Impact of Culture on Consumer Behavior
Culture is central to the fabric of any society. It operates on an individual level as well as a societal level. It encompasses language, laws, knowledge, and customs. These features are what gives societies and individuals their unique personality and identity in the case of society. The same level of influence is established in the marketplace. Culture affects consumer behavior in society through learned beliefs, customers, and values (Minta, & Kalakodio, 2018). In this context, values and beliefs are the guides for consumer behavior. Customers are the accepted, sometimes unusual, ways of behaving in the marketplace.
The human mind has the capacity to absorb culture through commonly shared symbols in society. Learning of norms is an innate activity that propagates culture from one society to another. Marketers are aware of the power that this capacity has on human lives. They, therefore, successfully promote intangible and tangible products and concepts to consumers through mass media, leveraging this concept (Wabia, 2020). Some of the cultural influences or aspects that impact consumer behavior is deliberately exercised while others are not. These aspects are based on the natural characteristics of culture in different parts of the world. There are diverse societies, races, and cultures but the natural mindset of a human remains constant. It makes it possible for a culture to be standardized when considering marketing approaches or when seeking to understand purchase decisions in people (Van Herk & Torelli, 2017). This paper will analyze two cultural aspects that influence consumer behavior.
Culture aspects as per Usunier, Van Herk and Lee (2017) are multiple. They include perception, motivation, learning and memory, age, social class, gender roles, decision-making, and many others. These aspects affect the purchase decision of people either as values, as beliefs, or as customs. There are changes constantly happening to beliefs, values, and customers in society. These changes are reflected upon in society. Today there is complex market segmentation based on aspects such as a social class that inform people’s buying decisions (Thompson & Brouthers, 2021). Others buy products based on the idea of individualism versus collectivism. These two main aspects will be analyzed in the following subsequent sections
Social class is a major cultural aspect. Primarily, social class refers to the division of a society based on economic and social statuses. There are three basic social classes; the upper class, middle class, and the lower class. These classes have distinct features that make people that belong there behave in a certain way. Understanding each class leads to the understanding of why people behave in different ways when considering things to purchase (Hamilton et al., 2019). Of great importance is to consider whether social classes are locally important; whether consumption demonstrates social class belonging; and understanding the type of products or services that social status-minded consumers purchase. These factors will be analyzed together with addressing which social classes are affected.
Firstly, social classes are important locally for one major factor. They segment buyers into three groups. These groups are targeted as they are by marketers seeking to leverage their specific features for profit. For instance, the consumer behaviors of upper-class members are vastly different from those of other classes. The differences can be accounted for using three main features of consumer buying behavior. Solomon et al. (2017) hold that consumer behavior is differentiated based on the routine response, level of decision-making, and impulse buying. These factors will be used to analyze how the three social classes interact.
The upper social class is characterized by individuals with high disposable incomes. These are families with few limitations to their purchase power. As a result, this group has the most cases of impulse buying. Lepeyko, Sandal, and Omarov (2018) describes them as individuals or households whose buying behavior is not tied to necessity but mostly pleasure. The most basic things are bought on their behalf leaving them to buy things that bring pleasure to them. The routine response or programmed purchases on low-cost items that require less decision effort are delegated to other people. This is why this social class’ consumer behavior is often associated with buying luxury products.
The middle class has unique features. For members in this group, the underlying factor is that disposable incomes vary between just enough and barely enough. This means that spending involves extensive decision-making. The reason for such an extensive decision process is to analyze options available in the market to decide on the most appropriate ones. The goal of this process is to match the budget that one has with the best possible product. people in this group seek to maximize value above anything else (Kappes, Gladstone & Hershfield, 2021). This is the goal when making buying decisions. Further, this social class has a limited level of routine response buying delegated to others. Due to the fluctuations in earnings for most people, changes in prices of products are of great influence on their purchasing decisions. This is the social class that spends most time researching and finding information about products before making a purchase decision. Fu and Shi (2018) explain that it is because the members of this group have an adequate amount of financial freedom to buy what they want while having covered what they need. This is the most defining cultural aspect of this social group with regard to their purchase behavior.
The third social class is the lower class. This class is characterized by limited disposable income. In most cases, their needs are more than the income they have. This means that their needs are not always met and their wants are barely met. The routine response or buying of low-cost items is the bulk of their purchases. This is because their limited disposable incomes account for their needs most of the time with few cents left for secondary wants. There is almost no impulse buying in this case because all funds are usually accounted for (Solomon et al., 2017). Purchase decision takes less time because the households and individuals in this group already know what they need to buy.
The other aspect worth considering is whether consumption within those social groups demonstrates belonging. The answer is that it does. The nature, price, and access to products that each class seeks are often different from the other. For instance, the upper-class members often buy luxury products whose access is low to lower class and middle class. These are products only affordable to the richest individuals in society. This propagates a differentiating culture of always expecting maximum value from products. It also makes them susceptible to scamming. These individuals and households buy products based on their prices. At times, some products have high prices but the quality does not match the price (Kappes, Gladstone & Hershfield, 2021; Gutsatz & Heine, 2018). Therefore, these are the pitfalls of belonging to this social class.
The other factor is to consider the type of products and services that social status-minded consumers purchase. As noted above, upper-class members go for premium offerings. This creates a societal notion of such people living a “soft” life as Gutsatz and Heine (2018) established. Their underlying beliefs and values are to purchase luxury or premium products as they are considered to be better than the rest. However, there is the risk of making purchase decisions and not the overall value of a product in this group.
The middle class often buys mid-range products. These are products out of reach for the lower class and undesirable by the upper class. They are often a blend between value and prices (Ramya & Ali, 2016).). Often, there are compromises in quality to make the price lower for them to afford. This social class forms the majority of buyers. It is for this reason that most products are made either to target the middle class exclusively or a mix of two social classes (Kaur, 2018). There are a lot of options to choose from in the market which makes making the buying decision a tough process. The underlying values and beliefs in this group are to maximize value at the lowest possible costs. Bargaining is a common custom in this social class worldwide.
Lower-class households and individuals buy low-cost items. In nature, these are products that are meant for meeting basic needs such as food, clothing, and housing. Decision-making is swift as these are products that must be bought. Quality is not a factor worth considering compared to other classes because products at this level are designed to meet basic needs (Palma, Ness & Anderson, 2017). As well, there are multiple products available in the market all of which can be easily substitutable for the next. This means that while individuals in this group rarely choose between multiple products, they can if the price is lower. The values and beliefs of the lower class include finding products that are safe. It is a custom for individuals here to of finding the best bargains in terms of prices. They buy products based on prices (low prices) contrasting with the upper social class (Auf et al., 2018). These are the influences within the social class on consumer behavior decisions from a cultural perspective.
Another important social factor to consider is with regards to individualism versus collectivism. On an individual level, purchase decisions are often reliant on individual cultural beliefs and values. For instance, some people perceive some products to be “evil” or unsafe. For instance, a survey by Sangroya and Nayak (2017) found that iPhone users perceive the device to be a “lesser evil” compared to their Android counterparts because it has heightened privacy protection. This is an individual-level value where some buyers prioritize their privacy above all else. This, then, informs their decision on which mobile device to buy.
There are cases when the personal goals or values conflict or interact with those of the ingroup or the collective. At times, buying certain products requires one to choose whether to follow what others are doing to follow one’s personal goals. Pradhan, Israel, and Jena (2018) explain that when issues of morality are out of the question, consumers are often forced to choose between meeting ingroup goals and meeting their personal goals. The author uses the example of choosing between building a house or buying an expensive car.
Nowadays, young people with enough disposable incomes have to choose to buy expensive cars or to buy houses. The main reason for this is that cars are not highly expensive with a lot more respect accorded to individuals who afford them while owning a house is becoming less important to young people as they desire to live amongst people. The rationale for this change of mindsets compared to other earlier generations is the change in priorities as driven by the new media (Ayuningtyas, Prihatiningsih & Laura, 2018). What is important today is not always what was important years ago. This change is reflected in the market because most young people reported wanting to buy a luxury car and then a house and not the other way around. In so doing, they are choosing against the ingroup goals to pursue their personal goals when compared against the baby boomers for instance. To them (baby boomers) buying a house was the expected progression before one could purchase an expensive car (Anastasia, Setiadiwiria & Kunto, 2019). The newer generation attaches more importance to luxury items than what was considered “important” in the past. Trends in social gratification account for this preference for personal goals over ingroup ones.
These changing values between generations have been found to be highly influential. Each generation has its consumer behavior based on it. Younger generations want self-gratuity now instead of waiting which is why they are likely to self-actualize individual identity in purchasing items (Ayuningtyas, Prihatiningsih & Laura, 2018: Radojka & Filipović, 2017). It is one of the reasons why products today have diversified offerings, more than ever before in history.
On the whole, consumer buying decisions are subject to a number of cultural aspects. Top among them are social classes and group influences. The distinctions in social class have helped shape differing purchase decisions. The lower, middle, and upper classes have differing decision processes, impulse buying, and programmed buying tendencies. As well, group influence is reported to be lower in younger generations of consumers compared to the older ones. This is due to a change of values while modern, young consumers want quick self-gratification.