Research Paper: Cultural Aspects of Consumer Behavior

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Cultural Aspects of Consumer Behavior

The accelerating pace of globalization and the continued shift in cultural values within and between nations is leading to en masse shifts in consumer behavior. The strong collectivism of China specifically and Asia in general are giving way to more individualized purchasing and consumption strategies that seek to create an exceptional level of individuality for consumers (Jap, 2010). What is so significant about these factors is that branding, the customer experience and marketing are all driving a revolutionary shift in the cultural structure of nations (Tai, 2008). The four studies analyzed in this paper highlight just how powerful branding, customer experience and marketing are becoming relative to cultural barriers and resistance to change. The accumulated effect of these factors continues to accelerate their cumulative effects on cultures over time.

Analysis of Confucius Face Culture on Chinese Consumer Consumption Values toward Global Brands

The empirical research and peer-reviewed article Confucius face culture on Chinese consumer consumption values toward Global Brands (Jap, 2010) shows that the traditional values in Chinese culture of invisible wealth and social status or position, which are highly Confucian in nature, are giving way to more visible forms of wealth and materialism. Chinese consumers are moving beyond the traditional constraints of Confucian values to embrace more westernized values of displaying their status and success with the items they buy and services they can afford to purchase (Jap, 2010). Collectivism, which is a major force in the cultural framework of China, is paradoxically leading to a shared focus on conspicuous consumption as a means to provide evidence of career and financial success.

The researcher relied on a study methodology that included three focus groups held in the cities Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin. There are approximately 20

Participants interviewed in each of these cities, with a total of 61 total respondents in the entire study. The study was qualitative in structure and design, providing for open-ended questions and discussions with each of the 61 respondents. In keeping with the qualitative design of the study, the research relied on semi-structured consumption behavior questionnaires, in addition to in-depot focus group interviews as well (Jap, 2010).

The demographics for each of the three focus groups concentrated on the most upwardly-mobile segments of Chinese society, with specific focus on participants who were 18 years or over, middle to upper-class with an income of RMB 3,500 (about $500) in Beijing and Shanghai, and RMB 2,500 or $360 in Tianjin. The distribution of respondents were 46:54 female to mail with the prerequisite that they had purchased global-brand luxury fashion goods a minimum of twice a year.

The study's findings indicate that the segments of Chinese consumers involved in the study value and respect the message of success and status that western luxury goods communicate. They are the new symbols of achievement and success in China, and have become synonymous with rising out of the middle and lower classes of the country. Paradoxically this rise in conspicuous consumption and materialism is getting an accelerating effect from the collectivism in the country as well, as the Chinese concept of guanxi is in the process of being redefined (Jap, 2010). One of the most interesting findings of all was how pervasive Quality as an attribute of Chinese Consumer Perceived Values and Product Quality on Global Brands (Table 2) of the study illustrated (Jap, 2010). Clearly, the strength of the Chinese collectivism which is so prevalent in their culture has continued to gain critical mass on the new dimension of conspicuous consumption and materialism.

There are many limitations to this study, the most problematic being the lack of statistical validity to the results, lack of controls over sampling, and respondent sampling bias as seen by the uniformity of answers. There tend to be an autocorrelation of responses in studies that have a high degree of respondent sampling and response bias, and this study definitely has those attributes. It is also flawed from the lack of income-based stratification of responses as well. Finally, the results are highly regionalized and focused on three of the most prosperous, high growth cities of China. The researcher needed to have a more robust sampling methodology to ensure representativeness for the entire nation.

Analysis of the Impact of Culture on Luxury Consumption Behaviour among Iranian Consumers

In the study the Impact of Culture on Luxury Consumption Behaviour among Iranian Consumers (Teimourpour, Kambiz, 2011) the researchers have completed an intensive literature review of luxury consumption behavior in Iran, indexing the results to the Hofstede Model of Cultural Dimensions. The authors point out that the Iranian culture's highest dimension using the Hofstede Model is Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI) which is shown in the graphic below from Dr., Geert Hofstede's website. This cultural profile has significant implications on how, why and where luxury goods are purchased in Iran. Purchasing and using luxury goods is used to drive down UAI (reduce uncertainty) and also increase the Power Distance Index (PDI) between Iranian socio-economic classes (Teimourpour, Kambiz, 2011).

Hofstede Model of Cultural Dimensions for Iran

Source: http://geert-hofstede.com/iran.html

The study's methodology is actually a literature review of approximately sixty different sources aligned to the Hofstede Model of Cultural Dimensions and its core concepts of Power Distance Index (PDI), Individualism (IDV), Masculinity index (MAS) and Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI). The data collection instruments are databases and other forms of academic secondary research including papers presented at conferences the researchers attended. The demographics of the study are those professors and researchers studying and publishing results of their efforts to better understand the dynamics of how and why Iranians in general and Muslims specifically purchase luxury goods (Teimourpour, Kambiz, 2011).

The study's findings suggest the continual consumption of luxury products are used within Iranian culture to signify upward mobility into, more affluent socio-economic groups and communities. The authors point out that the continuous acquisition of very high-end, luxury brands including Gucci, Prada, Polo, Omega, Rolex, Louis Vuitton and Versace are deliberately used to communicate inclusion into a given strata and socio-economic group of society (Teimourpour, Kambiz, 2011). There is also ample evidence of how pervasive the bandwagon effect is in Iran, which is similar to China in the previously cited study. The tendency to look at brands and their affiliative meaning is unique and driven more by the strict cultural values of Iran, relative to the highly individualistic nature of western societies including the United States (Teimourpour, Kambiz, 2011). Buying luxury products in Iran is a sign of affiliative affluence, and signals escape from the poverty of more humble beginnings for many Iranians; it is not necessarily a symbol of achievement, but affiliation with a more select group of affluent consumers (Teimourpour, Kambiz, 2011).

As a literature review, this is excellently done. By using the Hofstede Model of Cultural Dimensions the authors have created a solid framework on which to build their overall thesis. Where the study breaks down however is in providing insights into why the affiliative need continues to be so dominant despite the pervasive need for PDI and UAI. These two factors would otherwise lead to an exceptionally high rate of IDV-based spending to stand apart from the crowd.

Analysis of Relationship between the Personal Values and Shopping Orientation of Chinese Consumers

In the study and empirical research that serves as the foundation of Relationship Between the Personal Values and Shopping Orientation of Chinese Consumers (Tai, 2008) the researcher has provided a framework for evaluating and predicting the relationship of personal values and shopping orientation. Based on a multi-city-based methodology that included respondents from Hong Kong, Shanghai and Taipei, the research instrument of questionnaire was designed in four sections. These sections included shopping orientations, terminal values (and values as long-term goals, instrumental values (or values as guiding principles) and personal demographic information. The study concluded that shoppers gravitate to those merchants they trust and who are also friendly, approachable and gregarious (Tai, 2008). This finding underscores how critical the role of a positive customer experience is in any retailing and shopping environment.

The study methodology defined specific sampling and questionnaire objectives for each of the three cities in the study with adult working Chinese being the primary respondent. A total if five hundred questionnaires were distributed randomly with return envelopes to ensure anonymity in Taipei and Hong Kong. Due to restrictions put in place by the Chinese government in Shanghai, judgment sampling was used as the basis of data collection there. A total of 454 questionnaires were delivered, with 201 from Shanghai, 107 from Taipei, and 146 from Hong Kong.

The data collection instrument for the analysis was a questionnaire divided into four specific sections including shopping orientations, terminal values, instrumental values and personal information. Both English and Chinese versions of the questioner were provided. The researcher created 45 statements that related to 11 different shopping orientations. Parts two and three of the questionnaires included 18 terminal values and 18 instrumental vales which provided insights into the personal values and shopping orientation of the respondents (Tai, 2008).

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