Chinese luxury fashion buying behaviour
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 01:40 authored by Kit Ying Canie Chu Lo
This thesis investigates the buying motivations, buying behaviour, and buying preferences of Chinese luxury fashion consumers. The Chinese market is now the second largest market for luxury products, and it is forecast to become the largest market over the next decade. However, the vast bulk of research into the behaviour and motivations of luxury goods buyers has been with Western consumers. Although there is now an increasing amount of research with Chinese and other Asian consumers, much of that research has been with students (most of whom are unlikely to purchase luxury products, except perhaps for the lowest priced products, such as key rings or coin purses), and/or with Asians living in developed cultures, such as Singapore, Hong Kong or Western countries. This relative lack of research with actual Chinese purchasers of luxury products presents an obvious gap in the literature. Research with Chinese consumers is particularly important because there are theoretical arguments and empirical evidence suggesting that Chinese consumers will make decisions about luxury products differently from Western consumers. This thesis addresses the relative lack of research with Chinese luxury goods consumers in three separate but inter-related papers investigating the motivations, behaviours and preferences of Chinese luxury goods buyers, and in a large quantitative study, the preferences of a diverse sample of Chinese consumers. The first two studies used in-depth interviews to explore the buying motivations and behaviour of wealthy Chinese consumers who are repeat buyers of luxury fashion products. The first study identified that many of the study’s participants bought luxury products outside China, and that it was common for Chinese to ask someone who was travelling outside China to buy a luxury product for them while travelling. The second study was therefore designed to explore where Chinese consumers buy luxury products, and why. Finally, the third study – in a large discrete choice analysis study – examined the impact of product characteristics, attitudinal and social factors on consumers’ preferences regarding luxury fashion products. Many of the findings from the research are consistent with prior research – for example, the use of luxury products for status signalling, and for affiliation with attractive reference groups and differentiation from undesirable groups. However, the research also identified characteristics of the Chinese luxury goods market that have not been identified in previous research. For example, the research is the first to identify a luxury brand becoming the subject of a social taboo, after a perception that it has become popular with an undesirable social group. The research also shows evidence to support untested propositions from previous research – for example, the suggestion that hedonic features will be less important for Asian luxury goods buyers. Despite the frequent discussion in the Western literature of the importance of hedonic features for luxury goods buyers, the wealthy repeat buyers of luxury products in this study appeared to almost always choose luxury products on the basis of an acceptable brand, rather than on the basis of an evaluation of the relative hedonic benefits from different products. Study Two also identified the frequency of what the thesis has described as a ‘commissioned purchase’ – where one consumer asks another to buy a luxury product for them outside China. While the concept of a commissioned purchase is not new, the frequency of commissioned purchases for high-cost, high-involvement products, where a dissatisfied customer cannot return the product for a refund, is novel in the literature and also challenges the frequently discussed importance of the retail store for luxury products. Finally, in the first discrete choice analysis of the preferences of luxury buyers, Study Three identified that while a majority of the Chinese consumers in the study preferred prominent logos, a large minority preferred less conspicuous logos. While this form of ‘inconspicuous consumption’ is receiving increasing attention in the literature examining Western luxury goods buyers, this is the first study to investigate the frequency of a preference for less conspicuous logos across a variety of product characteristics, and buyers’ attitudinal and social factors. The findings from the thesis contribute to both research and practice. Firstly, the results show that research findings from Western luxury consumers cannot be assumed to apply to Chinese luxury consumers. While many of the same concepts appear to be important for Chinese consumers – for example, the importance of luxury goods for status signalling – the relative importance of those concepts appears to differ markedly. For example, the wealthy repeat buyers of luxury products discussed in Study One and Study Two did not discuss hedonic features as important, but in contrast, repeatedly discussed different luxury brands as being either acceptable or unacceptable, based on the participant’s perception of the acceptability of those brands for the their peers. This importance of the brand, as discussed above, extended to some brands becoming the subject of a social taboo – that is, even if the hedonic features of one of the brand’s products were considered attractive, the participant would not consider buying that brand. These differences in the relative importance of product features across Asian and Western consumers clearly merit further research attention. The results also have important implications for the marketing of luxury products. The possibility of a brand becoming the subject of a social taboo, the frequency of commissioned purchases outside China, and the wide preference for less conspicuous logos all suggest that luxury brands marketing to Chinese consumers need to carefully consider the curation of brand value to preserve the attractiveness of their brands. As well as balancing the diverse preferences for conspicuous and subtle branding, brand strategies must weigh the value of high market share against the risk of a social taboo, and consider how to enhance brand value to the many Chinese consumers who ‘buy’ luxury products (through commissioned purchases), often without themselves entering a brand’s store – either in China or in another country.