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«Professor Kara Chan* Department of Communication Studies Hong Kong Baptist University Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong Tel: (852)3411 7836 Fax: (852)3411 7890 ...»

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Attributes of young consumers’ favorite retail shops: A qualitative study


Toby C. Y. Yip

Research Associate

Department of Communication Studies

Hong Kong Baptist University

Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong

Tel: (852)3411 7623 Fax: (852)3411 7890

email: tobyyip@hkbu.edu.hk

Professor Kara Chan*

Department of Communication Studies

Hong Kong Baptist University

Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong

Tel: (852)3411 7836 Fax: (852)3411 7890

email: karachan@hkbu.edu.hk

Evon Poon

16G, Blk 8, Nam Fung Sun Tsuen Quarry Bay, Hong Kong Tel: (852) 9622 0510 Email: evonpoon@yahoo.com Yip, T., Chan, K. and Poon, E. (2012) Attributes of young consumers’ favorite retail shops: A qualitative study, Journal of Consumer Marketing, 29(7), 545-552.

Images included in the manuscript are taken by research interviewees and reproduced with permission from the interviewees.

*corresponding author JCM favorite retail.doc         Attributes of young consumers’ favorite retail shops: A qualitative study Abstract Purpose – The study attempts to identify the common attributes of the physical retail outlets favored by Hong Kong youths. To assess the relative importance of “hard” and “soft” aspects of the retail marketing mix in appealing to this consumer segment.

Design/methodology/approach – A convenience sample of 89 Hong Kong youngsters aged 15 to 21 were asked to describe their favorite shops and explain why they favored them. They were asked to take pictures of their favorite shops and participate in a face-to-face interview.

Findings – The two types of shop most frequently named were food outlets and apparel retailers. The attractiveness of these stores was mainly based on product or service quality and price, but location and the behavior of the shop assistants were also cited as influential. Ranking as “my favorite shop” was a combination of tangible qualities and intangible services.

Research limitations/implications – The convenience sample used probably was not representative of all young people in Hong Kong.

Practical implications –The results reinforce the conclusion that Hong Kong retailers need to emphasize sales training and management in order to create an appealing shopping experience for young consumers.

Originality/value –This has been the first study to explore in detail the attributes of young Chinese consumers’ favorite retail shops.

Key words Retailing, Store attributes, Store preference, Young consumers, Hong Kong, Chinese consumers Paper type Research paper   Attributes of young consumers’ favorite retail shops: A qualitative study Introduction Hong Kong positions itself as Asia’s world city (Hong Kong Tourist Board, 2011) and has long been considered a shopping paradise (Choi et al., 1999). Enormous malls, district shopping centers, high-rise retail towers, department stores, themed shopping streets, street hawkers, open air bazaars, street-front shops and neighborhood stores provide a robust retail landscape for both local residents and tourists to browse, to shop and to enjoy. The profusion of retail stores ranges from Michelin-starred restaurants to the proprietary outlets of world-famous fashion and jewelry brands, to global fast food chains, local food stalls, and street corner handicraft shops.

According to government statistics, by the end of 2005 the total internal floor area of retail property in Hong Kong had reached 10.8 million sq. meters (Planning Department, Hong Kong Government, 2009). Hong Kong’s retail space per capita was slightly larger than in other developed Asian economies such as Japan and Singapore (Baker, 2004). Retailing and restaurant sales in Hong Kong amounted to US$41.7billion in 2010. The total number of retail establishments was over sixty thousand, and they employed a workforce of more than 240,000 persons (Hong Kong Retail Management Association, 2011).

Shopping is an essential part of the lives of Hong Kong people. With family members or friends, young and old alike frequently hang out at malls for shopping, dining and entertaining. It can be treated as a functional activity or leisure, or just as an excuse to get away from Hong Kong’s very small homes (Chan, 2010). Hong Kong people spend about thirty percent of their household budgets on retail purchases. The proportion of disposable income spent on eating out is about 17 percent, and the proportion spent on durable goods, clothing and footwear is close to 9 percent   (Census & Statistics Department, Hong Kong Government, 2011).

A global online survey conducted among 22,000 Internet users in 42 markets indicates that “the world’s biggest shopaholics” were found in Asia. Amongst the Asian countries, Hong Kong people hold the top rank with over 90 percent of the respondents admitted to shopping “as a form of amusement” or even “when [they] don’t actually need anything”. Hong Kong people ranked the first for shopping once a week for “entertainment” (37%), followed by the United Arab Emirates (30%) and Thailand (27%) (ACNielson, 2006).

Focusing on youngsters’ shopping habits, a 2005 survey showed that secondary school students in Hong Kong were frequent visitors to retail shops. Their brand awareness for fashion and electronics goods was high (Chan, 2010). As active players in a “born-to-shop” milieu, these teenagers not only have good knowledge about fashion trends, they have grown up as savvy consumers in a competitive retail landscape.

This study attempted to gain a better understanding of the attributes of young Hong Kong consumers’ favorite retail shops. The results may be of interest to marketing scholars and marketers in three ways. First, the updated knowledge about the young patrons in a top retail city may reveal the nature and antecedents of the retail shops that currently seem appealing to them. Then, these data on young urban Chinese consumers’ store preferences add to the growing body of scholarly work on Asian retailing. And third, “my favorite place to shop” as a word-of-mouth topic is known to be important in shaping the store preferences of various social groups including close friends, relatives and entire generations (Chen and Xie, 2008; Thang and Tan, 2003). Scholars have argued that adolescents are agents of reverse socialization in terms of their attitudes towards branding (Harradine and Ross, 2007),   food (Ayadi and Bree, 2010) and new technology (Grossbart et al., 2002; Ekström, 2007). Shops that win the hearts of the young consumers may eventually get access to their parents and grandparents.

The death of the malls has been predicted for years in North America (The Economist, 2007; The Week, 2009), but malls (albeit of a rather different design) continue to multiply in Hong Kong. The shopping centers in Hong Kong are blend well into the living environment. Using Irazábal and Chakravarty’s words (2007:225), “Hong Kong’s transit-oriented entertainment-retail centers are a result of strategic planning. As a way of life, most of the retail shops are fully integrated into the functions of everyday life and the regular pathways of many pedestrians. Hong Kong’s strategy is not to make malls a destination, but rather to place them on the way to every destination.” A survey has found that most Hong Kong people patronize shops within 10 minutes’ walk from their home for food items and general household goods (Planning Department, Hong Kong Government, 2009).

Asian youth have been recognized as a crisis-resistant market during economic downturns. For example, it has been reported that the purchasing power of youngsters was not seriously affected by the Asian financial crisis beginning in 1997, as most young Asians live at home with their parents. PepsiCo Asia’s double-digit growth in 1997 and 1998 is evidence of this (Ko, 1998 cited in Ang et al., 2000).

Youth is a major target market for the retail industry everywhere. The apm mall is the most notable youth-oriented shopping mall in Hong Kong. It targets young people aged 19 to 39. The mall’s opening hours last until 2am and it presents free shows where fans can meet popular singers and other media celebrities. On the days before the results of public secondary school examinations were released, apm organized event to cheer up the youngsters (Chan, 2010).

  apm illustrates how retailers employ a creative synthesis of multiple attractions to deliver additional value to young consumers. The success of the apm mall illustrates that young consumers seek more than a place to shop, but a place to connect to others and even to express themselves.

Retailing studies have provided a great deal of knowledge about shop attributes, store preferences and shopping satisfaction. Effective marketing-mix factors in retailing have been identified and tested over the last few decades (e.g. Arnold et al., 1983; Bloemer and Odekerken-Schröder, 2002; Hoffman and Turley, 2002). The multitude of variables can be grouped along a continuum from the tangible/“hard” to the intangible/“soft” (e.g. Gilmore and Carson, 1993). However, most of these studies were conducted with adult consumers in Western countries. Only a handful of studies have treated Asian consumers (McDonald, 1991; Siu and Cheung, 2001; Wong and Yu, 2003; Zhao et al., 2002). Recently, though, several studies have examined the shopping behavior of Asian youth. Chen-Yu’s comparative study of South Korean and American adolescents (Chen-Yu et al., 2010) is one example, along with Narang’s (2010) study of Indian retailing. Studies of young shoppers often focus on shopping motivations and psychographic profiles (e.g. Breazeale and Lueg, 2011; Cardoso and Pinto, 2010; Kaur and Singh, 2007; Park et al., 2010). Such studies have found that young consumers’ motives for shopping are both utilitarian and hedonistic. A qualitative study of adolescent girls’ mall experience identified trend consciousness, comfort, safety, mall atmosphere, and accessibility as new factors that affected interviewees’ choice of mall (Haytko and Baker, 2004).

With this in mind, a “my favorite retail shop” study was designed which asked youngsters to answer a simple yet significant question: “Among all the stores you visit and make a purchase in the past six months, which is your favorite, and why?” It  

was a qualitative study with two research objectives:

1. to explore attributes of retail facilities that appeal to young Hong Kong

–  –  –

2. to examine the relative importance of the tangible/“hard” and intangible/“soft” aspects of retail facilities in attracting young Chinese consumers.

Method The study adopted a qualitative approach to identifying the attributes of young consumers’ favorite shops. Shops were defined as physically existing retail outlets.

Online virtual shops were excluded. According to Euromonitor International (2011), virtual retailers do not attract a significant value share in Hong Kong.

Procedures The data were collected in November 2010. Students from a university in Hong Kong were recruited as interviewers, and the respondents were then recruited through the interviewers’ personal networks. Altogether, 89 interviewees aged from 15 to 21 participated in the study. Among them, 67 were females and 22 were males.

Individual face-to-face interviews were conducted in Cantonese (Hong Kong’s principle Chinese dialect).The interviews were audio-recorded and later transcribed in traditional Chinese.

Each participant was required to name his/her favorite retail store among those where the respondent had bought a product or service during the six months prior to the interview. The participants were then asked why they liked that particular shop, and to recall experiences related to shopping there. No limit was set on the number of reasons provided. All participants were required to provide two photos of their favorite shop, one showing the exterior layout and the other showing a specific element inside the shop that the participant particularly liked. Photo-taking was   assumed to help the interviewees recall details of their shopping experiences.

Data analysis The analysis consisted of coding and developing themes, organizing the themes, and then deducing and commenting on the findings. The coding as based on the questions asked in the interviews, interpretations by the researchers, and ideas from the relevant literature. Marshall and Rossman’s (1999) comparison analysis method was used throughout the data analysis process to link data by constantly comparing and contrasting them (Strauss, 1987). Similar answers were grouped, and frequencies were computed. For the purposes of data presentation, Booms and Bitner’s (1981) extended marketing mix (7Ps) was selected as a viable point of departure for organizing store attributes and descriptions, since it is generic, simple, and comprehensive. Both “hard” and “soft” (physical, emotional/affective and cognitive) as well as relational dimensions/components were covered by this framework (Bitner, 1991; Rafiq and Ahmed, 1995). The categories (i.e. the marketing mix elements) were people, physical evidence, place, price, process, product, and promotion. All selected quotes were translated into English in the final stage of report writing.

Findings Types of shops The interviewees were asked to name their favorite retail shop among those they had visited and spent money in within the previous six months. The types of shops reported are summarized in Table 1. The top two types reported as favorites were stores for food services and clothing stores. These two types accounted for 37 percent and 34 percent respectively. Shops for durable goods and shops selling luxury goods were seldom reported as the participants’ favorites.

[Insert Table 1 about here]   Reasons for being “my favorite retail shop” The interviewees’ reasons for their favorites and their comments and identified attributes were organized into seven categories by employing the 7Ps framework.

Table 2 summaries the results.

–  –  –

Product Attributes related to this category were mentioned by all of the interviewees. The most common were excellent product quality, a variety of choices, trendy products,

and uniqueness. For example, the following two quotes were about food shops:

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