Consumer Reliance on Intangible versus Tangible Attributes in Service Evaluation: The Role of Construal Level



The services marketing literature has traditionally  characterized intangibility as the most critical distinction between services and goods, but in practice service production and consumption often involve both intangible and tangible elements. While prior research has examined and debated service intangibility from the firm’s perspective, what is missing is an understanding of how consumers weigh the relative importance of intangible versus tangible attributes in their service evaluation. Drawing on construal level theory, the authors propose that consumers with a high (vs. low) construal level rely more on intangible (vs. tangible) attributes in service evaluation. Furthermore, the effect of construal level on service evaluation is mediated by imagery vividness, with service type (e.g., experience vs. credence services) serving as a boundary condition. The authors conduct two field studies and two lab experiments and find that under a high construal level, consumers rely more on intangible attributes in their service evaluation and choice formation; under a low construal level, consumers rely more on tangible attributes in their service evaluation and choice. The findings not only offer new insights to help reconcile the disparate perspectives on service intangibility in the literature but also have practical implications on service firms’ positioning strategies that vary across time (e.g., advance selling vs. on-site selling) and space (e.g., near vs. distant outlet), as well as which attributes to emphasize in their marketing communications.

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