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Melinda Knuth, Bridget K. Behe, Charles R. Hall, Patricia T. Huddleston and R. Thomas Fernandez

In the coming decades, no natural resource may prove to be more critical to human health and well-being than water. There is abundant evidence that the condition of water resources in many parts of the United States is deteriorating. In some regions of the country, the availability of sufficient water to meet growing domestic uses, and the future sufficiency of water to support the use of landscape plants where we live, work, and play is in doubt. Conservation through water efficiency measures and water management practices may be the best way to help resolve water problems. Yet, consumer perceptions and attitudes and behavior toward water conservation may differ widely, particularly in the presence of drought. This study sought to add to the current horticulture and water conservation literature by exploring consumer attitudes and behavior during real and perceived drought situations, especially in terms of their landscape purchases and gardening/landscaping activities. Study findings could better inform educational programs and marketing strategies, helping to ensure the future demand of Green Industry products and services. With a national sample of 1543 subjects, an online survey tool was used to classify respondents into categories based on whether they accurately perceived if the region in which they lived was experiencing drought. We hypothesized that consumers were heterogeneous in their attitudes and behavior regarding plants and water conservation, depending on their real and perceived drought situations, and that their attitudes affected their behavior regarding plant purchases. Results confirmed this hypothesis. Attitudes and behaviors for those who correctly perceived they were in drought were different from those who correctly perceived they were not in drought, as well as those who incorrectly did not perceive they were in an actual drought.

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Bridget K. Behe, Patricia T. Huddleston, Charles R. Hall, Hayk Khachatryan and Benjamin Campbell

Brands differentiate products from each other and help create the perception of added value. They influence product choice at the point of purchase with >70% of all buying decisions made in the store. Brands are often one of a few pieces of information consumers use to make product choices. Prior research showed that consumers had a greater likelihood to buy plant brands they had previously seen. To advance both the academic and practitioners’ understanding of plant brands, we sought to investigate the role of real and fictitious brands and their effects on visual activity and purchase intentions. Would simply including information on the container (e.g., fictitious brand) sway visual activity and purchase intentions? To investigate this notion, we conducted an in-person survey with a conjoint design in four states during May and June, 2015, using two flowering annuals and two flowering shrubs. Our goals were to assess consumers’ expressed and implicit preferences and, at the same time, monitor their gaze to determine how subjects used the real and fictitious brands as cues in their purchase decision. We showed 214 study participants digital images of 16 plants, varying the plant type, brand, and price; asked about brand awareness and familiarity; collected demographic and plant purchase information; and recorded their gaze as they viewed the images. We segmented the sample into three clusters, comparing their brand awareness and familiarity, conjoint analysis results, and the two visual measures: time to first fixation (TFF) and total fixation duration (TFD) on the container. The three clusters identified varied in their level of brand recognition and awareness but were similar in the relative importance and part-worth utility (PWU) mean scores, indicating a relatively similar decision process. The visual activity varied slightly by brand, but the fictitious brand captured and held visual attention similarly to the two established national brands.

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Bridget K. Behe, Melinda Knuth, Charles R. Hall, Patricia T. Huddleston and R. Thomas Fernandez

The strain on potable water supplies heightens the competition for water resources and potentially reduces the demand for outdoor plantings and landscaping. We conducted an online survey with 1543 respondents in 2016 to ascertain their water conservation and plant expertise, their involvement in water conservation and plant issues, and the importance of plants and landscaping. We also collected demographic characteristics. Cluster analysis results identified two key market segments comprising ≈50% of the sample each: those who are Actively Interested in Water Conservation and those who are Disinterested in Water Conservation. The Actively Interested segment was younger, had more adults and children in the household, and had a higher household income. In addition to having a higher mean score for water conservation involvement and expertise, the Actively Interested segment had a higher mean score for water conservation importance and impact, as well as plant expertise and involvement. The Actively Interested segment scored higher on select components relating to horticultural importance, including aesthetically beautiful landscapes, active landscape enjoyment, desire for a low maintenance landscape, and response in drought, compared with the Disinterested segment. The Disinterested segment scored higher on the Non-Landscape Use with no enjoyment. Findings suggest that pro–water-conserving attitudes are found among consumers who value outdoor landscapes and those individuals who spend more on plants. Results suggest that producers and retailers should focus marketing and communication efforts on low water use cultivar selection and operationalizing water-conserving behaviors more than convincing consumers that plant purchases and landscaping are important.

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Melinda Knuth, Bridget K. Behe, Charles R. Hall, Patricia T. Huddleston and R. Thomas Fernandez

Activity level, or the amount of action/interaction with a product, can be an indication of interest in a product category and influences purchases. Our goal was to assess the overall market for landscape plants using consumers’ activity level from the active/passive continuum proposed by Pine and Gilmore (2011). An online survey instrument was administered to invitees from a national online panel from 7 to 13 Sept. 2016 yielding 1543 useful responses. Factor analysis of 23 items adapted from a previous study revealed five factors, including one active factor and a separate passive factor. These two factors were used in the present study as a basis for a k-means cluster analysis. Two clusters emerged and were labeled “Active Engagement” and “Obligatory Passive Engagement” in landscape activities. We compared cluster means for all five factors and found the Active cluster purchased more plants of all types as well as had greater landscape pride and desire for a low (water) input landscape. Members of the Active cluster were from higher income and education households which were slightly larger and more likely to have Caucasian residents compared with the Passive cluster. In practice, retail employees and landscape professionals might initially ask about consumers’ activity level desired in the landscape as a screening question. Subsequent assistance in design and/or plant selection/purchase could then be tailored toward the desired activity level.

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Bridget K. Behe, Benjamin L. Campbell, Hayk Khachatryan, Charles R. Hall, Jennifer H. Dennis, Patricia T. Huddleston and R. Thomas Fernandez

Plants are often merchandised with minimal packaging; thus, consumers have only the plant (intrinsic cue) or information signs (extrinsic cues) on which to assess the product and base their purchase decision. Our objective was to segment consumers based on their preferences for certain plant display attributes and compare their gaze behavior when viewing plant displays. Using conjoint analysis, we identified three distinct consumer segments: plant-oriented (73%), production method-oriented (11%), and price-oriented (16%) consumers. Using eye tracking technology, we show that subjects spent more visual attention to cues in the horticultural retail displays that were relatively more important to them. For example, plant-oriented consumers were the fastest segment to fixate on the plants and looked at the plants for longer amounts of time compared with the other segments. Production method-oriented consumers looked at the labeling related to production method for a longer duration, whereas the price-oriented consumer looked at the price sign the longest. Findings suggest that retailers should carefully consider the type of information included on retail signage and the visual impact it has on different consumers.

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Bridget K. Behe, R. Thomas Fernandez, Patricia T. Huddleston, Stella Minahan, Kristin L. Getter, Lynnell Sage and Allison M. Jones

Eye-tracking equipment is now affordable and portable, making it a practical instrument for consumer research. Engineered to best analyze gaze on a plane (e.g., a retail shelf), both portable eye-tracking glasses and computer monitor–mounted hardware can play key roles in analyzing merchandise displays to better understand what consumers view. Researchers and practitioners can use that information to improve the sales efficacy of displays. Eye-tracking hardware was nearly exclusively used to investigate the reading process but can now be used for a broader range of study, namely in retail settings. This article presents an approach to using glasses eye tracker (GET) and light eye tracker (LET) eye-tracking hardware for applied consumer research in the field. We outline equipment use, study construction, data extraction as well as benefits and limitations of the technology collected from several pilot studies.