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Some form of class structure or social stratification has existed in all societies throughout human history. In contemporary societies, an indication that social classes exist is the common reality that people who are better educated or have more prestigious occupations, such as physician or lawyer, are often more highly valued than truck drivers and farmhands. In this chapter, we will examine the nature of social class, the variables and methods used to measure social class, and the various social class groups in the society. A consumer's social class refers to his or her standing in society. It is determined by a number of factors, including education, occupation and income. Virtually all groups make distinctions among members in terms of relative superiority, power and access to valued resources. This social stratification creates a status hierarchy, in which some goods are preferred over others and are used to categorize their owners' social class. While income is an important indicator of social class, the relationship is far from 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 a higher 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 the ostentatious riches, whose relatively recent acquisition of wealth, rather than ancestry or breeding, is responsible for their increased social mobility. Products often are used as status symbols to communicate real or desired social class. Parody display occurs when consumers seek status by deliberately avoiding fashionable products. Different societies have different strata, which may vary from as low as two to as high as nine or ten. Most societies have three broad social classes upper class, middle class, and lower class. People belonging to one particular class can move to other classes, willingly or unwillingly, in an open society. Such moves can significantly affect their consumption behavior. Consumer tastes and preferences are influenced greatly by consumer socialization, as well as economic, social, and cultural capital. Marketers generally focus on affluent consumers, but recent trends have shown increasing penetration in middle and lower social classes. Many products and services are used by people as indicators of their social standing and are known as status symbols
Shopping Behavior and Social Classes
Shopping behavior varies by social class. For example, a very close relation between store choice and social-class membership has been found, indicating that it is wrong to assume that all consumers want to shop at glamorous, high-status stores. Instead, people realistically match their values and expectations with a store's status and don't shop in stores where they feel out of place. Thus, no matter what the store, each shopper generally has some idea of the social-status ranking of that store and will tend not to patronize those where they feel they do not "fit," in a social-class sense. The result is that the same products and brands may be purchased in different outlets by members of different social classes. Therefore, an important function of retail advertising is to allow the shopper to make a social-class identification of stores. This is done from the tone and physical character of the advertising. One research study of the shopping behavior of a group of urban groups has provided a number of valuable insights into the influence of social class on the shopping process: • Most groups enjoy shopping regardless of their social class; however, reasons for enjoyment differ. All classes enjoy the recreational and social aspects of shopping, as well as being exposed to new things, bargain hunting, and comparing merchandise. However, lower classes found acquiring new clothes or household items more enjoyable, while uppermiddles and above more frequently specified a pleasant store atmosphere, display, and excitement. • Middle and upper-class groups shopped more frequently than those in the lower class. • The higher a group’s social class the more they considered it important to shop quickly. • Middle and working classes had a greater tendency to browse without buying anything. • The lower the social status, the greater the proportion of downtown shopping. • A greater percentage of lower-class groups favored discount stores than did groups in the middle or upper classes. The attraction to high-fashion stores was directly related to social class. Broad-appeal stores were more attractive to the middle class. Let us examine more closely the nature of social-class variations in shopping patterns in order to better understand marketing-strategy decisions. Uppers and Upper-Middles. This group organize shopping more purposefully and efficiently than those of lower status. They tend to be more knowledgeable about what they want, where and when to shop for it; their
shopping is both selective and wide-ranging. These consumers are more likely to search for information prior to purchase. They are more likely to read brochures, newspapers, and test reports before buying appliances. There is also an emphasis by this group on the store environment. Stores must be clean, orderly, and reflect good taste. Moreover, they must be staffed with clerks who are not only well-versed in their particular product line, but also well aware of their customers' status. This attitude indicates a leaning toward urban and suburban specialty stores and away from larger, more general outlets. For example, this group have been characterized as usually buying most of their public appearance clothes at specialty shops or in specialty departments of the town's best department stores. Middle Class. Groups of this class "work" more at their shopping. They exhibit more anxiety, particularly when purchasing nonfoods, which they feel can be a demanding and tedious process filled with uncertainty. They are valueconscious and try to seek out the best buy for the money. Such an orientation would indicate a strong tendency to patronize discount houses. Working Class. Because of this group's strong concern with personal relationships, there is a tendency to shop along known, local friendship lines. This attitude also explains their loyalty to certain stores in which they feel at home. One study describes situations in which lower-status groups who shopped in high-status department stores felt clerks and higher-class customers in the store "punished" them in various subtle ways. One group expressed their feeling that in a higher-status store "the clerks treat you like a crumb”. Another related how they had vainly tried to be waited on, finally to be told, "We thought you were a clerk”. The working classes buy with less pre-purchase deliberation than do middle and upper classes. They are much more likely to use in-store information sources, such as displays and salespeople. The reutilized nature of their shopping suggests for the marketer an emphasis on the use of enticing point-of-purchase displays and easy availability of items. It is clear that this group is a prime target for discount houses, and in fact it has been a potent force in the development of suburban discount retailing. Lower Americans. This group is one that buys largely on impulse. This tendency results in the necessity to rely heavily on credit, since money that might have been spent for big-ticket items has been drained off in impulse buying of small things. At the same time, however, these people can be poor credit risks because of their low-income status. This often forces them into a pattern of dealing with local merchants who offer tailor-made (yet sometimes quite exorbitant) credit terms.
MUSTAFA SALEEM MBA 4-B
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