The beauty of flowers is universally appreciated across cultures (Rihn et al., 2014). Cut flowers and floral designs have been used to mark important and meaningful holidays and occasions throughout human history (Lai and Huang, 2013). In the United States, cut flower products are commonly used for special events, to decorate homes, as gifts, and for personal uses (Kim et al., 1999; Lai and Huang, 2013; Palma and Ward 2010; Rihn et al., 2011; Yue and Hall, 2010). Cut flowers also play a critical role in the development of the U.S. economy. The domestic cut flower market’s wholesale value was $374 million in 2018 (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2019).
In light of intensifying competition between retail flower shops and other shopping channels due to convenience and competitive pricing, business strategies that could lower the cost of floral products but maintain the consumer value are essential. These strategies would enable flower businesses to improve competitiveness, remain profitable, and generate sustained growth in the floral market (Yeh and Huang, 2009; Yue and Behe, 2008).
Aesthetic value is a crucial element of purchasing for floral consumers, and the species of flowers greatly influences the visual impact and value of floral products (Behe et al., 1992). Previous research has investigated consumer perceptions on the aesthetic appreciation of species of flowers. In general, expensive floral products have a broader variety of flowers in the arrangement, while lower-priced products have more limited variety (Behe et al., 1992). Vierheilig and Alvensleben (1986, 1988) demonstrated that attitudes toward aesthetically appealing flower species vary across generations. Younger German consumers prefer flowers with a natural look, whereas more mature consumers prefer flowers that look expensive. Earlier research performed by Hutchison and Robertson (1979) indicated that mixed floral arrangements with carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus) and chrysanthemums (Chrysanthemum sp.) are more preferred than those with roses (Rosa hybrida) only. Kelley et al. (2002) found that consumers value the addition of edible flower species more than they do additional flower colors and that consumers prefer multispecies choices above the single species. These findings are supported by consumer research regarding container garden preferences (Mason et al., 2008), which also showed consumer preferences for multispecies. Baourakis et al. (2000) suggested that consumers value more diverse species when buying flowers for personal use than when buying for gift-giving.
Similar to the symmetry of the overall floral design, flower symmetry refers to whether and how a flower can be divided into identical or mirror-image pairs of itself with a central axis (Almeida and Galego, 2005; Butler et al., 2005; Johnson et al., 2001). The most common types of symmetry in nature are bilateral, radial, and asymmetrical. Bilateral flowers can only be divided by a single axis into two mirror-image halves, similar to human faces, whereas radial flowers can be divided into more than three identical parts rotating around the center (Almeida and Galego, 2005; Butler et al., 2005; Johnson et al., 2001). Some flowers, however, may have no axis of symmetry at all and are called asymmetrical flowers (Weberling, 1992).
A number of studies have investigated preferences relative to the symmetry of objects, including flowers. Hula and Flegr (2016) reported preferences for multiaxes objects over single or biaxis objects. Some studies found the most recognizable items are most appreciated and easily processed by the human brain, such as symmetrical objects (Enquist and Arak, 1994; Enquist and Johnstone, 1997; Jacobsen and Hofel, 2002; Jacobsen et al., 2006; Leder et al., 2004). Studies have shown that moderately complex objects are most preferred over those with very low or very high complexity because very low complexity is considered “boring,” whereas very high complexity is considered “confusing and hard to process” (Akalin et al., 2009; Hekkert and Wieringen, 1990; Reber et al., 2004). The length of time required to process degrees of attractiveness is correlated with the complexity of an object’s axes of symmetry (Evans et al., 2000; Tinio and Leder, 2009). Although some researchers claimed humans have an inherent preference for bilaterally symmetrical flowers, Evans et al. (2000) found radially symmetrical flowers are more preferred than bilaterally symmetrical flowers (Little and Jones, 2003). Hula and Flegr (2016) found radial symmetry and sharp contours are more appealing in flower selection. Many studies suggested humans also prefer round objects over sharp, pointed objects (Bar and Neta, 2006; Leder et al., 2011; Silvia and Barona, 2009; Westerman et al., 2012). Some studies indicated this is a temporary fashion and hypothesized sharp objects could evoke strong feelings (Carbon, 2010). These feelings could be related to feelings of mystery and power, and may be aesthetically pleasing (Coss, 2003).
Even though previous studies have investigated consumer perceptions of species of plants and aesthetics of symmetry, there is no research on whether and how the substitution of species (of differing value) affect consumer perceptions and their valuation of the aesthetic and economic value of floral arrangements. In this study, the researchers explored whether and how consumer likability and willingness to pay for floral arrangements change when high-cost flowers were substituted with lower-cost flowers of a similar color and appearance. The researchers also examined whether consumers had a preference for a particular flower symmetry among the three common symmetry types, including bilateral, radial, and asymmetric.
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