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Christmas Gift Search Behaviors

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This study explores the underlying determinants of in-store information search for a Christmas clothing gift, focusing specifically on cross-cultural differences. A self-administered survey, containing personality, situational, demographic, and
  Christmas Gift Search Behaviors:A Three-Country Comparison Mark ClevelandBarry J. BabinMichel LarochePhilippa Ward ABSTRACT. This study explores the underlying determinants of in-store information search for a Christmas clothing gift, focusing spe-cifically on cross-cultural differences. A self-administered survey, con-taining personality, situational, demographic, and search behavior measures,was distributed to a sample of actual consumers residing in 3 countries:Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Confirmatory fac-tor analysis revealed 3 distinct and reliable in-store search behaviors(macro,micro,andsalesclerkhelp);exploratoryfactoranalysesrevealed23independentfactors(13personalityand10situational).Countrysam-pledifferenceswereassessedusingchi-squaretests,ANOVAs,MANCOVAs,multipleregressionanalyses,andChowtests.Cross-nationaldifferenceswere found with respect to the relationships/importance of the varioussearch antecedents to in-store search behaviors. Other observed be- Mark Cleveland is a doctoral student in administration at Concordia University,Montreal, Quebec (Canada). Barry J. Babin is Associate Professor of Marketing, Uni-versity of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, MS. Michel Laroche is Royal Bank Dis-tinguished Professor of Marketing, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec(Canada). Philippa Ward is a scholar at Gloucestershire Business School, Cheltenham(United Kingdom).Address correspondence to: Michel Laroche, FRSC, Royal Bank DistinguishedProfessor of Marketing, John Molson School of Business, Concordia University, 1455deMaisonneuveBlvd.West,Montreal,Quebec,Canada,H3G1M8(E-mail:laroche@ authors gratefully acknowledge the financial support of F.C.A.R., Quebec.Journal of International Consumer Marketing, Vol. 15(4) 2003 © 2003 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.10.1300/J046v15n04_02  7   tween-countrydifferencesanddirectionsforfutureresearcharealsodis-cussed.  [Article copies available for a fee from The Haworth Document Deliv-ery Service: 1-800-HAWORTH. E-mail address: <>Website:<>©2003byTheHaworthPress, Inc. All rights reserved.] KEYWORDS. Informationsearch,Christmasshopping,giftbuying,in-ternational, cross-cultural consumer behavior, retailFormanagersoperatinginternationally,animportantquestionconcernspo-tential cross-cultural differences in information-seeking behaviors. As mar-kets increasingly become global in scope, managers need to look for ways tocompete effectively in multiple countries, while simultaneously controllingcosts. Since manufacturers and retailers have a certain degree of control overthe amount, sequence, and types of information they can provide for consum-ers, an improved knowledge of the appropriate mix of informational/promo-tional materials may ultimately result in increased consumer intentions topurchase. Additionally, the identification of relevant consumer behaviors atthenationallevelwillpermitmarketerstodevelopmorerationalsegmentationand niche strategies. Despite the large number of studies conducted on cross-culturaldifferences,thequestionofhowculturemightmoderateconsumerbe-havior in the context of information search remains largely unanswered. Theinternational marketer is generally forced to rely on knowledge of consumerbehavior that has largely been developed in the United States. As the worldmoves more towards an interdependent marketing system, examination of thecross-national applicability of constructs and models developed in the U.S. toother countries becomes increasingly important (Durvasula et al., 1993). Al-thoughmanyresearchershavecalledforanexaminationoftheapplicabilityof theoriestoothercountriesandcultures,fewstudieshaveactuallydoneso.Giftgiving in particular has received less attention from researchers, especiallyfrom a cross-cultural or international perspective, than is warranted with re-spect to its economic and social significance (Jolibert & Fernandez-Moreno,1983), as evidenced by the following statement: “The study of gift-givingcross-culturally is in its infancy, at least in the field of consumer research”(Beatty et al., 1996, p. 20).The accumulated work of American-based researchers over the past 30years has revealed, to a large extent, the determinants of information searchbehaviors–at least for American consumers (see Moore & Lehmann, 1980;Beatty & Smith, 1987; Schmidt & Spreng, 1996, for comprehensive reviews). 8 JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL CONSUMER MARKETING  This research has found that situational characteristics (such as time pressure,perceived purchase risk, merchandise selection, etc.) as well as individual dif-ference factors (i.e., psychographic and demographic factors) significantly in-fluence the degree and types of information search conducted by consumers.However, the manner in which these determinants interact to influence thedepth and extent of information gathering for gift purchases is less conclusive.Whilesociologistsandanthropologistshavelongexaminedgift-givingrituals,only recently have consumer researchers begun to consolidate this knowledgeinto a marketing perspective. Given the high importance placed on gift givingin Western cultures, consumers are likely to expend considerable time and ef-fort in the selection of gifts, when compared to the selection of purchases forself. Among all gift-giving occasions in Western cultures, Christmas is by farthe most significant, both economically (Ruth et al., 1999; Smith & Beatty,1985)andsocially(Otnes,1990).Christmasclearlyrepresentsoneofthemostimportant celebrations involving family and friends. The importance of theChristmas season to retailers, manufacturers, and advertisers is unquestion-ably large. Overall, the need for additional research in the area of gift purchas-ing behavior, particularly in cross-cultural settings, is well justified.Thisstudyinvolvesacomprehensivecomparisonofconsumers’in-storein-formationsearchbehaviorsforaChristmasclothinggiftpurchase,acrossthreewestern countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. Themainobjectivesofthisstudyarefourfold:(1)toverify,inacross-culturalcon-text, the multidimensionality of in-store search behaviors, (2) to gain a clearerunderstanding of consumer Christmas gift shopping behavior across the threecountries studied, (3) to determine the importance of various informationsearch antecedents in the context of gift shopping, and (4) to compare the im-portance of these search antecedents as well as in-store sources of informationacross the three countries studied. THEORETICAL BACKGROUNDThe Economic and Social Significance of Christmas Gift Giving In the realms of anthropology and sociology, gift-giving behavior has re-ceived considerable attention (Cheal, 1988). While anthropologists have gen-erally studied gift-giving behaviors from a “medium for social as well aseconomic exchange” perspective (Wolfinbarger, 1990, p. 699), sociologistshave primarily studied gift giving from the perspective of gift-giving norms,social responsibility, and reciprocity (Caplow, 1982). However, there havebeen considerably fewer studies on gift-giving from a consumer behavior per- Cleveland et al.9  spective–in fact, Lutz (1979) has described the task of uncovering the motivesfor gift-giving as “opening the black box.” Gift purchases are estimated tocomprise approximately 10% of all retail purchases in North America–in theUnited States alone, more than $100 billion is spent annually on gifts (Ruth etal.,1999).TheChristmasseasonconstitutesthebulkofgift-purchasingactivi-ties. The Christmas season is crucial for many retailers, often accounting for40-50% of yearly sales and profits (Smith & Beatty, 1985). In a 1998 surveyinvolving 18 American retail companies (including  Toys ‘R’ Us ,  Federated  Department Stores ,  Kmart  , and  Barnes & Noble ), Blumenthal (1998) reportedthat the fourth quarter Christmas holiday season accounted for more than 50%of total operating profit for these companies for all of the year 1997.Heeler et al. (1979) state that because a gift “ . . . has evaluative dimensionsvis-à-vistherecipientandthatthereciprocityrelationshipischaracterizedbyagoal structure, it would seem that buyer behavior with respect to objects pur-chased as gifts would be different to that for objects purchased for own or nor-mal household use” (p. 325). Research lends support to this contention. Astudy on the effect of brand on purchases of clothing gifts by Andrus, Silver,andJohnson(1986)foundthatonaverage,consumerswerewillingtopay20%more for a gift in order to purchase a status brand. Grønhaug (1972) as well asClarke and Belk (1979), found that compared to purchases for personal use,gift purchases generally involve visiting more stores, considering more alter-natives, and spending more time searching for information. Given the preva-lence of findings such as the aforementioned in the literature, manyresearchers have concluded that the complexity of gift purchasing behavior isgreater than that for more conventional purchasing behavior (such as purchas-ing for self). Belk (1979) underscores this complexity in suggesting that thesituational conditions of gift giving vary as a consequence of the gift-givingoccasionandthespecificfunctionthatthegivingofagiftserves.Hedelineatesfour functions which the process of gift giving may serve: (1) gift giving as asymbolic form of communication (between the giver and recipient), (2) gift-giving as social exchange (i.e., as a mechanism for establishing, determining,and maintaining interpersonal relationships), (3) gift giving as an economicexchange (as a means of conferring material benefit on the recipient), and (4) giftgivingasasocializer(i.e.,affectingtheself-conceptandbehavioralpatternsof the recipient).Sherry (1983) has proposed the most comprehensive model of the gift-giv-ing process to date. His model divides gift-giving behavior into three distinctstages: (1) gift search and purchase (gestation), actual exchange (prestation),and gift disposition and realignment of the giver/recipient relationship (refor-mulation). Sherry (1983) stresses the need for investigation into several issuesthat are associated with the gestation stage including: (1) how is the gift se- 10 JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL CONSUMER MARKETING  lected and how is it obtained, (2) how much time is devoted to search, (3) whoinfluences selection and who makes the actual purchase, (4) who gives giftsand who receives them, and (5) how are gifts symbolically decoded by recipi-ents. Each of these five points is considered in the current work, however thefocus will be on the first two issues, from a cross-national perspective.  Information Search Lee et al. (1999) state two practical reasons as to why information searchpatterns should be studied: (1) they are useful for diagnosing consumer choicestrategies, and (2) they are linked to many important decision-making vari-ables.Generally,consumersarethoughttoinitiallyrelyoninternallyavailableinformation (i.e., memory), however if this knowledge is perceived as insuffi-cient, consumers will then seek external information (Bettman, 1979). In thecontext of the current study, Beatty and Smith (1987) evoke a practical defini-tion for external search: external search effort is “. . . the degree of attention,perception, and effort directed toward obtaining environmental data or infor-mation related to the specific purchase under consideration” (p. 85). Externalinformation search can be further broken down into two types: (1) pre-pur-chase search conducted prior to visiting a store, and (2) in-store informationsearch. The focus of the current investigation will be on in-store informationsearch conducted by consumers.  Antecedents of information search . The relevant literature provides strongevidence that personality traits and other individual difference factors influ-ence information search and utilization behaviors (e.g., Schmidt & Spreng,1996; Schaninger & Sciglimpaglia, 1981; Horton, 1979). For example, re- search has shown that bargain-conscious consumers engage in greater ingreater information search (Horton, 1979; Locander & Herman, 1979), as doindividuals holding high self-esteem (Schaninger & Sciglimpaglia, 1981). Inaddition to personality characteristics, situational circumstances are believedto play a vital role in determining the extent and depth of information searchthat will be conducted by an individual. Ryans (1977) determined that per-ceived purchase risk arises in part from situational characteristics, includingthe quality of the product, the price of the product, and the store of purchase.Althoughmoststudieshavereportedanegativerelationshipbetweeninforma-tion search and time pressure (e.g., Beatty & Smith, 1987; Claxton et al.,1974), Mattson’s (1982) findings indicate that many consumers compensatefor shortfalls in search activity by directly accessing store sales personnel forquick information. Finally, demographic characteristics (such as education,age, gender, income, etc.) have also been shown to affect information-seekingbehavior. For example, in their consumer study on gift shopping patterns,Fisher and Arnold (1990) concluded that women were more involved in thegift-purchasing task than were men. Cleveland et al. 11
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