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Social Class and Consumer Behavior

Social Class and Consumer Behavior

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Published by: xeniumatics on May 26, 2010
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02/25/2013

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SOCIAL CLASS AND CONSUMER BEHAVIOR
Some form of class structure or social stratification has existed in allsocieties throughout human history. In contemporary societies, an indicationthat social classes exist is the common reality that people who are bettereducated or have more prestigious occupations, such as physician or lawyer,are often more highly valued than truck drivers and farmhands. In thischapter, we will examine the nature of social class, the variables andmethods used to measure social class, and the various social class groups inthe society.A consumer's social class refers to his or her standing in society. It isdetermined by a number of factors, including education, occupation andincome.Virtually all groups make distinctions among members in terms of relativesuperiority, power and access to valued resources. This social stratificationcreates a status hierarchy, in which some goods are preferred over othersand are used to categorize their owners' social class.While income is an important indicator of social class, the relationship is farfrom perfect since social class is also determined by such factors as place of residence, cultural interests and world-view.Purchase decisions are sometimes influenced by the desire to buy up to ahigher social class or to engage in the process of conspicuous consumption,where one's status is flaunted by the deliberate and non-constructive use of valuable resources. This spending pattern is characteristic of theostentatious riches, whose relatively recent acquisition of wealth, rather thanancestry or breeding, is responsible for their increased social mobility.Products often are used as status symbols to communicate real or desiredsocial class. Parody display occurs when consumers seek status bydeliberately avoiding fashionable products.Different societies have different strata, which may vary from as low as twoto as high as nine or ten. Most societies have three broad social classes -upper class, middle class, and lower class. People belonging to one particularclass can move to other classes, willingly or unwillingly, in an open society.Such moves can significantly affect their consumption behavior. Consumertastes and preferences are influenced greatly by consumer socialization, aswell as economic, social, and cultural capital.Marketers generally focus on affluent consumers, but recent trends haveshown increasing penetration in middle and lower social classes. Manyproducts and services are used by people as indicators of their socialstanding and are known as status symbols
 
Shopping Behavior and Social Classes
Shopping behavior varies by social class. For example, a very close relationbetween store choice and social-class membership has been found,indicating that it is wrong to assume that all consumers want to shop atglamorous, high-status stores. Instead, people realistically match theirvalues and expectations with a store's status and don't shop in stores wherethey feel out of place. Thus, no matter what the store, each shopper generally has some idea of thesocial-status ranking of that store and will tend not to patronize those wherethey feel they do not "fit," in a social-class sense. The result is that the sameproducts and brands may be purchased in different outlets by members of different social classes. Therefore, an important function of retail advertisingis to allow the shopper to make a social-class identification of stores. This isdone from the tone and physical character of the advertising.One research study of the shopping behavior of a group of urban groups hasprovided a number of valuable insights into the influence of social class onthe shopping process:• Most groups enjoy shopping regardless of their social class; however,reasons for enjoyment differ. All classes enjoy the recreational and socialaspects of shopping, as well as being exposed to new things, bargainhunting, and comparing merchandise. However, lower classes foundacquiring new clothes or household items more enjoyable, while upper-middles and above more frequently specified a pleasant store atmosphere,display, and excitement.• Middle and upper-class groups shopped more frequently than those in thelower class.• The higher a group’s social class the more they considered it important toshop quickly.• Middle and working classes had a greater tendency to browse withoutbuying anything.• The lower the social status, the greater the proportion of downtownshopping.• A greater percentage of lower-class groups favored discount stores thandid groups in the middle or upper classes. The attraction to high-fashionstores was directly related to social class. Broad-appeal stores were moreattractive to the middle class.Let us examine more closely the nature of social-class variations in shoppingpatterns in order to better understand marketing-strategy decisions.Uppers and Upper-Middles. This group organize shopping more purposefullyand efficiently than those of lower status. They tend to be moreknowledgeable about what they want, where and when to shop for it; their
 
shopping is both selective and wide-ranging. These consumers are morelikely to search for information prior to purchase. They are more likely toread brochures, newspapers, and test reports before buying appliances. There is also an emphasis by this group on the store environment. Storesmust be clean, orderly, and reflect good taste. Moreover, they must bestaffed with clerks who are not only well-versed in their particular productline, but also well aware of their customers' status. This attitude indicates aleaning toward urban and suburban specialty stores and away from larger,more general outlets. For example, this group have been characterized asusually buying most of their public appearance clothes at specialty shops orin specialty departments of the town's best department stores.Middle Class. Groups of this class "work" more at their shopping. They exhibitmore anxiety, particularly when purchasing nonfoods, which they feel can bea demanding and tedious process filled with uncertainty. They are value-conscious and try to seek out the best buy for the money. Such anorientation would indicate a strong tendency to patronize discount houses.Working Class. Because of this group's strong concern with personalrelationships, there is a tendency to shop along known, local friendship lines. This attitude also explains their loyalty to certain stores in which they feel athome. One study describes situations in which lower-status groups whoshopped in high-status department stores felt clerks and higher-classcustomers in the store "punished" them in various subtle ways. One groupexpressed their feeling that in a higher-status store "the clerks treat you likea crumb”. Another related how they had vainly tried to be waited on, finallyto be told, "We thought you were a clerk”. The working classes buy with less pre-purchase deliberation than do middleand upper classes. They are much more likely to use in-store informationsources, such as displays and salespeople. The reutilized nature of theirshopping suggests for the marketer an emphasis on the use of enticingpoint-of-purchase displays and easy availability of items. It is clear that thisgroup is a prime target for discount houses, and in fact it has been a potentforce in the development of suburban discount retailing.Lower Americans. This group is one that buys largely on impulse. Thistendency results in the necessity to rely heavily on credit, since money thatmight have been spent for big-ticket items has been drained off in impulsebuying of small things. At the same time, however, these people can be poorcredit risks because of their low-income status. This often forces them into apattern of dealing with local merchants who offer tailor-made (yetsometimes quite exorbitant) credit terms.
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