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NEED-DRIVEN OR PLEASURE-DRIVEN?
AN EMPIRICAL STUDY OF CHINESE CONSUMERS'
BEHAVIOR AT SHOPPING MALLS
Fuan Li, William Paterson University
lif@wpunj.edu

Nan Zhou, City University of Hong Kong


Mkzhou@cityu.edu.hk

Guijun Zhuang, Xi'an Jiaotong University, PRC


zhgj@xjtu.edu.cn
ABSTRACT
Mall-intercept surveys were conducted to examine the behavioral patterns of Chinese mall
shoppers. The results reveal that although diverse shopping intents exist, Chinese mall shoppers
were primarily driven by purchase related needs during their shopping trip. However, the mall
shoppers were cautious about spending and a considerable proportion of the shoppers left the mall
without any purchases. Moreover, Chinese shoppers were found less likely to plan their purchases
before going on a shopping trip. The managerial implications of the findings are discussed in terms
of mall shoppers' shopping motives, reasons for selecting the mall, and purchase patterns.
INTRODUCTION
Significant changes have taken place in the retail industry in China for the last few decades.
One of the conspicuous changes concerns the presence of global retailing giants (e.g., Wal Mart) in
China as part of their international expansion. Another is the emergence of modern regional
shopping centers, often referred to as shopping malls. As a new type of retailing format, shopping
malls appeared in China in the late 1980s. Though mainly located in large cities such as Beijing,
Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Xi'an, malls have become among the most promising retail venues.
However, it appears that the emergence of the modern retail facilities has presented significant
challenges to retail management as well as to marketers in general. There have been few studies
examining behaviors of Chinese mall shoppers. The present study is an attempt to fill this gap
seeking to discover the factors influencing Chinese mall shoppers' purchase decisions and the
managerial implications of Chinese shopping patterns.
Consumer shopping behavior has been extensively researched. Marketing literature indicates
shoppers may vary significantly in terms of shopping patterns, motivation for mall visits, mall/store
selection process, and purchase behaviors. Previous studies demonstrate that shopping may have
quite different meanings among consumers. (Babin, Darden, and Griffin 1994; Batra, and Ahtola
1991). Moreover, many factors may affect shoppers' selection of a place to shop (Koelemeijer and
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Allied Academies International Conference

Oppewal 1999; Kenhove, Wulf, and Waterschoot 1999). As for purchase behavior, previous research
has indicated that different decision making processes exist. Some shoppers make their purchase
decision well before they make their shopping trips (Blackwell, Miniard and Engel 2001; Iyer 1989).
In contrast, other consumers make intentional use of product displays in retail stores as a shopping
list (Kollat and Wilett1967). They are the shoppers more susceptible to the influence of marketing
communications at the point of purchase.
Given the brief review of previous findings in research on shopping behavior, the present
study will center on issues concerning shopping motivation, criteria for mall selection, and purchase
behavior. Stating formally, our research questions include:
a.
b.
c.

What motivate Chinese consumers' shopping trip? Are they driven primarily by pleasure or
by utilitarian concern?
What criteria do Chinese mall visitors use to select a place to shop?
What are the purchase patterns of Chinese mall shoppers?
METHOD

A mall intercept approach was adopted in the data collection (Sudman 1980). The data were
collected in a newly established regional shopping center in Xi'an, the capital of Shanxi Province,
P. R. China, which attracts middle to upper income customers. Patrons were intercepted as they left
the malls and interviewed with their consent. A randomized selection procedure was adopted
whereby interviewers went consecutively from one entrance to another, stopping the next shopper
as he or she exited the shopping center (Sudman 1980). Altogether, 459 mall patrons participated
in this study. Table 1 illustrates the demographics of the respondents.
Table 1: Demographics
Age

18-24

202

44

25-34

162

35.3

95

20.71

< or = High school

173

37.7

> High school

277

60.3

2.0

Male

224

48.8

Female

235

51.2

In the city

295

64.3

From outside

164

35.7

35 or above
Education

Missing
Gender
Residence

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Allied Academies International Conference

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The instrument used in this study was originally developed by Nicholls, Li, Mandokovic,
Roslow, and Kranendonk (2000). Some changes were made to adapt to the specific country involved
in this study. The translation and back translation technique (Malhotra 1999) was used in finalizing
the Chinese version of the instrument.
RESULTS
Motivation for Mall Visit. Large proportions of the shoppers (41.9%) indicated that they
came to look and browse (including bargain hunting), while 39.7% of the shoppers reported coming
to make a specific purchase. In addition, 2.7% indicated that they visited the mall to eat and 8.7%
came for reasons of meeting friends and hanging around. Thus, proportions of shoppers who came
for the combined reasons of looking/browsing and making a specific purchase come to 81.6%.
Apparently, the malls as a regional shopping center is catering for the main purchasing needs of their
customers, whether window shopping or actual purchase.
Criteria Used to Select Where To Shop. The motivation consumers had for shopping
dovetailed with the criteria patrons used in selecting the particular mall. A great majority of the mall
shoppers (78.4%) indicated that atmosphere was the main reason why they chose the mall to visit.
And 47.7% of mall shoppers reported merchandise assortment and variety as the major reason for
shopping in the mall. A significant drop (down to 19.1%) occurred between the second and the third
most reported reasons - the location (easy access). Interestingly, only a small proportion of the
shoppers reported the concern for price/value as a selection criterion (7.2%). This indicates that price
was not a dominant concern for mall shoppers while selecting a place to shop.
Purchasing Behavior. Shoppers' purchase behavior was examined from three perspectives:
purchase of food or beverage, purchase of other products (general merchandise), and purchase in
either of these categories. A considerable proportion of mall shoppers reported having purchased
food or beverage, (49%) while a smaller percentage of the shoppers purchased other products
(36.4%). Taken together, 65.8% of the mall shoppers made purchases leaving about a third (34.2%)
of them left the mall without any spending.
More importantly, of the shoppers we investigated, 44.2% made planned purchases and
21.6% unplanned purchases. The findings are highly correlated with the reported shopping intents,
in which a great proportion of the shoppers reported coming to look and browse, including hunting
for bargain. This proportion of shoppers seemed to contribute to the considerable percentage of
unplanned purchases. That is, the shoppers who came without intention to buy made their purchase
during the shopping trips. The result seems to suggest that those shoppers' final purchase decisions
depend heavily on information acquisition in the mall and, perhaps, in-store inspections.
DISCUSSION
Retail management is confronted with great challenges in today's drastically changing market
in China. In exploring the behavioral patterns of mall shoppers, we attempt to uncover some
important managerial issues in managing the newly introduced retail venue in China. A few
observations can be made based on the findings of the present study.
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Allied Academies International Conference

First, in terms of shopping motives, Chinese patrons' shopping trips were primarily motivated
by their purchase needs: window shopping plus actual purchase intents accounted for more than 80%
of the reported reasons for their shopping trips. It seems that their shopping trips were driven more
by utilitarian concerns than hedonic value of shopping experience. However, cautions should be
taken in interpreting this result. To the mall shoppers we investigated, looking and browsing may
be a type of on-going information search, which can be conducted in a relaxed, enjoyable manner.
Thus, saying that mall shoppers are driven by purchase-related needs does not imply that the mall
shoppers have a simple work mind set, who view going shopping solely in terms of the functions it
performs (to get the job done or to fulfill one's obligations).
Interestingly, despite the predominance of purchase related shopping intent, less than two
third of Chinese shoppers concluded their shopping trips with a purchase of either food/drink or
general merchandise. The low percentage of shoppers who made actual purchase indicates that mall
shoppers seem to be very cautious in making a purchase even when they came with purchase intent.
Such a behavior pattern is perhaps not uncommon in a developing economy given that people in such
countries are generally more value conscious and watchful of their spending. The finding suggests
that persuading Chinese mall shoppers to commit to a purchase may be more challenging than we
would have ever thought.
As for how they selected a store/mall for a visit, atmospherics in the shopping center was the
number one reported concern. Eight in ten shoppers considered atmosphere as the main reason why
they had selected the shopping mall to visit. Perhaps, the newness of shopping malls as a retail
format has bearing on shoppers' emphasis on atmosphere in selecting the place as a shopping
destination. They may expect the mall, as a modern retail facility, to be a nice, pleasant, and
enjoyable shopping environment. Following atmosphere, the second most reported reason for
selecting the mall to shop is the assortment and variety of merchandise. It is not surprising given the
relatively underdeveloped status of Chinese retail industry and shoppers views of a shopping center
primarily as a marketplace that simply catering their purchase needs.
It is interesting that a relatively small proportion of Chinese shoppers made purchases that
were planned before their visits despite the fact that the mall shoppers were predominantly driven
by purchase needs. A considerable proportion of mall shoppers, one-in five, made unplanned
purchases. Taken together, these findings suggest that the mall shoppers' purchase decisions might
heavily rely on information available in the marketplace regardless of whether or not they have
planed for a particular purchase before their visits. Perhaps, the tendency of making unplanned
purchases reflects more of the unique decision making pattern that stresses information acquisition
during a shopping trip.
Our findings have important implications for managers, especially for retail management.
The results suggest that shopping malls, as a type of relative new retail facility, are still very
appealing to Chinese shoppers. The appeal seems to lie in the pleasant atmosphere and the great
selection or choice provided by the shopping center. Thus, in managing such retail facilities,
atmospherics must be stressed given that this is the single most important factor contributing to a
retailer's attracting power in China. Moreover, sufficient attention should be given to merchandising.
Great selection and variety, plus atmospherics will help retailers stand out in the increasingly
competitive environment.
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Research on Chinese mall shoppers' behavior and their implications for retail management
is still at its early stage. Many issues are not yet addressed. Future research may explore how
psychological factors such as personality and lifestyle as well as other situational factors such as
temporal and mood conditions may affect shoppers' purchases and their shopping patterns. We hope
that the present study will serve as a start helping to draw more attention to this important aspect of
retail management.
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Blackwell, R. D., Miniard, P. W., & Engel, J. F. (2001). Consumer Behavior, (Ninth Edition), Fort Worth: Harcourt
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Nicholls, J. F. A., F. Li, T. Mandokovic, S. Roslow, & C. Kranendonk (2000). US-Chilean Mirrors: Shopping Mall
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Proceedings of the Academy of Marketing Studies, Volume 8, Number 2