledging or binding of an individual to his/her brand choice”

Consequently, it is assumed that there is a positive relationship between commitment and positive word-of-mouth.


While satisfaction, trust, and commitment have been used extensively in the literature to explain brand loyalty, up to now far too little attention has been paid to other possible predictor variables. Thus, this study investigates the influence of one’s social identity, and materialistic and possessive values on word-of-mouth. Throughout this study, these variables are referred to as expected predictor variables. In addition, this study suggests that materialism, possessiveness, and social identity could moderate between the aforementioned antecedents and word-of-mouth. These three variables were chosen, as they seem to be highly related to the consumption of fashion and luxury fashion in particular (Belk, 1985; Belk, 1988; Fitzmaurice and Comegys, 2006; Jenkins, 2004). While they have inadequately been empirically 19 tested, the literature suggests a direct link between these factors and word-of-mouth (Belk, 1988; Fitzmaurice and Comegys, 2006; Richins, 1994; Taylor, Strutton, and Thompson, 2012). Therefore, these factors might increase the likelihood to engage in word-of-mouth and additionally moderate between the dependent variable word-ofmouth and satisfaction, trust, and commitment.

Literature revealed that materialists put possessions at the centre of their lives and derive happiness from communicating those possessions (Richins, 1994). It is therefore expected that these consumers will be more likely to engage in word-of mouth.

Furthermore, many studies suggest that individuals purchase and recommend brands to signal their social status and social belonging (Solomon, 2015). It is therefore assumed that consumers, who assign themselves to a social group, are more motivated to talk about luxury brands. In other words, talking about a certain brand might be motivated by one’s social group belonging (Alexandrov et al., 2013) The decision to test these predictor variables on brand loyalty can further be explained by the finding that brand loyalty is a psychological process rather than an arbitrary behaviour (Jacoby and Kyner, 1973). This is why one can expect that these sociopsychological factors impact an individual’s motivation to engage in word-of-mouth. However, this has not yet been tested in the specific context of luxury fashion brands and word-of-mouth. The following three sub-chapters will give a better understanding of the expected predictor variables under study.


Social identity is a term frequently used in marketing and social psychology. Social identity is an important component of the self-concept and therefore our self-identity (Tajfel, 1974). The construct of self-identity will further be elaborated throughout this study. Hogg and Terry (2000, 121) argued that “people derive part of their identity and sense of self from the (…) groups to which they belong”. That implies that the self is no distinct psychological entity, but also a social concept: “The self is, therefore, conceived as a collection of identities that reflects the roles that a person occupies in the social structure” (Terry, Hogg and White, 1999, 226). Ultimately, social identity is defined as a person’s sense of social belonging (Tajfel, 1974).

Tajfel (1974) suggested that people divide their fellow human beings and themselves into two exclusive groups: in-groups and out-groups. Simply put, we categorise people as either ‘us’ or ‘them’. He further argued that human beings seek negative aspects about the out-group, thereby enriching their own group. The feeling of being part of a certain group, the so-called in-group, helps to develop one’s social identity (Tajfel, 1974). This confirms that people develop parts of their self-concept from the social groups and various social categories they belong to (i.e. sports memberships, family, occupation, social class etc.) (He, Li, and Harris, 2012; Reed, 2004; Tajfel, 1974).

Moreover, in the specific context of consumption, consumers make decisions about the products they buy to further define their social identity: there is evidence that individuals use brands to associate themselves with certain social groups (Taylor, Strutton and Thompson, 2012; Fitzmaurice and Comegys, 2006). This association can be divided into self-expression, self-enhancement, and self-esteem motivations (Bhattacharya and Sen 2003; He, Li, and Harris, 2012).

Similarly, McCracken (1986) and Belk (1988) both argued that individuals construct themselves by buying branded goods. Hence, brands are resources that help them express social identity and “symbolize either consumers’ membership, or desired membership in various social groups” (Fitzmaurice and Comegys, 2006, 287). Thus, it is assumed that not only wearing the good but also communicating and recommending the brand to others can help to express social identity and group belonging.

This can especially be expected for luxury fashion brands, which are not only purchased for their practical value but rather for their symbolic meaning (Kapferer, 2012). In conclusion, this means that luxury brands and the conversation about them can serve as a symbol for one’s exclusive social identity (Dubois et al. 2005). Also, Wolny and Mueller (2013, 563) argued, that fashion is “a powerful social symbol used to create and communicate personal as well as group identities”. This implies that talking about a luxury brand can communicate an individual’s aspired social belonging. Wolny and Mueller (2013, 563) noted, in the specific context of online conversations, that:

“this has profound implications for peer-to-peer communications about fashion, where users can choose what, when, and with whom they decide to share information, as this in turn impacts their socially perceived identity.”

To date, there are few studies that have investigated the relationship between word-ofmouth and social identity (Taylor, Strutton, and Thompson, 2012). This is why the present research aims to examine whether sharing information about a brand, online or offline, is influenced by one’s group belonging. Consumers, who believe to belong to a social group might feel the need to enrich their group or symbolise their membership by talking positively about a certain luxury brand. In other words, it is investigated whether a feeling of group belonging will have a positive effect on word-of-mouth. In addition, this study also suggests that social identity could moderate the relationship between the antecedents and word-of-mouth. Since it is expected that social identity will directly affect word-of-mouth, it might also be a moderator.


Another variable examined in this study is materialism. Researchers have been analysing materialism from different perspectives. However, theorists have not yet agreed on a generally accepted definition of materialism (Belk, 1988; Fitzmaurice and Comegys, 2006; Richins, 1994; Wiedmann et al. 2009) ccording to Richins (1994, 522), materialism is “a value that represents the individual's perspective regarding the role possessions should play in his/her life.” This means that people who are materialistic have possessions “at the center of their lives” (Richins, 1994, 522) bringing them temporary happiness and satisfaction. According to Belk (1988, 159), material objects help individuals to maintain a "personal archive or museum". Belk (1985) further found that materialists attach more meaning to possessions and tend to spend more time on possession related activities than people with low materialistic values. Belk (1985), Richins and Dawson (1992) believe that materialism is a negative personality trait encompassing three dimensions: envy, nongenerosity, and possessiveness.

Fitzmaurice and Comegys (2006) conceptualised materialism from a slightly different perspective by implying that materialists place more importance on possessions and objects rather than on people, experiences and spiritual beliefs. They also argued that materialists gain happiness not only from possessing the good but also from communicating and displaying their acquisition to others (Fitzmaurice and Comegys, 2006; Wiedmann et al. 2009).

Similarly, Richins and Dawson suggested (1992, 304) that “one of the reasons that possessions and their acquisition are so central to materialists is that they view these as essential to their satisfaction and well-being in life.” They also noted that materialists place more emphasis on publicly consumed items than privately consumed items, while also judging others in terms of their possessions. Richins (1994, 523) explained why individuals use publically consumed goods to express their self:

“[b]ecause possessions are part of the social communication system and are sometimes actively used to communicate aspects of the self, people are likely to care most deeply about those possessions whose public meanings are congruent with the self (…) and materialistic individuals are especially likely to use possessions to express characteristics of success to themselves and to others”

Although materialists derive happiness from the act of consumption, social scientists frequently prove that individuals, who concentrate on acquisitions and material objects exhibit decreased life satisfaction, reduced levels of happiness, and increased levels of depression (Burroughs and Rindfleisch, 2002)

Richins and Fournier (1991) also claimed that behaviours, which are associated with materialism, include conspicuous consumption, meaning that satisfaction is derived from other people’s reaction rather than the functional value of the product itself. Although differences of opinion still exist, there appears to be some agreement that possessions and acquisitions play a vital role in the definition of materialism. Previous research is uniform in suggesting that people with high materialistic values seem to place more emphasis on material objects than people who score low on materialistic values (Belk, 1985, 1988; Richins, 1994). Wiedmann et al. (2009) further stated that luxury possessions serve as external cues for consumers to demonstrate who they are or would like to be. Richins and Fournier (1991) showed that high-status brands, such as luxury items, are described as a signal of cultural value often used by materialists. It is likely that consumers with high materialistic values are more willing to engage in word-of-mouth than people with less materialistic values. Talking positively about a luxury fashion brand might bring these consumers happiness and satisfaction, while it simultaneously helps them convey their status to other people. It is therefore suggested that materialism will have a positive effect on word-of-mouth. In the light of the literature, it is also assumed that materialism strengthens the relationship between the already established predictor variables and word-of-mouth.


The third expected predictor variable, examined in this study is possessiveness. The terms materialism and possessiveness are often found together in literature (Belk, 1988; McCracken 1986; Richins 1994). Material possession implies a relationship between an individual and a specific material object. It is important to mention that possessiveness, such as materialism, is considered as a rather negative and socialundesirable personality trait (Belk, 1988). Overall, there seems to be some evidence to indicate that individuals often use possessions to construct and express their selfidentities (Belk, 1988; McCracken, 1986; Taylor, Strutton and Thompson, 2012). Although the concepts of materialism and possessiveness seem to be similar, the literature revealed that possessiveness is expressed through tangible attachments to products or brands, but also trough intangible attachments to experiences, occupation, and other people (Belk 1985; Belk 1988).


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Antecedents of word-of-mouth as a component of brand loyalty towards luxury fashion brands and its moderating factors
King`s College London
International Marketing
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word of mouth, marketing, loyalty, consumer behaviour, materialism, trust, satisfaction, social science, luxury industry, social identity, commitment
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Isabel Angerer (Author), 2016, Antecedents of word-of-mouth as a component of brand loyalty towards luxury fashion brands and its moderating factors, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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