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Both of these two approaches have strengths and weaknesses (Saunders et al., 2003), and the choice of the paradigm depends on the research question and purpose. The Interpretivist research approach is applied in this research for several reasons. Firstly, as mentioned above, the approach explores individuals’ personal perceptions, attitudes, or experiences of phenomena (Thorpe and Holt, 2008), which is in accordance with the dissertation’s aim of investigating consumers’ motivations towards luxury purchasing.
Secondly, unlike positivists, interpretivists realise human behaviour is time bound and contextually based (Gill & Johnson, 2002; Patton, 1980), which seems to be more consistent with this dissertation topic. Thirdly, the positivist approach might be inappropriate for this topic as the motivations concluded from the literature review are mostly based on European and North American luxury consumers, so the insights might not be applicable to the Asian consumers, therefore, variables cannot be predetermined.
Besides, the author does not have experiences and academic backgrounds of positivist researches, and feels more comfortable and enjoyable in interpretivist research.
In the interpretivist research paradigm, the data are usually obtained subjectively by researchers who attempt to get close to the participants world (Mack et al, 2005). It is believed that in interpretive research, the subjectivity and intuition of both the researchers and respondents cannot be avoided as the information/data come from the researcher’s interpretation or understanding of the participants’ statements of their experiences and views (Thorpe and Holt, 2008). Therefore, within this research, bias could occur as to address the Chinese and Japanese consumers’ motivations towards luxury purchasing. The researcher needs to understand accurately of what the respondents say, and try to encourage the respondents to explain clearly of their views.
Different methodological approaches will use different methods. For example, the positivist research can adopt statistical approaches, experiments, case studies, or questionnaire. The interpretivist approach could use ethnography, case studies, or interviews. The following sections introduce the reasons for applying qualitative research method and in-depth interviews.
3.1.2 Justification for using qualitative research method
Creswell (2003) suggests 3 criteria for considering selecting an approach (e.g., quantitative, qualitative or the mixed research methods): the research problem, the researcher’s personal experiences, and the audience (s) for whom the report will be written. Firstly, Creswell (2003) notes that certain types of social research problems match specific approaches. For example, if the research needs to identifying factors affecting an outcome, understanding the predictors of outcomes, or testing a theory or explanation, then the quantitative approach should be a better choice if the variables are pre-determined (Silverman, 2011). On the other hand, qualitative research method can be applied when the important variables are not completely known or identified, or in situations that existing theories do not apply with the particular sample or group under study (Morse, 1991). Besides, if a phenomenon has not been fully investigated or understood, then it merits a qualitative approach to explore possible elements or gain an insight into the situation (Bryman, 2012). Secondly, the researcher’s personal training and experiences should also be considered. For example, if the researcher has previous experiences or is trained in technical, scientific writing, statistics, and computer statistical programs, he or she would choose the quantitative research design (Bryman, 2012). Similarly, a person with skills or experiences in qualitative research would tend to choose the qualitative method to conduct the research. Qualitative approaches are considered to allow innovation and flexibility. Finally, researchers should also think about the audience to whom they report the research. The audiences’ experiences with quantitative or qualitative methods could shape the decision making.
For instance, Creswell (2003) notes that students should consider about the approaches supported by the advisers.
In this dissertation, the qualitative approach is chosen to conduct the research process.
In this section, reasons of using the qualitative methods will be detailed examined based on the three criteria above.
Firstly, the research problem of this dissertation is to explore the motivations towards fashion luxury purchasing of Japanese and Chinese consumers. It should be noted that the research question does not directly point to either a quantitative or qualitative research approach as an especially suitable method (Silverman, 2011). Data from quantitative research (with a large sample base) could provide inferences of motivations, and qualitative research could offer a direct insight into consumers’ views and value perceptions towards luxury (Silverman, 2011). They are different aspects of perspectives into a topic and can present different outcomes.
However, different from the quantitative method, the qualitative approach does not rely solely on statistics or figures to draw conclusions. By concentrating on smaller but focused samples rather than large scales, qualitative process aims to generate in-depth thinking by conducting constant dialogues with people in a gradual way (Thorpe & Holt, 2008). Qualitative research requires relevant abilities of researchers such as experiences and sensitivity, to gain useful insights into consumers’ behaviour and the underlying motivations in their daily life (Bryman, 2012). Qualitative research allows a deep exploration towards consumer perceptions, and further examines the reasons of their behaviours (Bryman & Bell, 2007). As to this dissertation, the research aims to explore the motivations towards luxury purchasing behaviour, which precisely requires a qualitative method for better understanding consumer attitudes towards luxury consumption, the meaning and value of luxury products for consumers, and therefore explore the underlying motivations. The research topic is therefore in consistent with the purpose of conducting qualitative research: 'to gather an in-depth understanding of human behaviour and the reasons that cause such behaviour' (Bryman & Bell, 2007).
By contrast, quantitative research tends to collect, analyse and interpret data in terms of figures and numerical patterns (Boodhoo and Purmessur, 2009). It usually requires the researcher at least knows something about the variables and then constructs metrics to measure them in the population. Quantitative research ‘quantifies and expresses the relationship between variables using effect statistics, such as correlations, relative frequencies, or differences between means’ (Hopkins Jr., 2000). In quantitative research, themes and variables are usually already known (Creswell, 2003). However, this research aims to explore the luxury purchasing motivations of Japanese and Chinese consumers, while the variables are not necessarily known or determined (the purchasing motivations provided in the literature are based on the western consumers, therefore might not be applied to Japan and China).
Therefore, the qualitative process seems to be more appropriate to collect and analyse the data in order to investigate the valid luxury purchase motivations of Japanese and Chinese consumers. The literature review points out that in different nations, consumers may attribute different meanings to luxury products and luxury brand consumption. Using the qualitative method could help to deeply understand the differences.
Secondly, as it is mentioned before, the researcher’s personal training and experiences should also be considered (Creswell, 2003). In this study the researcher has previous learning experiences in qualitative research methods, and would be more comfortable and familiar to conduct the research under the qualitative process. Finally, the audiences of this dissertation are also considered. The supervisor of this dissertation also supports the use of qualitative approach.
However, there are also some limitations of adopting the qualitative methods. For instance, difficulties may arise when the time is restricted, the participants are not representative, or in situations that the individual changes his/her mind of unwilling to be interviewed (Miller, 1999). One of the most common problems would be that the participant may not be able or willing to answer the key questions, or provide superficial answers (Merriam, 2002). In order to address these issues and minimize the limitations, researcher could gather related information before the interview, build trusts between the participants during the interview, and try not to ask intensive questions (Merriam, 2002). Simultaneously, it should be noted that in the qualitative research process, the subjectivity and intuition of either the researcher or the participants cannot be avoided (Thorpe & Holt, 2008), which means the data collected could be biased to some extent.
3.2. The Choice of Interview
There are many approaches to conduct the qualitative research such as focus groups, interviews (structured, semi-structured, unstructured), observations, ethnographic, case studies, etc. (Silverman, 2011). The aim of this research is to discover crosscultural purchasing motives of fashion luxury products. In order to realize the goal and obtain reliable information, in-depth interview is applied in this dissertation. The following section describes the meaning of ‘interview’ and ‘in-depth interview’ in the qualitative research, and the reasons for choosing this approach.
Interviews are one of the most common qualitative approaches (Bryman & Bell, 2007).
It is based in conversations, with the emphasis on the interviewers asking questions and listening, and the interviewees answering (Bryman & Bell, 2007), which helps the researcher obtain detailed views from the participants (Creswell, 2003). In the interview, the researcher will carefully listens in order to ‘hear the meaning’ of what is being conveyed (Bryman, 2012). Spradley (1979:8) notes that the purpose of conducting interviews is to make ‘cultural inferences’, which describe a given social world analysed for cultural themes and patterns (Gubrium & Holstein, 2002). With the adoption of interviewing, reliable information can be gained about the luxury purchasing motivations.
The approach of interview allows researchers to gain an insight into participant’s personal feelings, views, experiences and perceptions (Hollway & Jefferson, 2000).
Hollway and Jefferson (2000) note that ‘interview’ is most effective when the research aims to gain insights into the individuals’ ‘subjective understandings’. By asking participants ‘why’, the researchers are able to observe their behaviour, and obtain the meaning explained in the respondent’s own words that underlies the behaviour (Silverman, 2011).
By contrast, some other approaches of qualitative methods could be unsuitable for this research purpose. For example, ethnomethodology, where the researcher needs to engage in the participants’ everyday life through different ways such as conversations and observations (Thorpe & Holt, 2008), seems to be difficult to achieve in this research considering geographical distances and time constraints. In addition, Bryman (2012) point out researchers often choose interviews over ethnographic methods when the research topics do not centre on particular settings but aims to establish common patterns or themes between particular types of respondents. Besides, participating in ‘everyday life’ within two different cultures (Japan and China) could be difficult even for very experienced researchers. Therefore, the ‘interview’ method seems to be more appropriate to this research.
There would also be limitations in choosing the interview method. For example, respondents may avoid answering certain questions, or provide answers that are not what she really thinks (Kvale & Brinkmann, 2009). In order to minimise these limitations, the questions setting, the environment and atmosphere during interview, the attitudes of the interviewer should all be carefully considered (Siverman, 2011;
Kvale & Brinkmann, 2009). In addition, the researcher should have the ability to react quickly, be professional and objective, and sometimes ask more questions according to situations (Siverman, 2011). Besides, for researchers, it takes much time to carry out interviews and analyse transcripts.
Within the interview (focus groups and in-depth one-to-one interview), the format chosen for this motivation research is the ‘in-depth’ interview. An in-depth interview is ‘an unstructured, direct, personal interview in which a single respondent is probed by a highly skilled interviewer to uncover underlying motivations, beliefs, attitudes, and feelings on a topic’ (Malhotra, 2010:185). There are several reasons for choosing this approach. Firstly, with the topic of luxury goods purchasing, where interviewees may limit their disclosure as a fear of judgement by others, the one-to-one in-depth interview seems to be a better format to minimize the fear and cross influences between participants rather than in a group setting (Silverman, 2011). Besides, as the researcher is currently in the UK, while participants are either located in China or Japan, it would be difficult to gather all the respondents (8 from each nation, 2 focus groups) together in a certain time. Therefore, considering about the research topic itself, the time efficiency and objective constraints, the in-depth interview is more suitable.
The research will imply standardized, open-ended interviews: The same open-ended questions are asked to all interviewees; this approach facilitates faster interviews that can be more easily analyzed and compared. As the geographical constraints, the telephone or computer-assisted online interview may also be chosen.
3.3 Pilot Interview