What does it mean to be a ''quality consumer'' today? To find the answer to that question, Whirlpool Corporation commissioned a national study called America's Search for Quality.
The opinion study draws on interviews with more than l,000 Americans representing all segments of the population.
Contrary to the common depiction of the American consumer as harassed and frustrated by the poor quality of products and services, 85 percent appear to be satisfied with manufactured goods and 82 percent are satisfied with their local services.
A majority, however, think it used to be easier to get your money's worth than it is today. Four-fifths say that if you are willing to shop around, you can still get your money's worth, and 85 percent indicated that if you want quality today you have to pay for it.
To the vast majority of Americans, according to the study, quality seems almost synonymous with good workmanship and is evidence of the manufacturer's care and concern for the product. Most people seem to equate quality with the human factor and with manufacturers that have a specific identity as a provider of this human touch.
In following the product from factory to home, 59 percent say they first look to see what corporation manufactured a product before purchasing it.
''The human contribution to the product is the consumer's overriding concern, '' says Whirlpool's board chairman, Jack D. Sparks. ''It surpasses the important but secondary consideration of safety, materials, price, and brand name. This modern respect for craftsmanship in America may signal a cultural shift back to more traditional values.''
The study further reveals that most Americans consider themselves to be better-informed consumers now than they used to be. Seven out of 10 people said they tended to believe the information given by government and manufacturers. But many found too much product information to be confusing.
Despite all the available information sources, the findings indicate people still find recommendations of friends and relatives their most trustworthy sources, with consumer reports coming in third. Nine out of 10 said they consider their best source of information about any product is somebody they know who has purchased and used it.
The majority of Americans apparently think courtesy is the most important ingredient of a good salesperson. After courtesy, they want sales people to be knowledgeable about specific products in the store, competing brands, and other departments in the store.
Supermarket services, according to the study, were considered the most improved in recent years. Least improved were services for home electronics, major appliances, plumbing, painting, carpentry, electrical work, and auto repairs.
Six out of 10 surveyed Americans are concerned about the environmental impact of products they purchase. Contrary to popular perceptions, it is those who are middle-aged and older, less well educated, and less affluent who are most concerned with a product's environmental impact.
Despite brisk sales of imported products, the words ''Made in America'' still represent an important characteristic of quality goods to large numbers of consumers.