The interrelationship between relationship intention, relationship quality and customer loyalty in the clothing retail industry
Kühn, Stefanie Wilhelmina
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Subdued economic conditions, increased competition and product parity have forced clothing retailers to augment their customer loyalty by following relationship marketing strategies. Increased investment in such strategies requires a greater understanding of relationship development between retailers and customers, particularly from the customers’ perspective. Although customers’ relationship intentions represent an essential starting point in comprehending relational development, relationship intentions have not been investigated in the context of retail markets. Moreover, while it has been argued that relationship marketing strategies should target customers with relationship intentions, empirical evidence supporting the interrelationship of these with key relationship marketing constructs (including relationship quality and customer loyalty) are necessary before retailers can consider this a worthwhile strategy to pursue. Consequently, the purpose of this study was to determine the interrelationship between South African clothing retail customers’ relationship intentions, relationship quality, and customer loyalty. Using non-probability convenience sampling, trained fieldworkers collected data from clothing retail customers who were aged 18 years and older, and were resident in the greater Tshwane metropolitan area. In total, 511 respondents completed the interviewer-administered questionnaire used in the study. The findings indicated that the relationship intention measurement scale used in this study was valid and reliable to determine the clothing retail customers’ relationship intentions in the Tshwane metropolitan area. The results revealed that clothing retail customers could be categorised according to their relationship intentions, as different relationship intention groups had different relationship intention levels when concerning clothing retailers. In addition, it could be determined that there were no relationships between clothing retail customers’ relationship intentions and the duration of their support for their clothing retailers. It could also be determined whether or not they belonged to a retailer’s loyalty programme. It is accordingly recommended that clothing retailers determine their customers’ relationship intentions instead of using loyalty programme membership and the duration of their customers’ support when identifying them for relationship marketing purposes. It is also recommended that, after clothing retailers have established whether their customers have relationship intentions, they categorise them according to their relationship intention levels and focus their own relationship-building efforts and resources on the customers with higher relationship intentions. The results from the study indicated that clothing retail customers’ relationship intentions influence their satisfaction with a number of store attributes selected for the purpose of this study (price, the assortment offered, the perceived product quality, and the employee service) as well as cumulatively. Further, customers with higher relationship intentions experience more satisfaction with the retailer than those with moderate or low relationship intention levels. It was further determined that clothing retail customers’ relationship intentions predict their satisfaction. Clothing retailers should therefore focus their relationship marketing strategies on the customers with higher relationship intentions, as they are more satisfied. The results also show that relationship intentions predict clothing retail customers’ trust in, commitment to, and relationship quality with clothing retailers. Subsequently, clothing retailers should view the determination of customers’ relationship intentions as the necessary starting point in identifying whom to target with relationship marketing strategies, and accordingly gauge resources in the application of such strategies. Lastly, it was determined that clothing retail customers’ relationship intentions and their relationship quality (individually and in combination) influence their loyalty to their clothing retailers. In addition, a model developed for the study indicates a positive interrelationship between relationship intention, relationship quality and customer loyalty. Clothing retailers therefore have a greater probability of attaining their customers’ loyalty if they consider their relationship intentions in combination with their relationship quality. This study contributes to scholars’ understanding of the relational development in retail markets by extending the relationship intention construct into a retail environment and empirically determining its interrelationship with relationship quality and customer loyalty. The results from this study indicate that clothing retail customers’ relationship intentions should be the starting point for understanding relational development in retail markets. The study also makes a managerial contribution by providing clothing retailers with a measurement scale for determining their customers’ relationship intentions, thereby ensuring that resources are properly attributed to those customers who are the most likely to respond to such strategic endeavours (i.e. those with relationship intentions). Future studies should address the methodological limitations of this study by using probability sampling and continuous research panels, as well as by collaborating with clothing retailers to incorporate actual consumer data into their studies. Future studies could also explore the moderating role of customers’ demographics on the relationships between relationship intentions, relationship quality, and customer loyalty.
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