«Professor Kara Chan* Department of Communication Studies Hong Kong Baptist University Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong Tel: (852)3411 7836 Fax: (852)3411 7890 ...»
“The toast is tasty and excellent. You cannot get such a good one from other cafes.” (male, age 16) “The food is very delicious, especially the Bandit Chicken Wings and the hot and sour noodles.” (female, age 18)
Another interviewee praised her favorite shop for its variety of choices:
“7-Eleven is my favorite store brand. They offer all kinds of stuff. I can get cooked food when I am hungry. If I am bored, I can get newspapers and magazines. When I want to look great and pretty, they have personal care products. What’s more, I can add value to my Octopus card” (a debit card for public transportation). (female, age 16) For fashion and clothing shops, participants most often reported that their favorite
shops were “in” and “unique”. Here are two quotes:
“Designs are fashionable, …most of the items are trendy.” (female, age 21) “The boutique really matches my personal style. The designs are cool, cute, and special. When I go out, I don’t need to worry that everyone is wearing the same design.” (female, age 19).
In addition to innovative products and up-to-date items, participants reported that their
favorite stores gave them surprises. Here is one quote:
“When I cleaned up my room, I realized that one comic book in my collection was missing. So I looked for it everywhere, including the internet and many second-hand comic book shops. All failed. Time passed, I almost forgot it. One day I went to buy the latest comic book and I went to this store. I noticed that the missing book was hiding at the corner. The feeling was just like finding a family member who had been lost for many years.” (female, age 16) Physical Evidence This was the marketing mix element participants brought up the second most frequently. Participants reported that their favorite shops offered an enjoyable physical environment. For example, their favorite restaurants were clean, tidy, and spacious.
They appreciated attractive window displays and well-organized interiors.
Atmospheric attributes such as stylish design, harmonious background music, comfortable air-conditioning and a cozy setting were important to them. The importance of ambience is vividly demonstrated by the following comment and
“Though the [cake] shop I love is a small one, its design is unique. The minimalist design makes me feel comfy. You can hardly find any cake shops in Hong Kong that use Chinese antique chairs and door as décor. I am impressed by its style.” (male, age 19)
This category received the third largest number of responses. Participants considered the service standard provided by the staff a significant attribute. The interviewees reported that “helpful staff”, “friendly service”, and “informative employees” were reasons of making a shop their favorite. In some restaurants, “we found waiters were friendly and pleased to chit-chat with us”; “the waiters know our names and some even recall our favorite dishes”. A participant reported the shop of the fashion brand “Liz Liza” as her favorite and remarked “The salesgirl recognized me when I walked into the store. We had a casual talk and we exchanged contacts. I bought many clothes there. As a surprise, the salesgirl told me that I am eligible to apply for VIP membership immediately.” (female, age 20)
Some interviewees told us they felt good when the salespersons provided professional advice. For example, a cosmetics salesperson offered color matching tips for make-up. Some interviewees said they appreciate the extra miles a salesperson walked for them. For example, a salesperson looked up a pair of shoes of the right size from another branch of the shop, and delivered the pair of shoes to her office. The interviewees also said that they appreciated salespersons who gave them “freedom” to browse around, and did not push them to make a purchase decision right away.
Price Attractive prices ranked fourth on the list of participants’ reasons. Many interviewees explained that their pocket money was limited and that they needed to spend it on products that are affordable and give value for money. They felt a sense of
achievement when they got a good deal. Here is an example:
“Once at my favorite snack store I found the chocolates had an attractive discount. They lowered the price for items that were close to the expiry date. I was so thrilled that I could buy high quality imported Japanese snacks for a bargain price.” (male, age 15) Place Convenient location ranked fifth in the number of responses. Respondents reported favoring shops close to their school or residence. They found them highly accessible, making it easy to go in groups with friends.
Promotion The total number of responses related to this marketing mix element ranked sixth.
Participants reported that they were attracted by sales promotion tools such as discounts, couponing, stamp redemption, buy-one-get-one-free offers and free samples. Price discounts were frequently mentioned as reason in this category.
Process Attributes related to this marketing mix element received the fewest mentions.
Participants most often reported that their favorite retail shops allowed them to have a sense of control. For example, a yogurt shop allowed customers to add their own toppings. A food restaurant allowed them to hang around with friends for as long as they pleased.
Discussion The two most mentioned types of favorite shops were food outlets and clothing shops. Both sell non-durable goods. Shops selling durable goods such as electronics and electrical appliances, home appliances, motor vehicles and parts, watches and jewelry were seldom reported as favorite shops. This may be because young consumers have limited experience purchasing such items. In particular, Hong Kong people in this age group very rarely own any sort of motor vehicle. Luxury brand stores were also seldom mentioned. This is consistent with the results of a previous study which showed that ownership of luxurious brands among adolescents is low in Hong Kong (Chan, 2010). Although the young interviewees are style conscious, with limited disposable income, most of them were not attached to high fashion. The attribute “affordable price” was deemed important because it enabled the young people to be fashionable and stylish without digging deep into their pockets.
Both hard and soft attributes played an important role in appealing to these young consumers. From previous scholarly work on youths’ store selection behavior we know that their cognitive response to product and service quality is important.
This is true both for the Western and Hong Kong young consumers. For example, Chen Yu cites studies by Rabolt and by Velde (Rabolt et al., 1988; Velde et al., 1996) showing that merchandise assortment, quality and price range are the three most important criteria for college students in selecting a clothing store in Canada, the UK and the USA (Chen Yu et al., 2010). However, our findings indicate that location, the environment and the people are also important for these Hong Kong youth.
Unfocused shopping is not the same as product-specific buying, so the evaluation of an attitude object (my favorite store) is that situation is also highly influenced by the consumption context. For example, superior interior design or a comfortable environment can reinforce the worth of a product or service. A beloved store is not just a seller of food, clothing or cosmetics. It is the supplier of a good shopping experience. Proximity, accessibility and convenience are some of the important hard store attributes our participants highlighted as supplementing the soft or the interpersonal attributes. Favoring a store can apparently be regarded as a cumulative effect of a young customer’s contentment and perceptions, both rational and emotional. Cognitive and affective elements seem, on average, to be about equally important in appealing to young Chinese consumers. Our data show that the relative importance of cognitive and affective evaluations differs by type of shop. Cognitive evaluations emphasize aspects such as perceived product quality, perceived service efficiency and perceived price. Affective evaluations concern about the emotion-eliciting qualities of the environment and service such as ambient cues (e.g.
music), as well as the friendliness or service attitude of a store’s employees, all of which contribute to the customers’ pleasure or arousal (Baker et al., 1992; Oliver, 1993; Stauss and Neuhaus, 1997; Zeithamel, 1988). When classified under the 7Ps framework, the attributes seem separate in the analysis, but they are in fact interrelated and interdependent. The challenge for further studies is to chart these relationships.
All the attributes mentioned come together in various proportions in any particular physical retail store. The traditional product, place and price are certainly significant for almost all youngsters, but physical evidence and people are noteworthy too. A successful retailing formula in Hong Kong must chart the relationships and relative importance of these attributes, so determining the relative weights of the attributes for young consumers could be a useful next step for scholars in this field.
Further quantitative studies should be conducted with a representative sample.
In particular, we recommend applying the video ethnography approach (Belk and Kozinets, 2005) and photo-elicitation interviews (Venkatraman and Nelson, 2008) to more reproducibly probe young consumers’ in-store shopping experience and attitudes toward the visual presentation of retail shops.
Marketing implications The results of this study have some useful implications for practical marketing.
1. Young consumers are price-sensitive. Retail shops targeting them should have at least some of their products priced in a range that can evoke consideration
2. Managers should train retail salespersons in communicating with young consumers. The salesperson should be friendly, helpful, and sensitive to young consumers’ needs. They should be accommodating to young consumers even if their visits do not lead to purchase or they hang around in the retail shop for
3. Durables retailers need to take special measures to establish brand loyalty among young consumers. As young consumers have developed strong emotional links with selected food outlets and clothing stores, durables retailers should identify these shops and explore cross promotion with them.
4. Retails shops should continue to invest in creating a pleasant physical environment while still offering affordable prices and friendly staff to keep the young consumers loyal and happy.
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