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Australasian Marketing Journal 17 (2009) 142149

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Collectivism and social inuence in the buying decision: A four-country study of inter- and intra-national differences
Kritika Kongsompong a,1, Robert T. Green b,2, Paul G. Patterson c,*

Faculty of Marketing, Sasin Institute of Business Administration, Chulalongkorn University, Sasa Patasala Building, Phyathai Rd, Patumwan, Bangkok, Thailand Thammasat Business School, Thammasat University, Bangkok 10200, Thailand c Australian School of Business, School of Marketing, University of NSW, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia

a r t i c l e
Keywords: Consumer behavior Cross cultural Social inuence Collectivism Thailand Singapore

i n f o

a b s t r a c t
Purpose: The paper reports the results of a four-nation study of the relationship between collectivism and social inuence in the consumer buying decision, between and within countries. Hypotheses were investigated that revolve around the notion that the more collectivist the persons orientation, the more susceptible the person will be to social inuence in the purchase decision. Method: A cross-sectional survey employing a student sample was conducted across two Eastern and two Western countries (Thailand, Singapore, USA, and Australia). Findings: The ndings provide either whole or partial support for the hypotheses. In general, a higher collectivist orientation results in high levels of social inuence, especially across nations. There are exceptions, however, which highlight the need to incorporate other factors into understanding the role that cultural orientation plays in purchasing decisions. Managerial implications: When devising product, service, and communications strategies in collectivist countries, the ndings suggest that the marketer from an individualist country should give overt consideration to, for instance, parental and sales related forces that could inuence peoples buying decisions. Parental inuence in buying decisions is shown to be relatively low in individualist nations like the USA. In Thailand, however, parents exercise considerable inuence over what their young adult children purchase. Similarly, the sales force at the retail level occupies elevated importance in collectivist societies. Provision of retailer support associated with sales force training should receive a higher priority in collectivist nations. 2009 Australian and New Zealand Marketing Academy. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction The importance of social inuences in consumers purchasing decisions is well established. Buying decisions are not made in a vacuum, and consumers are subject to inuence from several potential sources: family, friends, associates, salespeople, and even strangers who may express an opinion. The importance of social inuences has been embodied in one of the most important theories in consumer behavior: the Theory of Reasoned Action (TORA). This theory species that individuals behavioral intentions (e.g., with regard to the purchase of a product or service) are predicated upon their own internal attitudes toward the contemplated act and, relevant to the present study, on their motivation to comply with the wishes of others (Ajzen and Fishbein, 1980). Numerous

* Corresponding author. Fax: +61 29663 1985. E-mail addresses: (K. Kongsompong), (R.T. Green), (P.G. Patterson). 1 Fax: +66 2215 3797. 2 Tel.: +66 81 7766147.

consumer behavior studies have been conducted on various aspects of TORA, and it has been found to provide a robust explanation for the formation of behavioral intentions (e.g., Lutz, 1977; Ryan and Boneld, 1980; Warshaw and Davis, 1985). Despite the copious literature on TORA and other social-inuence related forces in the buying decision, there is very little research that has been conducted across nations in order to compare relative levels of social inuence that marketers can expect to face in their international operations. Two exceptions were the research conducted by Lee and Green (1991) and by Bagozzi et al. (2000). Lee and Green tested the efcacy of TORA in Korea and the United States and found that TORA provided similar predictive abilities of behavioral intentions in the two countries, although social norms were a more important determinant in Korea and individual attitudes were more important in the USA. Bagozzi et al. tested the relative inuence of attitudes and subjective norms in decision making among consumers in the USA, Italy, China, and Japan. Otherwise, little formal international marketing research has been conducted to compare the importance of social inuences in consumer decision making across nations.

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K. Kongsompong et al. / Australasian Marketing Journal 17 (2009) 142149


A related question has recently been raised with regard to the importance of intra-national differences versus cross-national differences pertinent to various behavioral dimensions of business (Lenartowicz and Roth, 2001). To what extent can cross-cultural differences be reected in differences that exist between individuals within nations? Are intra-national cultural differences as powerful in explaining behavioral differences as cross-national differences? The study reported in this paper examines the issues discussed above. To what extent can cross-national differences in levels of social inuence be observed in consumer purchasing decisions? How do cross-national differences compare with intra-national differences? The study employs the cultural construct of collectivism to develop hypotheses to address these questions. The ndings provide general support for the hypothesized differences both across and within nations, but with some interesting nuances that reect the complexity of collectivism as a construct and that must be understood when applying social inuence differences in an international marketing context. 2. Literature Collectivism in international business and marketing literature is often associated with the seminal works of Hofstede (1983, 1984, 1991), whose classic study provided insights on fundamental cultural differences that serve to differentiate the national cultures of the world. In Hofstedes work, individualism/collectivism is one of four primary distinguishing cultural constructs, the others being power distance, uncertainty avoidance, and masculinity/femininity (to which was later added the dimension of Confucianism). There also exists a considerable literature on collectivism/individualism in the social sciences that delves deeply into the construct. This literature will be reviewed selectively below, since it provides the primary bases from which hypotheses are developed to link collectivism and social inuence. It will be followed by a discussion of the marketing related literature that suggests a relationship between collectivism and social inuence in marketing-related situations. Hofstedes constructs and methodology have been the subject of vigorous debate ever since they were rst introduced. Criticisms have been made with regard to its sample, analysis, and the interpretation of the results obtained. Roberts and Boyacigiller (1984) used the power distance dimensions to illustrate the arbitrary nature of Hofstedes operationalization of variables. Dorfman and Howell (1988) examined the composition of some of the constructs and found them to be overlapping, while also questioning the manner in which the statistical output was compiled. Oyserman et al. (2002) performed a meta-analysis on studies employing the individualism/collectivism construct and found reason to doubt the constructs validity. In addition, the study can be criticized on the basis of its sample (all employees of a single multinational company), as well as when it was conducted (40 years ago). Despite the previous criticisms, Hofstedes constructs have received considerable support from researchers in international marketing. Usunier and Lee (2005) identies Hofstedes work as being the most inuential classication of cultural constructs as being the most inuential schema available. Schwartz (1994), in another massive cross-national study which employed pre-existing constructs, found a high level of correlation between his ndings and those of Hofstede, especially with regard to the individualism/collectivism dimension. Steenkamp (2001) found similar overlap when he factor analyzed Hofstedes four dimensions and Schwartzs seven value types. Despite the controversy over Hofstedes methodology and subsequent validity, his classication has been well accepted by researchers in business and psychology. Rotondo Fernandez et al. (1997), in their review of research on Hofst-

edes classication refer to his work as providing a watershed conceptual foundation for many subsequent cross-national research endeavors. 3. Collectivism and social inuence A dening feature of people who hold a collectivist orientation is that they either do not distinguish between personal and collective goals, or, if they do, personal goals are subjugated to the goals of the collective (Triandis, 1988, 1989). Conversely, individualists are characterized by the tendency to give priority to individual goals over group goals (Triandis, 1989). Individualism and collectivism have been identied as orientations taken with respect to a persons or groups relationship to others (Hofstede, 1980; Triandis, 1984, 1995; Bellah et al., 1985). Researchers have reported signicant differences between ingroup and out-group behaviors in collectivist cultures compared with individualist cultures (e.g., Gudykunst et al., 1987; Leung and Bond, 1984). Such results indicate that a persons self-denition as a member of a group determines how she/he acts in social situations. For example, collectivists have strong ties to the collective, such as family, country, and so forth. Social behavior is a function of in-group norms to a greater extent in collectivist than individualist cultures (Davidson et al., 1976). Self, according to collectivists, is dened in terms of others, and behavior is regulated by group norms (Triandis, 1995). Collectivists, therefore, instinctively obey in-group authorities and are willing to ght to maintain the integrity of the in-group, whereas they distrust and are unwilling to cooperate with members of out-groups (Triandis, 1995). They are attached and conform to their in-groups and only if in-group membership is extremely costly are they likely to drop it (Hui and Triandis, 1986). Yamaguchi (1994) has also dened a persons collectivism as the tendency to give priority to the collective self over the private self, especially when the two come into conict. Individualists, in contrast, have exible ties to social groups, and their behavior is often guided by self-interest (Triandis, 1988, 1995). This means when group and an individualistic persons goals are in conict, personal goals often have primacy. The importance of in-group acceptance as a group-related phenomenon leads to certain values being pre-eminent among collectivists, including security, good social and personalized relationships, and in-group harmony (Triandis, 1995; Schwartz, 1994). Collectivism therefore stresses conformity and in-group harmony and denes the self in relation to the group (Triandis, 1995). As noted above, individualism can be broadly characterized as the tendency to regard the individual over the group, and personal goals receive priority over group goals. Given the importance of group conformity and harmony among collectivists, it should therefore be expected that they will be more responsive to group pressure than will individualists. 4. Collectivism and social inuence in international marketing The foregoing literature on collectivism strongly suggests that collectivists are more subject to social inuence in their purchasing decisions than are individualists. This relationship would presumably be true both across and within nations. Few international marketing studies have been conducted, however, that approach this issue directly. The Lee and Green (1991) study noted above had ndings with implications for this issue, but it employed an a priori denition of respondents collectivist orientations. Also, the study was concerned with determining whether TORA was equally capable of predicting behavioral intentions in the two countries (it was); the greater importance of subjective norms in Korea was an artifact of the study. Similarly, Bagozzi et al. (2000) found that consumers in the Asian nations they studied had pur-


K. Kongsompong et al. / Australasian Marketing Journal 17 (2009) 142149

chase intentions based mainly on the basis of subjective norms, while consumers from the USA and Italy formed buying intentions based mainly on internal attitudes. A limited number of other studies have been conducted by marketing scholars that examine the impact of the collectivism construct, but they were primarily concerned with advertising appeals (Aaker and Maheswaran, 1997; Aaker and Williams, 1998; Alden et al., 1993; Han and Shavitt, 1994; Hong et al., 1987; Kim and Markus, 1999). 5. Inter- versus Intra-national studies The applicability of the collectivism/individualism construct has been repeatedly demonstrated in cross-national studies. Little has been done, however, with respect to the constructs applicability within nations and their respective cultures. Since collectivism exists on a continuum, it can be expected that within nations one will nd people who are more and less collectivist in their orientations. Do relative collectivists in, say, the United States differ substantially in their susceptibility to social inuence from relative individualists in the United States? This question has not been addressed, but there is literature to support the idea that intra-national cultural differences can underlie important differences in attitudes and behavior. Studies by Lenartowicz and Roth (2001) and by Lenartowicz and Johnson (2001) have indicated major differences between subcultures within Latin American nations, and that in some instances sub-cultures in Nation A can exhibit more similarity with a related sub-culture in Nation B, than with other sub-cultures in their own nation. The sub-cultures being studied were ethnic in nature. Similarly, many studies conducted in the US have found differences in purchasing patterns between Anglo and Hispanic groups (e.g., Nicholis et al., 1997; Bristow and Asquith, 1999). The study reported in this paper examines this issue with regard to differences in collectivist orientations within countries, and the extent to which such differences manifest themselves in relative susceptibility to social inuence in purchasing situations. 6. Hypotheses Based on the preceding literature, four hypotheses related to collectivism and social inuence were developed for testing in a consumption-related situation. The rst hypothesis is conrmatory in nature, since it seeks to conrm relative collectivism/ individualism levels that had been established about a quarter century ago. H1. Thais and Singaporeans are characterized by relatively high levels of collectivism while Australians and Americans are characterized by relatively high levels of individualism. Hofstede (1980) had found that Thai and Singaporean respondents exhibited very high levels of collectivism, while Australians and USA respondents were two of the most individualist groups. Conrmation was believed to be necessary because the present study employs a different, more recently-derived scale by which to measure collectivism. In addition, cultures are dynamic, and a quarter century can possibly result in signicant changes in peoples orientations, especially when the time period has seen many economic changes take place, especially in Singapore. The second and third hypotheses pertain to the susceptibility of people with collectivist orientations to social inuence in buying situations. The hypotheses are based upon the literature discussed above which suggests that collectivists are relatively more susceptible to social inuence than individualists. This general proposition, however, has been subject to only limited formal testing, especially in a marketing context. H2. Relative collectivists are more subject to social inuence in purchasing decisions than are relative individualists.

H3. People in collectivist cultures will exhibit more susceptibility to social inuence in buying situations than will people in individualist cultures. The fourth hypothesis relates to differences in susceptibility to social inuence between relative collectivists and individualists within each of the nations under study. The hypothesis is also based on the literature that suggests that collectivists are more susceptible to social inuence, but examines the differences intra-culturally. H4. Within nations, relative collectivists will exhibit more susceptibility to social inuence in buying situations than relative individualists.

7. Methodology 7.1. Data collection To test the hypotheses in a cross cultural setting, data were collected from four countries Thailand, Singapore, Australia, and USA. In the Australian and USA samples we were careful to exclude overseas students. However this was not deemed to be an issue in Singapore and Thailand where the populations are more homogeneous. Respondents were undergraduate business students at major state universities in each of the four countries as it allowed control for extraneous factors. It was reasoned that students have rst hand experience with purchasing sneakers, the product employed in the study. The mean age for all countries was 20.3 years and the total sample size was 797. After elimination of respondents with missing data the nal sample comprised: Thailand (n = 243), Singapore (124), Australia (205), and USA (198). Keilor et al. (2001) contend that any chances for marketing success will be greatly improved if attention is directed at the individual consumer level, rather than country characteristics. That is, the term culture is not necessarily synonymous with the term country. Studies based on an individuals cultural orientation, rather than nationality, provides greater explanatory power because it enables us to attribute differences to cultural norms and traits and to extrapolate beyond the countries included in any sample (Dawar and Parker, 1994). Using national generalizations to explain individual behaviors is considered an ecological fallacy because country-level relationships are interpreted as if they apply to all individuals (Yoo and Donthu, 2002). Cultural values need to be measured and operationalised at the individual level, otherwise nation-level culture may lead to false stereotyping. Hence, while data was collected from four countries, the unit of analysis here is the individual. Hence we measure the individuals degree of collectivist/individualist orientation within each nation studied. Since this study involves cross-cultural research, the comparability of the sample is an important issue. Non-comparable samples could lead to alternative explanations for any observed differences across the four samples (Brislin et al., 1973). Sample comparability was addressed by using respondents in the same age group and occupational status undergraduate business students. Furthermore, statistical comparisons were made between samples based on a test of differences in age, sex, family income, and parents level of education. No signicant differences were found. These variables were therefore effectively controlled for. Three of the countries are English speaking (USA, Australia and Singapore), while Thailand is not. Hence, in Singapore, USA and Australia, English versions of the questionnaire were administered. Equivalence of meaning was established for the Thai questionnaires by translating and then back translating the original English questionnaire into Thai. The approach followed that of Berry (1989), combining the emic and the etic approaches to attitudinal and behavioral measure-

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ment. Hence the authors started in their home culture (USA) and then applied the constructs to the other cultures (imposed etic). Attitudes to social inuence were initially studied through qualitative (emic) individual in-depth interviews. The results of the ndings of the emic and imposed etic were analyzed for commonality, which in this case was high. The constructs were then adapted to achieve a higher level of equivalence, which would permit valid cross-cultural comparisons. The emic phase of the Thailand research took the form of exploratory in-depth interviews conducted by one of the authors who is bilingual in Thai and English. Finally, a forward-translation (Hambleton, 1993) was made of the modied USA questionnaire by two bilinguals whose mother language was Thai and then a back-translation made by two bilingual authors whose mother language was English (Brislin et al., 1973). The Thai language questionnaire was then pretested with 10 respondents to ensure the English meaning of various concepts. Similar pretests were conducted in Australia and Singapore. As a result, minor modications were necessary as some words or phrases had no exact comparable Thai translation (Brislin, 1980). 7.2. Scales Scales for key constructs of collectivism/individualism and social inuence were sourced from the literature. The collectivism/ individualism 10-item scale (7 point itemized rating scale with 7 = Very Likely to 1 = Very Unlikely) of Yamaguchi (1994) was employed. This scale has been extensively used in cross-cultural research. The social inuence scenario and scale of Lee and Green (1991) was used to capture the dependent variable in this study. This scale captures the degree of social inuence that four signicant others have on a purchase decision (parents, a close friend, boyfriend/girlfriend and salesperson). The scenario (Lee and Green, 1991) employed is described below: You need to buy some new sneakers. You are considering two models, one that you like, and another that is liked by the person who is with you. How likely would you be to purchase the sneakers that the other person likes if that person is your mother or father (best friend, boy/girlfriend, salesperson)? A 7 point, single item, rating scale was employed to capture social inuence (Lee and Green, 1991) with endpoints ranging from Very Likely to Very Unlikely. Being sourced from the extant literature, the scales were considered to have construct validity. Face validity was achieved by showing the questions to a convenience sample of consumers in each country, plus two academics familiar with this literature. An exploratory factor analysis of the Collectivism scale showed a remarkable robustness across the four countries in the sample. The factor analysis revealed three factors with identical items loading on the same factors across all countries. The items comprising the three factors were summed to form a composite Collectivism scale for each country. Appendix 1 shows the scale items, factor loadings and variance explained for each factor and country. It also showed each factor in each country had similar reliability coefcients, a condition recommended for psychometric equivalence (Mullen, 1995). This combined with the procedures previously outlined indicated the measures had sound psychometric equivalence across countries. The pooled factor analysis results are also shown in Appendix 1. They displayed sound internal consistency with coefcient alphas ranging from a = 0.590.67. 7.3. Analysis and results H1 is a replication hypothesis i.e., that Thais and Singaporeans are typically more collectivist than Australians and Americans. The data in Table 1 support this assertion: Thais and Singaporeans have mean collectivism scores of 5.06 and 4.98, respectively, versus 4.72

Table 1 Country means on collectivism scale. Country Thailand (Mean: 5.06; Std dev 0.52) Singapore (Mean: 4.98; Std dev 0.66) Australia (Mean: 4.72; Std dev 0.66) USA (Mean: 4.68; Std dev 0.62) Singapore Australia USA Thailand Australia USA Thailand Singapore USA Thailand Singapore Australia Mean difference 0.08 0.33 0.38 0.08 0.26 0.31 0.33 0.26 0.04 0.38 0.3 0.04 Signicance (p<) .805 .000 .000 .805 .013 .002 .000 .014 .943 .000 .002 .943

Note: Differences assessed using a multiple range (Scheffe) test of signicance.

and 4.68 for Australians and Americans, respectively. Furthermore, the data clearly shows no signicant difference between Thai and Singaporeans (p < 0.81) on their collectivist orientation, while Australians and USA are not signicantly different from each other (p < 0.94). While Thais and Singaporeans have a similar collectivist orientation, so do Australians and Americans. However, there are statistically signicant differences across these two groups. To illustrate, Thais (and Singaporeans) have a signicantly different orientation from both Australians (and Americans) with a mean difference 0.33, p < .000 (Singapore 00.26, p < .013). The mean differences with USA are Thailand 0.38 (p < .000); Singapore 0.31 (p < .002). Thus H1 is fully supported. H2 asserts that across all four nations in the sample, consumers with a collectivist orientation are more susceptible to social inuences in their purchase decision than their counterparts with an individualist orientation. To test H2, the entire sample was split into two sub groups (sub group analysis, Kohli, 1989) based on each respondents summed score on the 10-item collectivism scale. The middle 10% of cases were eliminated to increase the contrast between the groups (Kohli, 1989). The high scoring sub group represents the collectivist group and the low group, the individualists. Results are portrayed in Table 2. It will be noted that for all sources of social inuence collectivists have a higher mean score than their individualist counterparts. To illustrate, the inuence of close friends shows that the mean inuence scores are 4.81 (collectivists) versus 4.32 (individualists) (p < 0.000). The total social inuence scores across all sources of inuence is 4.33 (collectivists) versus 3.91 (individualists) (p < 0.000). Thus H2 is supported. H3 states that consumers in the two collectivist nations would exhibit more susceptibility to social inuence than consumers in the two individualist nations. The ndings related to this hypothesis are presented in Table 3. The results indicate a partial acceptance of the hypothesis, since in the cases of the USA and Thailand, the relationship is maintained. Across virtually all of the sources of social inuence, Thai consumers exhibit more social inuence than do Australians and Americans. Further, the Americans exhibit less susceptibility to social inuence than either Singaporeans or Thais. The ndings associated with the Singaporeans and Australians are less straight forward, however.
Table 2 Means of social inuence for individualists and collectivists. Social Inuence Source Parents Close friends Boy/girlfriends Sales person All social inuence Individualists Means (Std. Dev.) 3.61 4.32 4.76 2.94 3.91 (1.76) (1.48) (1.55) (1.49) (1.19) Collectivists Means (Std. Dev.) 3.97 4.81 5.12 3.44 4.33 (1.75) (1.48) (1.37) (1.59) (1.10) Sig.

.005 .000 .001 .000 .000

146 Table 3 Means of social inuence scores across nations. Country Thailand Singapore Australia USA Parents Mean (std) 4.66 3.70 3.50 3.00 (1.54)a (1.75)b (1.71)b (1.61)c

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Friends Mean (std) 4.96 4.64 4.57 4.00 (1.24)a (1.37)a,b (1.29)b (1.57)c

B/Girlfriend Mean (std) 4.98 5.11 5.01 4.70 (1.43)a (1.52)a (1.39)a (1.62)d

Salesperson Mean (std) 3.67(1.57)a 3.26 (1.41)a,b 3.12 (1.53)b 2.54 (1.43)c

All Inf. Mean(std) 4.57(1.04)a 4.18(1.13)b 4.05(1.07)b 3.56(1.20)c

Note: Different superscripts a,b,c,d are signicantly different (p < 0.05), F-approximation. Any mean value with a subscript a is signicantly different from all other superscripts (ie b, c, d etc). Same for b: it is statistically different from a, c, d, e. e is different from all other superscripts. The mean value with a, b, means that mean value is not different between a and b, but different from all other means with subscripts other than a and b.

Consumers in these two countries, while different in the predicted directions from consumers in Thailand and the USA, are almost identical to each other when it comes to social inuence. This nding will be discussed in greater detail in Section 8 which follows. H4 states that within each nation relative collectivists are more susceptible to social inuence than relative individualists. This time respondents within each country are categorized into either a high or low sub group based on their total score on the collectivism scale. Generally speaking, the data displayed in Table 4 give partial support for H4 across the four nations studied. The hypothesis is fully supported in the case of Thailand where, for each inuence source, respondents with a collectivist orientation are more heavily inuenced in the purchase decision than their individualist oriented counterparts. For example, the mean inuence score for boy/girlfriend is 5.16 for collectivists versus 4.69 for individualists (p < 0.011) in the Thai sample. For the USA and Singapore, two of the four inuence sources have differential impacts on collectivists and individualists. However, directional support is evident in all instances. Interestingly, however, for the Australian sample social inuence from each of the four sources did not vary across the individualist/collectivist sub groups, although there was directional support. The ndings presented in Table 4 also indicate that although collectivism can be used in many countries to discriminate among consumers based on their susceptibility to social inuence in buying situations, the within-nation differences are considerably less
Table 4 Mean of social inuence scores for collectivists and individualists within each nation. Social Inuence Source Parents Thailand Singapore Australia USA Close friends Thailand Singapore Australia USA Boy/girlfriend Thailand Singapore Australia USA Salesperson Thailand Singapore Australia USA All social inuence Thailand Singapore Australia USA Individualists Mean (Std. Dev.) Collectivists Mean (Std. Dev.) Sig.

pronounced than the across-country differences. This statement is particularly relevant when applied to the two most extreme nations in the study, Thailand and the USA. Relative individualists in Thailand reect considerably higher levels of collectivism than do relative collectivists among Americans. While these ndings are not associated with any of the hypotheses, they provide insights into the usefulness of the collectivism variable when applied by marketers within and across cultures. These insights are presented below in Section 8. 8. Discussion The ndings have provided several insights that contribute to an understanding of marketing across diverse cultures. The rst, basic insight relates to the ndings associated with H1, which hypothesized that Thailand and Singapore are more collectivist in their orientations than Australia and the USA. The ndings show clearly that this is the case, with Thais and Singaporeans both more collectivist than Australians and Americans, while each pair of nations is not signicantly different from each other. These ndings provide a strong basis for stating that Thailand and Singapore are collectivist-oriented nations and Australia and USA are individualist-oriented nations. This nding has importance for the present study, since it provides the underlying basis for subsequent tests. In addition, the nding that Thais and Singaporeans are highly collectivist in their orientation and that Australians and Americans are highly individualist offers two further contributions. First, it supports Hofstedes contention that cultures are relatively enduring, not subject to rapid change. This point is made particularly strongly in the present study because, as discussed further below, Thailand and Singapore have experienced substantially different economic growth patterns during the past 30 years. Singapore has grown economically to the point that it is now considered a rst-world nation, with GDP/capita equal or greater than many other highly developed nations. Thailand, despite growth in some sectors, remains relatively less developed. Thus, even though Singaporeans now have rst-world conveniences and purchasing power, they remain highly collectivist in their orientation. This nding lends credence to the continued use of Hofstedes earlier ndings for the classication of nations according to culture type is justied. A further contribution of the ndings associated with H1, including the reliability and validity tests done in conjunction with the test of the hypothesis is that it establishes the applicability of the collectivism scale employed in the study across several diverse nations. The scale, originally used with Japanese samples, has been successfully employed with samples from the four nations in the current study. The ndings associated with H2 conrm the oft-postulated notion that collectivists are more susceptible to social inuence in buying situations than individualists. Social inuence appears more prevalent among those with a collectivist orientation, regardless of nationality. This nding is consistent with collectivists trait of being more susceptible to social inuence put forth by Hui and Triandis (1986). The emphasis that collectivists place on harmony

4.47 3.60 3.51 3.02 4.73 4.30 4.52 3.79 4.69 5.02 4.97 4.50 3.34 2.94 3.03 2.51 4.40 4.09 3.92 3.30

(1.55) (1.90) (1.76) (1.62) (1.29) (1.59) (1.29) (1.61) (1.56) (1.76) (1.30) (1.70) (1.47) (1.34) (1.44) (1.44) (1.03) (1.27) (1.11) (1.27)

4.82 3.78 3.48 2.96 5.11 4.81 4.65 4.36 5.16 5.11 5.11 5.06 3.93 3.51 3.28 2.52 4.72 4.26 4.16 3.82

(1.49) (1.67) (1.65) (1.64) (1.16) (1.19) (1.31) (1.41) (1.34) (1.35) (1.48) (1.38) (1.58) (1.43) (1.34) (1.34) (1.03) (0.98) (1.04) (1.05)

.059 ns ns ns .020 .046 ns .015 .011 ns ns .020 .004 .031 ns ns .016 ns ns .002

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and conict avoidance suggests that susceptibility to social inuence is a natural outcome of such characteristics. The maintenance of harmony would require some level of conformity with what the group thinks is appropriate i.e., actively considering their opinions concerning decisions one is in the process of making. If relevant others are expressing opinions contrary to ones own, the collectivist is more likely to incorporate them into his/her decision making than is the individualist in order to avoid conict and to maintain harmony within the group. This relationship has not previously been tested in a consumer decision making context that employs a formal measure of collectivism. The present study conrms its existence, but ndings associated with subsequent hypotheses (discussed below) show that the relationship may be subject to conditions not previously considered. The partial acceptance of H3 and H4 offers insights into the relationship between collectivism and social inuence across and within nations, as well as raises questions about the existence of other factors that can serve to moderate the relationship. Tests associated with H3 conrm that Thais are characterized by significantly higher levels of social inuence than respondents in the other three nations. Similarly, the USA sample reports signicantly lower levels of social inuence than respondents in the other three nations. No differences were found, however, between Australians and Singaporeans, suggesting similar levels of social inuence in these two countries despite the fact that Singapore is highly collectivist and Australia is highly individualist. This nding was contrary to expectations and suggests that the relationship between collectivism and social inuence established in H2 may need some modication. Such modications are considered more fully after discussion of H4 ndings, since these ndings provide further evidence of the need to modify the relationship. A pattern similar to that in H3 emerges from the ndings associated with H4, which investigates the relationship between social inuence and relative levels of individualism and collectivism within nations. In both Thailand and the United States, the ndings generally support the notion that relative collectivists are more subject to social inuence in their buying decisions than are relative individualists, consistent with the hypothesis. Once again, however, Singapore and Australia produced results that differ from the hypothesized relationship. In both of these countries, no or few differences are found between relative collectivists and individualists in terms of susceptibility to social inuence. Why do Singapore and Australia produce a pattern that dees the hypothesized relationship, while the ndings from Thailand and the USA produce such strong support? Other forces appear to be operating to moderate the relationship in Australia and Singapore. One prospective moderating factor is level of discretionary income. Table 5 presents longitudinal GDP/capita data from the four nations. In 1970 there is a clear delineation between the four countries, with the USA having the highest gure, then Australia, then Singapore, and nally Thailand. In 2000, the USA and Thailand continued to occupy the highest and lowest positions, but Australia and Singapore are very similar. What this could suggest is that susceptibility to social inuence may be moderated by purchasing
Table 5 Per Capita gross domestic product between 1970 and 2000. Year 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 Thailand GDP ($) 183.2 349.2 695.8 752.7 1521.1 2816.0 1953.3 Singapore GDP ($) 896.3 2608.7 4854.4 6466.1 12156.7 23962.3 23084.0 Australia GDP ($) 3098.0 6885.6 10629.9 10569.5 17963.3 19956.9 19869.6 USA GDP($) 5066.6 7567.8 12281.6 17670.8 23223.5 28138.0 35859.1

power: the higher the purchasing power, the less the susceptibility to social inuence, regardless of cultural factors. This prospective explanation is speculative, but it can perhaps be explained by examining another aspect of collectivist and individualist orientation presented by Triandis (1995). He found that the higher the income, the more likely people are to be individualist in their orientation, regardless of the national culture. The explanation of this phenomenon lies in the different levels of risk averseness that characterize low and high income people. Those who have higher incomes are more willing to take risks in their purchasing, including social risks, and thus behaving in ways that would be characteristic of the individualist. The ndings of the present study are fairly consistent with this explanation, with one major exception: the relative lack of social inuence displayed by the Singaporeans occurs among people who are shown to be highly collectivist in their cultural orientation. High collectivism is combined with low levels of susceptibility to social inuence. The Singaporeans high levels of income have not affected their collectivist orientation, but may have affected the extent to which they are bound to respecting the wishes of others in their purchasing decisions. The present study does not address this question directly; the moderating effect of income is being presented here as a suggestion of an area of future enquiry. The evidence associated with ndings of the present study points strongly in that direction, however. One further set of ndings which need to be addressed are those indicating that levels of collectivism are substantially more pronounced across nations than within nations. This is especially the case for the ndings associated with the USA and Thailand, and to a lesser extent in Singapore. In general, it appears that inter-national differences in collectivist orientation appear to be differences in kind, while intra-national differences are differences in degree. Dividing Thais into relative collectivists and individualists yields signicant differences in social inuence across the two groups. However, Thai individualists and collectivists are both substantially more susceptible to social inuence in their purchasing than their relative individualist/collectivist counterparts in the USA. For marketers engaged in devising products, services, and communication strategies across nations, the collectivism variable is one that should certainly be considered. Within nations, however, differences between collectivists and individualists would seem to be more subtle and nuanced. 9. Conclusions, limitations, and implications The study has achieved its objective of providing insights into the relationship between collectivism and social inuence in buying situations. The two are positively related, as witnessed by the ndings from four diverse nations. Further, this relationship exists, to a more limited extent, within countries. The intriguing question that arises from the study concerns factors that might serve to modify the relationship, an issue that is deserving of further study. The factor suggested here is that of discretionary income: does the level of discretionary income moderate the relationship between collectivism and social inuence? Other factors could also be posited. The ndings of the study necessarily need to be qualied by the facts that the data come from only four nations, and were gathered from student samples. If subsequent research from other samples and countries reafrms these ndings, then there will be important implications for marketers. The ndings provide several contributions for international marketing scholars and business practitioners. It is one of the few cross-national studies in the marketing literature which has associated the individualism/collectivism construct with a wellestablished principle of consumer behavior. In that respect it has shown that while culture must be considered when marketing in

Source: World economic outlook 2002.


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other nations/cultures, there are factors that can modify the relationship between culture and consumer behavior. The study has demonstrated that the impact of social inuence may be moderated by income variations across nations Australian (individualistic) and Singaporean (collectivistic) subjects indicated similar levels of social inuence. In addition, the ndings provide evidence of the fact that marketers need to give overt consideration to the collectivist orientation of a culture when devising a marketing strategy, but not without considering other aspects of the country and its culture. Marketers from individualistic societies may underestimate the power of the collective to determine consumer buying preferences can be much greater than what they have experienced in their home nations. This problem can be compounded by further being unaware of the subtleties involved. When devising product, service, and communications strategies in collectivist countries, the ndings suggest that the marketer from an individualist country should give overt consideration to, for instance, parental and sales related forces that could inuence peoples buying decisions. Parental inuence in buying decisions is shown to be relatively low in individualist nations like the USA. In

Thailand, however, parents exercise considerable inuence over what their young adult children purchase. Parents in such societies may need to be considered when designing products and services and when designing communication messages related to these offerings. Similarly, the sales force at the retail level occupies elevated importance in collectivist societies since it is reported to exercise substantially higher levels of inuence over buyers in these societies than in individualist societies. Provision of retailer support associated with sales force training should receive a higher priority in collectivist nations. In addition, for socially visible goods, the ndings show that degree of collectivism may be a relevant segmentation variable even within countries, with relative collectivists and individualists responding to different strategies. The within-nation differences between collectivists and individualists regarding their susceptibility to social inuence, however, do not approach the level of difference that exists across countries. Indeed, perceptible withinnation differences appear to be most commonly found in those nations that exhibit the most extreme overall levels of collectivism and individualism.

Appendix 1Factor analysis of collectivism scale by country and pooled data.

Items Factor 1 Harmony T 1. I sacrice self .54 interest for my group 2. I act as fellow .67 group members would prefer 3. I maintain .59 harmony in my group 4. I respect the .52 majoritys wishes 5. I stick with my group even through difculties 6. I support my group whether they are right or wrong 7. I respect decisions made by my group 8. I remain in my group if they need me, even if I am dissatised with them 9. I avoid arguments with my group, even when I strongly disagree with my group members 10. I make an effort to avoid disagreement with my group members Eigen value 2.5 % of variance 25.4 explained .59 Cronbachs alpha coefcient (a) S .52 A .79 U .71 P .75 Factor 2 Peer support T S A U P Factor 3 Conict avoidance T S A U P












.58 .51 .77 .78 .87 .70


























3.4 33.7 .69

3.2 31.5 .61

2.7 26.9 .53

2.8 27.7 .61

1.5 14.0 .57

1.5 14.9 .60

1.2 12.3 .63

1.3 13.0 .54

1.5 14.7 .59

1.4 12.7 .54

1.1 10.7 .64

1.2 11.9 .68

1.2 11.5 .63

1.0 10.3 .67

Legend: T = Thailand, S = Singapore, A = Australia, U = United States of America, P = Pooled data. Note: Only loadings >0.40 are shown.

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