Campus: CSU, Northridge -- January 12, 2001

Does Culture Affect Shopping Prices? A New Study By a CSUN Professor Says It Does

Can culture affect shopping and retail prices? A new study by Cal State Northridge marketing professor David Ackerman suggests it does.

Ackerman and a colleague, USC marketing professor Gerard Tellis, spent the last five years studying the shopping habits of recent Chinese immigrants and their American counterparts and found that the way they shop can affect retail prices.

"I think that on their own, many retailers suspected that culture impacts how people shop," Ackerman said. "Though I see some people paying attention to it, I think more people need to adjust their marketing to reflect the different tastes of a multicultural society."

The results of Ackerman and Tellis' study will be published in the spring edition of the Journal of Retailing, a professional trade publication about retail marketing.

Ackerman and Tellis compared the shopping habits of recent Chinese immigrants and Americanized cultural groups within Southern California.

"Chinese and American cultural systems are important, influential and grounded in different values," Ackerman said. "Southern California is a multi-cultural society, with large populations of recent immigrants. It is an ideal laboratory to study cross-cultural differences within the same infrastructure and political and legal systems."

Ackerman and Tellis made some assumptions when they started their study.

"We expected that Chinese would search more before they purchased," Ackerman said. "First, there is a social norm of frugality and sophistication in money handling among Chinese."

Second, he said, is concern for others in collectivist societies may lead consumers to spend more money on those products related to image or gifts than those raised in individualist cultures and to greater pragmatism in the purchase of products for private use.

"Since Chinese society is more collectivist than American society, we expected that Chinese would be more pragmatic and value-conscious in the purchase of grocery goods," Ackerman said.

Their study confirmed their suspicions.

"Chinese inspect many more items and take much more time to shop," Ackerman said.

Ackerman and Trellis found the differences in shopping behavior correspond to clear differences in prices between grocery stores serving the two cultural groups.

"Chinese stores have consistently lower prices across a range of food products than traditional American stores," Ackerman said. "Cultural differences appear to be the most likely, although not the sole, explanation for the differences in prices."

Ackerman said the demographics - education, income and family size - of the shoppers studied were similar. Shoppers in both samples were in retail stores that provided familiar foods by employees who spoke their first languages. So these differences in shopping habits and prices cannot be easily explained by factors other than cultural orientation, he said.

Ackerman said the study could have great impact on the retail business, particularly as the immigrant populations in California and the rest of the nation continue to grow.

Ackerman said what he and Tellis found does not just apply to Chinese immigrants.

"Immigrants from the Middle East, from Mexico, from Central America, from India all have different shopping patterns - in what they expect to pay, in what they buy, whether they take their children along and who makes the decisions," he said. "All of that will affect what products retailers select to sell and at what prices."

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