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Basic notions

The concepts of product quality and consumer can be considered the two focal points of the consumer organizations.

Consumer and product quality

In the literature, quality is classified in various ways. Some authors, like (BeerepootSang91), clearly relate this concept to the interested party. They state that the producer of a product, on the one hand, will mainly be concerned with technical quality, that is, the extent to which the product meets the technical specifications developed for the design of that product. Although it is implied that the design satisfies the requirements and wishes of the consumer, these need not be the actual needs of the consumer: the producer can restrict himself to defining the consumer's wishes and needs without actually consulting the target group of his product.

The quality of use, on the other hand, refers to the extent to which the product meets the requirements that result from the purpose for which the product is to be used. The consumer's purpose can be derived from their needs and the ways in which the consumer uses a product in daily life. From this point of view, the concept of the user of a product is very closely related to that of quality.

A different characterization of the comprehensive concept of quality is the distinction between the complementary concepts of technical quality and economic quality (Albrecht, cited in (Box79) ). Technical quality, in this case, is interpreted as the utility of a product, that is, the relation between its properties of use and the consumer's expectations of use. Based upon this definition, the economic quality is paraphrased as the ratio between the utility of a product and its price (i.e. the price-quality relation).

When comparing these two classifications, the first definition of technical quality is seen to refer mainly to criteria set by the producer, whereas the second refers mostly to criteria that are relevant to the consumer. The quality of use in the classification of Beerepoot-Sangen Leentvaar-Leistra coincides (more or less) with the second definition of technical quality. Finally, the concept of economic quality not only considers the quality of a product from the viewpoint of the consumer, but also determines the value of the product in terms of money.

Consumer and information

The concept of consumer can be defined as the buyer, user and disposer of products (Kanis88) . When considering the purchase of a certain product, the consumer will normally try to judge beforehand (various) aspects concerning the quality of the different brands, models and types. This judgement is based on personal knowledge, experience or inspection of a product. Also, fellow-consumers can provide useful information. This type of product information is called personal product information (Willenborg85).

In many cases, it will not be easy for the consumer to evaluate a product because they simply do not have access to essential information concerning the characteristics and functions of a product. An external source that can provide information is the producer or supplier of a certain product. However, such commercial product information is mainly intended to raise the sales of the product. Therefore, the information provided is often partial and persuasive, not factual enough and incomplete. Moreover, if the data are not presented in a standardised way, the consumer will not be able to compare the information for different products (Box79).

A third type of information is neutral product information, defined as data that are provided to the consumer regarding the technical and economic functionality of a product, including durability. These data concern product characteristics that can be measured objectively and that are relevant for consumers when considering buying a product. The product information can be used not only to judge the quality of a product, but also to compare different product alternatives and to acquaint oneself with the correct ways of using a product (Willenborg85) . As opposed to commercial product information, neutral product information has an objective (and independent) character and it is supplied without any commercial purposes. An important source for this kind of information is comparative product tests, a type of consumer oriented product research performed, among others, by the consumer associations. These organizations act in the interest of consumers, the users of the products, by checking the quality level of a product and establishing and standardizing evaluation criteria used for quality control.

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