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Through the research on cultural influences on luxury consumption, Wong and Ahuvia (1998) argued that while consumers in an individualism-oriented culture might focus on the personal or the hedonic values of the luxury goods, consumers in a collectivismoriented culture weigh more on the symbolic or the social effects of a luxury product (instead of self-expression, self-indulgence or self-rewarding). Collectivists seek the social representation and prestige through luxury consumption, and they concentrate more on impressing others of their wealth, status, and taste signified by the luxury brands (Wong & Ahuvia, 1998; Tsai, 2005). Phau and Prendergast (2000) further point out that in collectivist cultures, consumers engage in luxury consumption mainly for the desire of social group acceptance and conformity.
Asian cultures are collectivism-oriented (Hofstede, 1980, 1991), therefore consumers in this culture orientation are primarily or mainly motivated by the social or interpersonal values conveyed by luxury goods (Wong and Ahuvia, 1998). Simultaneously, the collectivist cultural orientation could explain the immense popularity of luxury products among Asian consumers to some extent. For example, Doctoroff (2005) pointed out that Asian consumers buy luxuries to indicate wealth and status because their culture emphasizes status and socioeconomic hierarchy (Willis, 2006). For example, Countries like China and Japan have the traditions of giving expensive gifts to enhance the relationship building with others and obtain social recognition (Shutte & Ciarlant, 1998; Wong & Ahuvia, 1998; Chadha & Husband, 2006). In addition, the Confucian values in these cultures such as desire for harmony could provide explanatory clues in understanding why explains why people purchase luxuries to achieve social acceptance and conformity (Phau and Prendergast, 2000).
Motives in a Chinese Context In recent years, China is becoming one of the world’s top luxury markets (The economist, 2013). Gao and Norton (2009) indicate the important role the Chinese culture has played in the luxury consumption, that consumers are stimulated not only by the product functional values, but also the product meanings attached by their culture (Shutte & Ciarlante, 1998). China is regarded as a collectivistic culture where ‘public approval’ symbolizes success and wealth (Hofstede 1991; Triandis, 1998;
Danziger, 2005; Thomas, 2007). The Confucius’ concept of ‘Face’, which refers to the social status of a person, is a very important concern in Chinese culture and society (especially important to the elders or the people who already have high social status) (So & Stella, 2012). Chadha and Husband (2006) argued that in China, the product consumptions are usually related to the face consciousness, especially for the luxury products that would bring face to individuals. This could explain why Chinese consumers hold the belief that owning luxury branded items could help them maintain social position and prestige (So & Stella, 2012). Although Japanese society is also viewed as collectivism oriented, when comparing to Japanese consumers, Chinese consumers are more concerned with the ‘Face’ and their consumption decisions are influenced heavily by face (Fujioka, 2006; Li and Su 2006; So & Stella, 2012). Their consumption towards luxury products is regarded more as a mechanism to satisfy social needs, rather than fulfil personal values (e.g., hedonic and perfectionism motivations).
By studying the luxury consumption in Asian countries, Chadha and Husband (2006) proposed a motivation model consists of five phases: (i) subjugation, (ii) start of money, (iii) show-off, (iv) fit in, and (v) way of life. Among these motives, the first four are related to the inter-personal motives, for example the ‘show off’ refers to that people are competing with each other trying to acquire the symbols of wealth and displaying them in the most conspicuous manner. The last one ‘way of life’ is connected to the personal motives. From the literature, five motives can be identified as to the luxury purchasing behaviour of Chinese consumers. Firstly, Chinese consumers are motivated to consume luxury products to display their wealth and social status, which relates to the concept of Veblen effect (Chadha & Husband, 2006; Danziger, 2005; Debnam & Svinos, 2006; Thomas, 2007; Tynan et al., 2010). Secondly, several researchers (Chadha & Husband, 2006; Danziger, 2005; Thomas, 2007) note that the status or image exhibition through the luxury consumption can then help to obtain respect from others, or indicate the powerful social position of the individual, and improving the person’s 'Face' accordingly. Improving ‘face’ could be regarded as a separate motivation, for example, Chinese consumers would purchase luxury products as gifts to other people, they are motivated by an inner desire to improve the ‘face’ of his/her group or families.
Thirdly, a proportion of the middle class consumers can be motivated to buy luxury products not for self-gifting, self-rewarding or self-pleasure; they purchase luxuries for accomplishing professional goals and raising their social status (Debnam & Svinos, 2006). Fourthly, some Chinese consumers buy luxuries to show their personal taste (usually the owners are trying to indicate their naturally good taste towards products consumption) and achieve self-identity. This motivation reflects the consumers’ personality and characteristics, rather than social status (Chadha & Husband, 2006;
Danziger, 2005; Debnam & Svinos, 2006; Thomas, 2007). Fifthly, price can be an important factor influencing motivations for luxury products purchasing, Chinese consumers are relatively price-conscious, however, they are willing to pay the price premium of luxury brands, as the psychological benefits brought by the consumption of luxuries (Chadha & Husband, 2006; Thomas, 2007). Recently, McKinsey’s report on Luxury consumption in China (2011) ‘Understanding China’s Love for Luxury’ further points out that an increasing number of Chinese luxury consumers are exhibiting a noticeable trend shifting away from wealth displaying to a more personal-oriented form of motivations.
Motives in a Japanese Context Japan is also currently one of the biggest luxury markets in the world by accounting for about 25% of the global luxury goods sales (McKinsey, 2013). The collectivist orientation of the Japanese cultural also influences the consumers’ luxury purchasing behaviours (Chadha & Husband, 2006). However, it should be noted that although China and Japan share the same broad underlining culture of collectivism, the Confucian values are viewed and perceived differently to some extent (Yan et al., 2005). Different from the Chinese culture, Japanese culture focuses more on the interpersonal relationships, group norms and goals, and the social orientations (Yau, 1994; Chadha & Husband, 2006). Tse (1996) pointed out that Japanese people have the social pressures of behaving appropriately in accordance with their social groups. These cultural emphasises influence and shape the Japanese consumers’ luxury consumption.
However, Triandis (1995) argued that in each society, there are collectivists and individualists. Apart from the Confucianism, the Japanese culture is also deeply influenced by the Taoism and Buddhism, which suggest individuality and personality (Triandis, 1995). Chadha and Husbang (2006) support this view by pointing out that many Japanese consumers today tend to express their individuality through their purchasing decisions. An increasing number of Japanese consumers begin to buy products that reflect their personal identities.
From the previous research, Japanese consumers are mainly motivated by five main luxury purchasing motivations: keeping ‘face’, social conformity, gift-giving, price and self-pleasing (Brannen, 1992; Yan et al., 2005; Chadha & Husband, 2006, etc.). Firstly similar to the Chinese consumers, Japanese consumers are motivated by the ‘Face’ in the luxury consumption, as they hope to indicate or maintain their wealth signified by the luxury products (Chadha & Husband, 2006). Secondly, Japanese consumers are motivated by the desire to fit into their social groups. In Japan, one’s position in the work or wealth usually indicates his/her place in the hierarchy (Creighton, 1997), and individuals should conform to their socio-economic hierarchy. Therefore, they can be motivated by the desire of the social group fit-in. Wong and Ahuvia (1998:433) mentioned that in this kind of culture, the social pressure of group conformity would lead to that the luxury consumption ‘become a must rather than a want’. Furthermore, Gregory and Munch (1996) addressed the significant influences of reference groups in Japanese consumers’ public consumption of luxury goods and brand choice. Although reference groups are considered to be influential in other cultures, Japanese people seem to be more strongly affected by views and values from other people (Iwabuchi, 2001; Goy-Yamamoto, 2004). Thirdly, gift-giving tradition also contributes to the luxury consumption to some extent in Japan. Sometimes Japanese consumers purchase luxury goods as gifts in order to obtain repayment for this ‘investment’ and gain future favours (Chadha & Husband, 2006). Fourthly, Price of luxury goods still plays an important role as Japanese consumers perceive higher prices could imply the higher quality of products (Chadha & Husband, 2006). Finally, Japanese people are motivated to buy luxury to reward and please themselves (De-Mooij, 2005). All of these motivations would contribute to an individual’s luxury consumption behaviours.
This chapter begins with the literature background in the luxury consumption, and reviews the various definitions of the term luxury in the literature, and suggests the definition proposed by Tynan et al. (2010:1158) that ‘luxury brands’ identifies ‘high quality, expensive and non-essential products and services that are perceived by consumers as rare, exclusive, prestigious, and authentic and that offer high level of symbolic and emotional/hedonic value through customer experiences’. After that, the fundamental framework in luxury purchase motivation is introduced. The fundamental framework proposed by Vigneron and Johnson (1999) includes five motives divided into two main dimensions (interpersonal and personal): the conspicuous consumption, uniqueness, group fit in, hedonic and perfectionism. In addition, more recent studies and alternative models toward luxury purchase motivations are explained and discussed. Finally, specific motivations of Chinese consumers and Japanese consumers are addressed in details.
2.4.1 Gaps in the literature Literature gaps are discovered after reviewing the literature body of luxury purchasing motivations. Firstly, the fundamental and the further development frameworks on motivation are mostly created without the considering the culture differences, thus the motivations based on the Western research may not be applicable to the Asian cultures.
Secondly, although recently the academic begins to research Asian consumers’ luxury purchase motivations through cross-culture comparison between the Western and Eastern societies, little is known relating to the subtle differences in different Asian countries.
2.4.2 Research Questions From the literature review and the gaps, the researcher gives rise to two research
questions, which are:
(1) What are the motivations for young female consumers in China and Japan to purchase luxury fashion products?
(2) Are there any similarities and differences in what motivates consumers in China and Japan to purchase luxury products?
Chapter 3 Methodology This chapter addresses the methodological context and process used to investigate Japanese and Chinese consumers’ perceptions and motivations for purchasing fashion luxury products. Firstly, the research paradigm is selected and reviewed. Then the main research technique of in-depth interview is introduced, followed by considerations for interview implementation, and the pilot test of the interview. Thirdly, the sampling methods are illustrated. After that, the interview schedule is explained step by step.
Finally, data collection and analysis are presented. The goal of the methodology is to answer the research questions addressed in the previous chapter: What motivates consumers in Japan and China to purchase fashion luxury products? Are the motivations across these two nations largely similar, or different?
3.1. Research paradigm
Interpretivism and qualitative research approach have been adopted to conduct the present research in order to explore underlying Japanese and Chinese consumers’ purchasing motivations for fashion luxury products. In this section, the reasons for utilising the Interpretivism and qualitative research methods will be examined in details.
3.1.1 Justification for using Interpretivist approach
In general terms, Positivism is based on the belief that there is a single, external and objective reality to any research question regardless of the researcher’s beliefs (Carson et al. 1988; Hudson & Ozanne 1988; Easterby, et al., 2004). It attempts to clearly distinguish between facts and value judgments, reasons and feelings, sciences and personal experiences (Carson et al. 2001) by adopting statistical and mathematical techniques to uncover single and objective realities (Carson et al. 2001; Hudosn et al.
1988; Gill & Johnson, 2002). The research usually engages in developing and proving hypothesis (Gliner and Morgan, 2009:28).
On the contrary, interpretivists focus upon consider the value systems people use to judge and interact with each other, and believe that the reality is relative and multiple (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). This approach explores and explains the causes, processes, and inter-relationship of social phenomena or human behaviours, and predicts the possible consequences (Hudson & Ozanne, 1988; Thorpe & Holt, 2008). from an epistemological point of view, while positivists believe that “there can be no real knowledge but that which is based on observed facts” (Easterby et al, 2002:28), interpretivists hold the view that the ‘reality’ is not objective or exterior, instead, the knowledge we have about the ‘reality’ is perceived through socially constructed and subjective interpretations (Berger & Luckman, 1966; Hudson & Ozanne, 1988; Carson et al., 2001). The interpretivism method seeks to understand why people perceive things differently (Hudson & Ozanne, 1988).