For primary research, an online questionnaire was prepared that was forwarded to Chinese Students in West and Western friends and from them, it was further forwarded to their friends. This research strategy was time saving but Questionnaire was made by first analyzing how different researchers, researching in similar field, do their research. After that, they were compared with our research objectives and purposes. Highlighted differences made it clear as to how should a new questionnaire were made which could bring reliable results after analysis. Survey questions were kept as unbiased as possible. The questionnaire has three parts, first in which personal details including age group, gender, ethnic origin and so on are asked. In the second part, questions from to understand consumer behavior are asked, which are meant to be answered in rating from one to five, one being strongly agree and five being strongly disagree. Finally, in the third part, general questions related to consumption behavior were asked to carry our research deep into the qualitative grounds. A total of 70 respondents submitted the questionnaire. All of them were Chinese but 20 of them were born in Western settings, while others were had come to West simply for studies and were Chinese born ethnic image. After collecting the data, the analysis was done based on our questions. Excel and SPSS were used for statistical analysis purpose.
On the other hand, in the secondary research, different literary sources were reviewed. Different scholarly articles were read and from the most relevant ones’ bibliographies, more journals and books were read for enhancing the understanding of the topic. Secondary research was helpful in understanding the approaches taken in the past, how research was done and what results were deduced about consumer behavior and Chinese young generation’s behavior.
Like in any study, there are some ethical concerns which need to be addressed and formulate a way about how the research has been done within ethical constraints. Since there were about 70 respondents, so giving them proper respect and dignity was important. Their anonymity has been maintained for that purposes. It was told beforehand that the data would be used for research purposes and a permission check-point was given at the bottom of the questionnaire which demanded their permission in using their provided information in our research. Similarly, the respondents also signed a pledge that the information provided by them was true and therefore the results obtained by that should be reliable. In online questionnaires, there is always a risk of fake information, so to avoid such matters, pledges raise a conscience among respondents and that is why it was placed in the survey.
Results and Analysis
So, before we bring forward the results of our research, it is important to first present that before the beginning of this research what hypothesis we had. These hypotheses, regarding the answers of our questions are given as follows:
- High Price-tag, Perceived quality, Brand image and Social status have a positive significant relation with a product being considered luxury brand product by Chinese Consumers.
- Culture, income, and exposure of information are significant factors in deciding whether a consumer would buy certain luxury brand.
- Social status consciousness, female gender, high prices, perceived quality, brand image, exclusiveness and scarcity are the factors that significantly attract Chinese consumers towards buying a particular luxury brand.
- Chinese students as consumers despite their traditional cultural influence are shifting towards Western life-style and luxury consumer behavior.
- Chinese consumers with traditional values do not have attraction towards counterfeits of luxury brands, but the modern upper urban class of Chinese do.
In the light of this hypothesis, the research was done. The SPSS and Excel gave us the following results based on our collected data:
- 93% of our respondents consider high price tag, alone or in combination with others, an important factor in determining a luxury brand. 68% chose a combination of high price, perceived quality, pleasure, beauty and aesthetics, and brand image as determining factors of a luxury brand. Similarly, social status, alone or in combination, is seen in luxury brands by 50% of our respondents. Similarly, exclusivity and scarcity was considered as part of luxury brands by 34%. The percentage adds up to more than 100 because people chose more than one option.
Also, 80% of the male respondents see luxury brands to be technology and vehicles, while 72% of the female respondents see Clothes and Decorative items to be luxury. Clothes, Food, Vehicles and Technology were chosen by 38%. Only 3% consider everything to be a luxury brand product.
- 34% of people checked above average or very rich category for defining their income level, but still 82% of the people think income is a restraining factor. Similarly, Exposure of information is a problem for 10% while cultural constraints are faced by 28%. Also, people who bought with parents’ money (i.e., were totally or partly dependent on parents’ money) buy luxury brands more often than others, although the expenditure level remains unknown.
- Social status consciousness, genders, high prices, perceived quality and brand image have significant relation with Chinese students’ luxury buying behavior. High Prices and Brand Image matter the most, 70%. While Social status comes second with 37%. Male gender’s attraction towards luxury consuming is more among Chinese than Females.
- Chinese students in abroad do buy Western items and like to look like Westerner group they belong to (78%). But they are not adopting western culture as belong to a group is Chinese cultural exclusivity. This is because 78% say they want to fit in, but only 15% say they do not care about others and only 10% say they want to look different and 7% envy others.
- 65% of People with average or below income level consider buying counterfeits of luxury brands to be fine (40% of these believed ethical beliefs as most important for them). 35% of above average or rich people think it to be fine (only 12% of these said they follow ethical beliefs while buying or consuming. Lack of information leading to counterfeits is a problem for only 7%.
What Constructs a Luxury Brand
One of the common notions that were found in the research, taken from hypotheses and proved by statistics is that people believe luxury brands have a high price tag. Some of them also consider it to be a symbol that the given luxury product is going to have an extra ordinary quality. Also, brand image matters to a significant portion of students. 93% of our respondents consider high price tag, alone or in combination with others, an important factor in determining a luxury brand. This is a clear indication that prices are very important. And people look at the price tag and from that they judge the product. Prices of a luxury brand present an image of quality, status and brand loyalty to the consumers. People who chose these four as a combination of luxury defining factors were 68%. This is yet another very important result. Tatt (2010) gave this as part of his literature review that these four work out as a combination in setting grounds for defining a luxury brand in the eyes of its consumers.
Moreover, pleasure seeking is also a reason for consumer behavior. The traditional trend of buying for satisfying needs is now, in the modern world, translated as buying for pleasure, happiness, utility and self-actualisation. We studied in Wong and Ahuvia (1998) and Sriviroj (2007) that pleasure and self-actualisation is important reasons why people buy luxury products. Such consumers do fit in the category of hedonist consumers which Vigenron and Johnson (1999) had given. However, a consumer who sees luxury product as mere perceived better quality item or buys it for the mere reason is literally none, according to our research results. Thus, the Perfectionist of Vigenron and Johnson (1999) is missing from our findings. That seems a little idealist view, as obvious from the word ‘perfectionist.’ Many people do prefer quality, but in combination with other factors.
Similarly, another factor to be noticed here is that luxury and social status do have a significant relation in case of the Chinese consumers as well, as 50% find social status a factor. But it is also interesting to see that some even checked social status alone to be the thing that defines luxury product or reasons why they consumer luxury brands. The reason for such a behavior could be either a difference in understanding what ‘social status’ implies. Because we have studied in Wong and Ahuvia (1998) that Chinese consumers define status in a different way than Western people. Western people see status in income levels while Chinese see in their social hierarchical system. So, under that consideration, it could be argued that people were looking at social status construct from a different point of view and that is 18% who checked social status alone probably meant that the group they belong too alone and nothing else is a reason why they buy a luxury brand.
But what is most interesting of all, exclusivity and scarcities, which were mentioned among the top most defining factors for luxury brands, on which a brand name and image is built and advertisements are presented, got the least voting in factors that constitute luxury brand. Therefore, Tatt’s (2010) argument of exclusivity and rarity is not that much of an importance as other factors are, although it is still significant in its relation with luxury brand consumption. Thus, unlike others, we did not define the luxury brand for ourselves and analyzed our respondents through that prism. But we rather tried to understand how our respondents see a luxury brand. That is why some of the claims found in literature were true, but others not as important as theoretical framework makes them look.
Also, it was important for us to know when talking about luxuries, what are the type of products people are talking about. That is why a question was added for that. It turned out that male and female perception of luxury brands is difference is significant. While men find luxury brands to be in Vehicles and other technological items, women turn more towards clothing and decorative pieces, etc. But it was also important to note that there is a significant measure of students, 38%, who checked Clothes, Food, Vehicles and Technology, all four. Thus, it could be said that at extremes level, gender based lines do exist. But this tradition is changing and people who do not follow the typical gender divide are increasing and that is why men also consider clothing important and women also get attracted by expensive and fancy vehicles. So, now on the basis of the given definitional view of our respondent, we now turn to the factors that moderate luxury brand consumption.
What Moderates Luxury Brand Consumption
We noticed that Tatt (2010) thought only income to be a factor that moderates why and how much a person consumes a luxury brand. But Sriviroj (2007) also added culture and exposure of information in that. So, we took all three factors combined and asked our respondents separately whether they feel restricted by income, culture and information exposure level in their buying behavior. It turns out that the Tatt’s (2010) claim about income being the most significant factor in changing consumer behavior and moderating buying behavior is right. First of all, let us analyze the income factor. The strategy was to understand whether income is a factor of not. If it is, how does income level divide make things clearer? It turns out that income level is not a significant restricting factor against between luxury brand buying intention. People from lesser income level households equally felt restricted due to income as people from high income levels felt. 34% of the people thought they were from higher end of income levels and 80% of them thought income to be a constraint. Same goes for people from lower income levels, i.e., out of 66% of them 84% thought income was a strong restraining factor.
But what is also interesting to note is that people who were totally or partly dependent on parents’ money, when asked about how often they buy luxury brands, 79% of them answered either monthly or quarterly. On the other hand, of those who were independent monetarily, only 40% of them checked monthly or quarterly option as the time-frame in which they buy a luxury brand.
But an explanation needs to given about why people found culture and technology to be less of a restraining factor. In fact, in contrast with income, these two factors were insignificant. It could be argued that the theoretical framework was made from more of a observational and psychological level than statistical. Or another reason could be how people perceive culture and awareness. Although, there were no such questions in questionnaire that could seek an explanation for that, but following could be a reason why people checked it lesser than income. In the West, the Eastern cultures are seen as very freedom-constraining. Western people from the light of their own values, when see the collectivist attitude of Easterns, they end up thinking that these people do not have a freedom and are restricted in thinking, believing and doing things that are beyond their cultural lines. Hence, the Chinese students who come to the West, they also come with an intention to change that perception. That is why in filling out such a questionnaire, they presented their culture as unrestricting and irrelevant in defining their consuming limits. Similarly, lack of information is not something that a person him or herself may know about. It could be argued that a person likes to believe that he or she knows it all. However, the reality could be different. Thus, although the actual reasons may remain unknown but a theoretical explanation for the obtained results could be in not understanding the truth themselves. But now is the time to analyze the results to our first question of factors influencing Chinese students’ luxury buying behavior in the light of the theories we studied and statistical results we obtained.
Factors Influencing Luxury Brand Consumption for Chinese Students
First of all, let us analyze how in the light of Leibenstein’s (1950) and Vigenron and Johnson’s (1999) theories, our research responds. Leibensteins’s first model was the Veblen Effect, which says people buy because of high price tags. This has very much the case in our study too. We found out that 82% of the people think high price-tag constitutes luxury brands. It was argued by Jackson and Haid (2002) that luxury brands are identified by products that have high premium prices than their product quality, but even then, the product quality is usually perceived high. So, when people were asked do they buy a product even if the prices are high and in another question asked, would they buy even if a luxury brands’ product increases. The response was in affirmation by 78% and 65% people, respectively. So, that really proves that people not only see the price-tag as an explanation of whether they should buy a luxury product or not, but also a motivator for them as it becomes a significant factor that increases their intention for buying a particular luxury brand.
Similarly, if we talk about Snob effect, which is a mixture of personal and interpersonal effects, it was noticed that people do often buy with mixed behavior and motivations not clear or may be too many. Considering our research questions, a snob effect consumer could be who gets motivated by pleasure and aesthetic beauty of luxury brands, and quality but also finds popularity of brand, advertisements and fitting in or looking different to be the factors that motivate them for buying a particular luxury brand. Thus, the percentage of people who answered in this way differ based on the idea whether interpersonal effect, i.e., people’s or culture’s influence leads him or her to like to fit in with others or look different than others. Hence, if a person wants to fit in, the snob effect gives a significant relation with consumer behavior. People do end up buying luxury brands due to snob effect. The precise percentage for such people is 38%. On the other hand, since very few people affirmed that they want to look different, which is a purely Western cultural value, were very less, only 10%. Hence, finding snob effect among such people gives only four percent of people; a relation that is statistically insignificant.
Next in the list is, bandwagon effect. This turned out to be statistically significant as well as a better explainer Chinese students’ behavior. Chinese students try to follow a popular luxury brand as a significant majority of people answered yes to that questions. However, it should be noted that they follow popular appearance, not what is inherent to them. This would be explained later in answering next question using Wong and Ahuvia’s (1998) research.
Moving on to the hedonist and perfectionist effects, we have also given a hint of its results. The Hedonists turned out to be significant, but the perfectionists were totally absent from the scene. People who followed the ideals of self-actualisaiton and pleasure seeking in luxury brands were significant. People who checked pleasure, beauty, and aesthetics as the motivators were as many as 54% of the respondents. Therefore, it could be argued that Chinese students do try to be Hedonist and they seek self like concepts in luxury brands. However, this raises question about their cultural following. But considering it Western cultural influence would be wrong thing to say. This phenomenon would also be explained in the next section. Lastly, we have the Perfectionist effect. A reason why people did not check quality or benefits alone could be the structure of our questionnaire. It cannot be said that there are absolutely no people who do not look for quality and output benefits alone. Thus, the explanation to such a response could be found as a limitation in the questionnaire. These limitations are explained in later coming sections.
Similarly, Social status based consumption behavior and possessive or materialistic consumption behavior is also found significant. People who envy others are still very less around 7% while those want same products as their fellows to fit in them well are highly significant, 78%. Similarly, people who checked luxury brands to be high social status defining item, they tend to buy it even if the prices are high or have increased recently. Thus, social status based and materialistic consumption is found among Chinese students.
So, we conclude that factors that motivate Chinese students for buying luxury brands include high prices, better perceived quality, brand image, trying to fit in with others, advertisements and social status. These have significant relation with increasing Chinese consumers’ buying intention for a particular luxury brand.
Do Chinese Students Imitate Western People
Our next question was about imitation. We understood from the literature review that Chinese students try to be like the group they represent. That is why Sriviroj (2007) argued that they try to imitate the Western people. So, it became our hypotheses that Chinese students studying in the West try to copy the life-style and consumer behavior of Western people. They tend to opt for same brands, Western people use. They tend to increase consumption unlike their traditional modest consumption values. However, after obtaining research results and studying Wong and Ahuvia (1998), our analysis is quite different. It is very clear that Chinese students in the West do try to be like others around them. But that is not what imitating is about. They do follow the appearances but they never make a psychological shift from one culture to another. Wong and Ahuvia (1998) argue that these people do focus on apparently become like others and westernizing them seemingly:
But this apparent materialism may or may not reflect internal personal tastes, traits, or goals. Instead it may reflect the value that an interdependent self places on social reflect internal personal tastes, traits, or goals. Instead it may reflect the value that an interdependent self places on social conformity in a materially-focused, family-oriented, and hierarchical culture (Wong & Ahuvia, 1998, 434-35).
So, that explains why they want to copy wesntern people and look like their fellows but do not follow their cultural ideal of ‘being different than others’ or ‘not caring what others think.’ We found only 18% people who followed both these ideals. 15% checked not caring ideal, alone or in combination, while 10% checked ‘being different’ ideal, alone or in combination. Therefore, the results become clearer when we say that Eastern interdependent self is more conscious about fitting in the group they belong to at a given point in time than the independent self in the Western Culture (Wong & Ahuvia, 1998). So, this should explain the fact that although Chinese try to look like western people, but they are still strongly connected to their roots and their apparent following of West within West is also a strong affiliation with their Chinese traditional cultures.
But it was interesting to note that, of the 18% who checked the western cultural ideal of ‘not caring’ or ‘looking different’, they were from a above average or very rich class based on the income level. This also explains that the Chinese tradition is losing from the top of the income based hierarchy. People at the top of the pyramid, who earn more, they follow western norms, values and cultures. So, it may also be concluded at this point that even though, majority of Chinese’s roots are strongly embedded in their cultural values, but some from the top are slipping out of the cultural hold and falling a prey of the Western values and norms.
Do Chinese Students have attraction towards Counterfeits of Luxury Brands
For getting answer to this question, we had put following very specific questions in our questionnaire:
- My ethical beliefs are most important in buying and consuming any product.
- I like to buy luxury products from brands less popular than mega brands.
- I have no problem in buying counterfeits of different luxury brands.
- Sometimes I end up buying counterfeits of luxury brands because of lack of information.
The results obtained, when seen in combination with other questions give us the following view. 35% of the 34% of the above average income holding people were fine with buying counterfeit products. Our analysis was whether they are influenced by their cultural ethical beliefs when thinking about buying a counterfeit of a luxury brand. So, out of these 34% only twelve percent said that they followed ethical beliefs in their consumption behavior. This is interesting and important as it reiterates the point made at the end of the last section that rich urban class of the Chinese society is losing their traditional rope that kept them connected.
But on the other hand, people who were at the bottom of the pyramid, who are also strongly connected with their tradition, 65% of even them were fine with buying counterfeits. The reason for that could be explained in either income constraints because counterfeits apparently look the same yet they are available at cheaper rates. Or else, its explanation could be found in ideals of anti-big brand following, which was also mentioned and affirmed by Kwong et al. (2003). Thus, this research’s results follow a similar trend that was found in Kwong et al. (2003).
Another intention of the research in this question was whether people get deceived by counterfeits because of lack of information. So, we asked people if they ever ended up buying counterfeits, which they did not plan to buy but it happened, because of lack of awareness. Although, the theoretical ground for this seems very logical, but only 7% responded yes to this question. One of the reasons for that could be the increasing Advertisements based world. Many of our respondents followed Big brands and their advertisements and thus, getting deceived by a whole margin of originality matter could become a little difficult. Therefore, one may conclude that counterfeits are there in the market and many Chinese consumers also get attracted to them for various reasons. But what is interesting to note is that ethical beliefs play a major role in deciding Chinese consumers’ intentions. And lack of information becomes at the bottom in factors that may lead consumers towards buying a counterfeit.
This dissertation has examined Chinese consumers’ buying behavior for luxury products in great depth. It had three questions to begin with, which were examining the factors that influence consumers’ behavior, comparison with the Western consumer and whether Chinese students in the West imitate the western consumer behavior, and how attracted Chinese are towards counterfeits of luxury brands considering their income levels and ethical beliefs. So, for that matter, it first tried to analyze what a luxury brand actually is and what could be the hurdles in the path of buying a luxury brand. It understood that price, quality, brand, and social status play an important role in giving ground settings for a luxury brand to exist. On the other hand, income, culture and technology act as restrictors and limit deciders for consumers buying behavior or intentions. Then, we moved to first question in which we examined through our research results that price does play the most significant role in luxury consumption behavior. However, the importance of quality can also not be negated but still it may not stand alone as significant as price does. Brand image and loyalty are also among some important factors. However, exclusivity and rarity, which were highlighted a lot in the literature, did not turn out to be very strong factors in our case.
Then we moved to the next question, where we analyzed that apparently Chinese students do follow the western people, but that is from their own cultural tradition of collectivity and being like the group one represents. But another important implication of this question’s answer was that the rich urban class of Chinese young generation is moving away from their cultural hold. And that is why we do find the individualistic ideals making their place in their hearts and minds. Lastly, we noticed about the attraction towards counterfeits of luxury brands that Chinese students’ vast majority does not really get attracted towards them. That is because of the ethical beliefs they follow. However, income and anti-big brand following are two such factors which can derive Chinese students towards counterfeits.
One of the limitations was small sample size. We had just 70 students as our respondents, while the Chinese student community studying in the west is huge. So, its results cannot that simply be generalized. Also, if we look at income level, the sample gets even smaller. Thus, this is a serious limitation, which might even change the results if taken a bigger sample size.
Another limitation was in the target audience. It was simply students, whom we questioned. It does not mean we can talk on behalf of all Chinese young generation. Some of young generation might be out of schools and their delinquent behavior might change results.
Finally, at times, we noticed that our survey questions were not structured in an enough precision and accuracy to not only get the statistical answers, but theoretical implications too.
Recommendations and Future Research Implications
This research was very important and unique of its sort. Not enough research may be found on exactly the same topic. We took a very particular section of the society. The intention was not just to understand consumer behavior but also the cultural tradition and more importantly, the future, by seeing the evolutionary direction of Chinese culture. So, this research could be taken forward and at a higher level for more proper and precise results.
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