Today’s young generation unanimously refer to luxury items as synonymous to being distinctive and possessing beauty, aesthetics, and elegance. Luxury items in their view should be of good quality, are usually highly priced and belong to brands that are well-known globally. Seeking or possessing luxury items connotes a person with good taste, sense of style and one who is cultivating a way of living. These youngsters want to own and use luxury items in the future that reflect beauty, aesthetics and quality, rather than things that are showy, superficial and are signs of splashy social recognition . In China, the attitude of youngsters towards luxury products is increasingly becoming personalised and independent, while they continue to associate with their traditional social hierarchies . In this essay, the author will explore the background and psychology that influence these attitudes of today’s youngsters towards luxury products. For this, the author has attempted to analyse different reference groups that influence the youngsters’ behaviour towards luxury items. What are the images these youngsters have about themselves in a private and social set up? Is it similar to how they want to see themselves in future? How do these perceptions about themselves influence their buying behaviour? The essay seeks to discover the knowledge and beliefs these youngsters hold towards different luxury items and what they gain through their interactions with multiple sources such as, personal interaction with friends, family and peers, interaction with people on the social media and other means. The essay also analyses the effects the cultural backgrounds of these youngsters have on their behaviour towards luxury items.
Consumers’ purchase decision is often influenced by many factors such as their age, gender, income, occupation, their personal interests in life and related choices, opinions and recommendations by their friends, family members, and the environment they live in or grow up. All of this influence their buying behaviour as a consumer. In today’s world of advanced technology and mass communication, advent of the social media plays a significant role in influencing the buying behaviour of a consumer, too .
According to a survey conducted by , consumers all over the world are increasingly favouring value of products more than the price. To them good quality of products is paramount and they will not tolerate any kind of compromise on that front. This is a different trend as compared to the purchasing behaviour of the earlier generations. For them cost was important and only essential products were purchased .
Reference groups constitute individuals or a groups of individuals who act as a point of reference or comparison for youngsters’ behaviour, desires, attitude or consumption patterns . For example, Gen Y tends to buy products or items that are preferred by the majority of the group they are part of or go well with most of their peers, so that they can be part of the group. As a result, they tend to focus more on the brands that are popular with their peer groups; rationality has no part here . The buying behaviour of individuals is strongly influenced by their family . For example, if girl has seen her mother advocate “beauty in simplicity” throughout her childhood and into her adulthood, chances are that she too will grow to prefer that. This will influence her buying decisions of luxury items related to beauty and styling. At the same time it is also important to keep in mind that an individuals’ roles may change with the change in their lifestyle. According to F.S. Bourne’s Group Influence in Marketing and Public Relations, reference groups greatly influence the decisions of consumer. However, the intensity or degree of influence varies from product to product. These reference groups are like reference points for consumers with whom they either have or want to have a similarity, and / or share common values . When consumers plan a purchase that may have a huge implications on their image or social acceptance level, they will tend to minutely monitor the related reference groups for their purchase decision. For example, an image-conscious consumer planning to buy an automobile will look up to aspirational groups such as Mercedes owners for guidance. Mercedes has the image of a luxurious automobile driven by the wealthy and culturally elite people. Therefore, consumers seeking to fall in that category will consider buying Mercedes . Similarly, a student saying, “I don’t buy luxury products at the moment because of my student status, but this will change after I gain steady income” (03FDFi) is an example of aspirational reference group, wherein a consumer has the urge and desire for luxury products, but wants to purchase, own and use luxury products in future due to circumstantial reasons. In Asian economies such as Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand young people are rushing to buy luxe products like Luis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada and so on. 94 percent of women in their 20s in Tokyo owned a Luis Vuitton by 2006, 92 percent owned Gucci and 57 percent Prada. Owning these luxe items is symbolic of moving up the social ladder irrespective of what social class you belonged to .
The Self-Concept Theory
According to , individuals have a concept about themselves, about who they actually are, who they would like to be and how they like to be perceived by the society. This is called the Self-concept Theory. This concept also influences their purchase behaviour. For example, one may have a perception about their body. One may think that she is slim, whereas she may be above her ideal body mass index or plump. A guy might think he is muscular, but he is actually on the heavier-side . Brands that cannot offer the right fit for all may end up losing the customer to its competitor. Levis recognized this issue and came up with its Curve ID System – an online fitting service. The Curve ID System recognizes the self-concept theory. The product is marketed to women with the tagline – it’s about shape, not size . In another instance, defines possible selves as personalised representation of one’s self in future. They argue that as adults grow older, their hopes and fears for their possible selves keep changing. This affects their purchasing decision. For instance, youngsters in their graduation days hope to get good jobs and excel in life. They dream of buying nice cars, visiting good restaurants, going to posh shops to buy merchandise and live in beautiful societies. According to this tendency of youngsters is governed by two principles – the desire to enhance one’s self-esteem and to attain self-consistency. Youngsters with higher self-esteem will go by their ideal self and purchase suitable luxury items. For example, say a nerdy youngster acts according to his actual self. His purchase decision for luxury items will include limited edition books, nice pair of expensive glasses. As he grows older, he would want to buy a sombre car to suit his actual self. However, if he were to allow his ideal self to dominate, which is may be looking cool and leading a more carefree life, he would go for, say an eBook reader, nice looking sports car, cool jackets, jeans and so on.
The Tri-Component Attitude Model
The Tri Component Attitude Model comprises three components – cognition, affect and conation. Cognition relates to the knowledge and beliefs of a person acquired or formed as a result of direct experience. Affect deals with a person’s feelings and emotions towards a certain product or brand. Conative explores a person’s likelihood or tendency to make a purchase or take necessary or specific action . People’s attitudes towards luxury products is affected by their motivations, such as how the product makes them feel or the fun factor . One may have acquired some amount of knowledge about a number of car brands and their makes, based on which beliefs about their reliability, value for money and quality are formed. Thereby, the person may seek opinions and experiences of these car models from its users. Based on the users’ experiences or the person’s past experience pertaining to the brands (the experience could be anything of any form based on which he / she develops a negative or possible feeling towards the product), the consumer will take the necessary action of making a decision of buying a car .
Based on this relationship between consumer feelings, thoughts and behaviours, researchers have formulated three hierarchies of effect:
Learn – feel – do (the standard learning hierarchy)
Learn – do – feel (the low-involvement hierarchy)
Feel – do – learn (the experiential learning)
Consumers tend to develop highly embedded attitudes for high-involvement products like cars, home, and electronic equipment. Things like cigarettes and beer have little or no relationship between what a consumer does and think
Effects of Culture on Consumer Behaviour
Mooij defines culture as an adhesive that binds groups together. It comprises all those people who received similar education and experiences in life. He advocates the need to understand the influence of culture on consumer behaviour, as cultural values are at the root of consumer behaviour . Let us take for instance the Chinese luxury market that is undergoing huge transformation due to China’s economic boom. The rising middle class consumers of China, while they are struggling to establish their individualism and independence, also do not want to completely let go of their traditional social hierarchies. This reflects in their purchase behaviour of luxury items, like purchasing a car. Purchasing the right car involves detailed research work and investment. As a result, a consumer spends a lot of time before taking the plunge. In China, the top three automobile brands are perceived as following – Audi's as 'government' cars, BMW's are for people with 'new money', and Mercedes-Benz are for 'old money' with chauffeurs. At the same time, he wants to establish his self-worth among his peer group. A new group of vehicles – the SUVs – fit the bill. They do not fall in the existing expectations of social hierarchies of China. Their functionality is synonymous to “action-oriented” or “doing”. These vehicles are much popular with the middle income group presently . Another example is the case of young Indian population. Economic prosperity in India has transformed it into a huge market for luxury goods. In 2016, the size of the Indian luxury market is expected to cross $18.3 billion . Culture in India has transformed from the Brahmin values of simplicity, knowledge, restraint and adjustment to Kshatriya values of valour, competition and action. This change in cultural attitude is mainly driven by globalisation and increase in disposable money with the youth. The youth in the category of 18 -25 years of age in general do not have any responsibilities, and therefore, tend to splurge on luxury. This population of young people believe they can achieve anything if only their desire so and put in the right effort. With globalisation, the recognition to look good and be presentable all the time is a reality. Every action and decision is more materialistic in nature. For example, in India, traditionally it was more important to have a big house. Looks were not the most important things. Today, size is no more the primary requirement. People are paying more attention to the looks, beauty and aesthetics of it. This is evident from the fact that between 2004 and 2006, India witnessed 20 percent growth in the exterior paint section, the fastest growing segment in the architectural paint market .
Driven by globalisation, urge to break away from the shackles of social orders that prevail in the societies of the emerging countries, to feel one among the group they highly refer to and to assert their own unique identity are some of the key influencers of purchasing behaviour of youngsters towards luxury products. There is a stark difference in the attitude of youngsters towards luxury products and their attitude of their parents was during their young times. Owning luxury items is almost equivalent to a necessity with the youngsters today. A psychological necessity to feel good, to reward themselves, to upgrade themselves to the level of their peers or groups they highly refer to. While in some countries youngsters are mostly affected by the globalisation culture, in others they are trying to maintain a fine balance between globalisation and their own culture. This affect the way they think about what luxury item to buy or which brand to choose. Another key trend with the youngsters is their dependency on their peers for reviews and references while deciding to buy a product. The price is not the most important parameter with these youngsters, but the value of the product that they purchase. And they are very vocal and particular about it. Overall, there is a positive attitude of youngsters towards luxury items and this end is only expected to grow in future. Their experience, surroundings, cultural background, peers and reference groups will continue to influence what brands they choose and which product they decide to go for.
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