Towards Some Standardized Cross-Cultural Consumption Values

David K. Tse, University of British Columbia
John K Wong, DePaul University
Chin Tiong Tan, National University of Singapore
ABSTRACT - The results of most attempts to relate cultural (and subcultural) valuesCa group and general behavioral construct, to a consumer's choiceCa personal and consumption oriented construct, are weak. This paper proposes another alternative. We hypothesized and used consumers' perceived attribute importance along four product categories as consumption value measures. Consumers' perceived attribute importance along clothing, food, appliances, and household supplies were surveyed from consumers of five Asian Pacific regions. This paper discusses the premises behind our proposition. How consumption values differ in clothing across the five regions is described.
[ to cite ]:
David K. Tse, John K Wong, and Chin Tiong Tan (1988) ,"Towards Some Standardized Cross-Cultural Consumption Values", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 15, eds. Micheal J. Houston, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 387-395.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 15, 1988      Pages 387-395


David K. Tse, University of British Columbia

John K Wong, DePaul University

Chin Tiong Tan, National University of Singapore


The results of most attempts to relate cultural (and subcultural) valuesCa group and general behavioral construct, to a consumer's choiceCa personal and consumption oriented construct, are weak. This paper proposes another alternative. We hypothesized and used consumers' perceived attribute importance along four product categories as consumption value measures. Consumers' perceived attribute importance along clothing, food, appliances, and household supplies were surveyed from consumers of five Asian Pacific regions. This paper discusses the premises behind our proposition. How consumption values differ in clothing across the five regions is described.


In consumer behavior literature cultural values have long been recognized as a powerful force shaping consumers' motivation, lifestyle, and product choices. The value system is thought to include sets of beliefs, attitudes, and activities to which a culture or subculture subscribes, and is reinforced by rewards and punishments to those who follow or deviate from these guidelines (Rokeach 1973). In recent literature, the value system has been expanded to include the "tool kit" of habits, skills, and styles from which people construct strategies of action (Swidler 1986).

There are two major agendas in cultural (and subcultural) value research in consumer psychology. The macro orientation investigates how the cultural values affect consumption behavior of groups of consumers. The micro orientation tries to understand how this group construct affects individual consumers' choice in the market place. This latter orientation is quite ambitious because these two construct are conceptually different. The problem is compounded for researchers who are interested in these topics cross-culturally. Table 1 below summarizes the conceptual differences between the two constructs.



Researchers have responded to this challenge in two major ways. First, researchers have adapted scales developed from other disciplines. In particular Munson and his colleagues adapted the Rokeach Value Scales (RVS) to different cultural groupings (Munson and McIntyre 1979) and product choice contexts (Munson and McQuarrie 1987). Kahle and his colleagues (e.g. Kahle 1986) used very similar approach with Values and Lifestyles Scales (VALS) originally developed by Mitchell (1983).

Another approach is to develop value measures that may uniquely apply to consumption context. In particular McCarthy and O'Guinn (1987) employ the anthropological approach and try to develop cultural value measures from behaviors of consumers. Their approach resembles the attempt by Belk and Pollay (e.g. Belk and Pollay 1985, Pollay 1986) who content analyzed advertisements from different cultural groups (or societies) to understand the societies' values.

Yet the results of most attempts to relate value systems to a consumer's choice were discouraging (Munson 1986). To a certain extent the lack of encouraging results is understandable. As suggested in Table 1 there are three dimensions bridging cultural values and a consumer's choice. Each dimension offers its specific challenge. It is difficult to speculate what the challenges are as understanding in the topic is still emerging, however research experiences in other consumer topics along similar dimensions may provide some insights into the difficulty value researchers encounter.

For example previous efforts to relate group constructs such as social class and individual product choice (Martineau 1958) reflect the difficulty of moving along dimension 1 (from group behavior to individual behavior). Though some insights were generated through these attempts researchers soon found it is difficult to predict from consumers' social class their choice behavior. A consumer's social class fails to incorporate the changes in a consumer's behavior.

Earlier work that tries to relate general attitude and to specific behavior reflects the difficulty along dimension 2 (from general behavior to specific consumption behavior). For example the failure to use a consumer's general attitude to predict his/her choice behavior led Fishbein to reconceputalize the attitude construct as behavioral specific attitude (Fishbein 1972).

And finally the many well known mistakes in cross-cultural research and practices reveal the problems of moving along dimension 3 (from one culture to another).


In face of these challenges our study's objective is to find some cultural measures that may provide a link between cultural values and a consumer's choice. We propose that perceived product attribute importance may be appropriate. There are a number of reasons. First, a consumer's perceived attribute importance measures his/her motivation behind the product choice and hence may reflect the cultural values he/she subscribes. Second, perceived attribute importance has long been known as an important predictor of a consumer's purchases. Its role in Rosenberg's attitudinal model (Rosenberg 1956) and ideal point models of consumer preference (e.g., Lehmann 1971) reflects its importance. Third, comprehensive consumer models (e.g., Engel, Blackwell and Miniard 1986) suggested that a consumer's preference, in which perceived attribute importance is a component, is affected by his/her social and cultural environment. This suggests that the construct is able to translate the group influence to a consumer. Finally the construct is simple and likely to be universal across different cultures so that it can be used cross-culturally (e.g. Engel, Blackwell, and Miniard 1986).

A number of premises underlie our proposal. They include,

1. Cultural values are dynamic and they originate from the ethnic and social groupings to which people belong. They are also affected by the economic, political, and technological environment people are living in,

2. Cultural values that a person subscribes to can be expressed in some of his/her consumption behavior, and

3. Some common structures in consumption values exist cross-culturally, though

4. Consumers from different cultures may use different product attributes to express similar underlying consumption values.


In this paper we surveyed consumption values of consumers from five Asian Pacific regions using product attribute importance. According to our first premise the consumers' consumption values may differ because of differences in their ethnic background and the economic, political, and technological environments they are in. Table 2 describes the regions' characteristics.





Our second premise suggests that different products may express a consumer's value system in different ways. Of the four product categories investigated in this study, they may be affected in different degrees by the ethnic origin and the environmental forces that impact the regions. Table 3 below summarizes how each product category may be affected by these forces.

As a result we expect consumption values expressed in each product category to differ among different pairs of countries/regions investigated.


Five Asia Pacific regions including Japan(JPN), Hong Kong(HK), Singapore(SGP), South Korea(KRA) and Taiwan(TW) were selected to test the validity of our paradigm. Consumers were invited by local interviewers in each of the above regions to respond to a pre-designed questionnaire. The interviews were conducted in shopping malls of major cities in each region.

The questionnaire had four sections. The first section contained 23 Likert scales measuring respondents' agreement to different dimensions of the respondents' shopping and consumption behavior. The second section contained 18 Rokeach Instrumental Value Scales. The third section contained perceived attribute importance (ranging from 23 to 30 attributes) in four product categories. These product categories included clothing, appliances, household supplies, and food (packaged uncooked). The last section contained multiple choice questions on respondents' gender, age, education level and occupation.

The product attributes were obtained from focus group discussions by housewives of different nationalities who came to U.S. less than 1 year. One focus group was held for each region including Taiwanese, South Korean, and Japanese. Translators (from 1 to 3 for each region) were used to translate the questionnaire for each region. Back translation was used for the Japanese and the Korean version. The Singaporean version was examined by a Singaporean researchers while both the Taiwanese and Hong Kong version was examined by two authors whose mother tongue is Chinese. Local interviewers were recruited and trained. About 200 samples of response were obtained from each country/region. Table 4 describes the socio-demographic characteristics of respondents.



The samples showed marked differences in both education and occupation. Both Japanese and South Korean samples had relatively high percentages of university educated respondents and very low percentages of blue collar workers. This may partly reflect the population characteristics in these two cities since the surveys were conducted in major cities in these two countries.


In this paper we limit our discussion to the clothing results only. The 30 attributes on the clothing consumption values were factor analyzed country by country (using principal component method with varimax rotation). The Japanese, Singaporean and Taiwanese samples had eight factors while the Hong Kong sample had nine factor and the South Korean sample had six factors whose eigenvalues were higher than one. A closer examination on both the variance explained by each factor and its eigenvalue suggested that we should include only the factors whose eigenvalues were higher than one.

As has been hypothesized in our fourth premise we do not expect identical sets of product attributes to appear on each corresponding factor, but the factors may represent similar underlying consumption values. Hence the factors were named separately for each country. Tables 5 to 9 summarize the factor analysis results for each of the five regions. The tables (5 to 9) reports only those attributes whose factor loadings were higher than 0.3. The attributes in the factors suggested that the factors can be further classified into instrumental, aesthetic and social dimensions.

There were two factors in the instrumental dimensions. The first factor contained attributes such as practical, comfortable, durable, and convenient. It represented the basic needs consumers look for in their clothes. The second instrumental factor had high loadings in attributes such as tasteful, quality, and neat. It represented the higher level instrumental needs consumers place on their clothes.

The two factors were distinct for the Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese samples suggesting that the higher level needs like quality were evaluated differently. The two factors were combined in the Hong Kong and Singapore samples. This tends to suggest that the higher level needs are as important as the basic needs themselves in these two countries.

Again there are also two factors in the aesthetic dimension. The first factor contained attributes such as pretty, unique, glamorous, and luxurious. It represented the basic aesthetics elements in the clothes. The second factor had high loadings in attributes such as sexy, romantic, and passionate. It represented the mood (or the feelings) expressed by the clothes. The factors were distinct in both Hong Kong and Singapore while they were combined in Korea and Taiwan sample. The Japanese sample had the basic aesthetic factor but the mood factor was combined with the high level instrumental needs.

The social dimension is the least homogeneous and the most interesting. There were as many as four factors in this dimension and the five regions exhibited different factor patterns suggesting each regions had its unique social characteristics. Hence the consumers used their clothes to express the intricacies of their positions in the societies. The first factor had high loadings in modest, moral, and mature. It reflected the morality elements in the clothes. The second factor had high loadings in social acceptance and popular suggesting the acceptance element in the social dimension. The third factor had high loadings in popular, modern, and traditional reflecting the trendiness element. Finally the fourth factor contained attributes such as status and face. It represented the status element in the social dimension. In general Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwanese and Korean had three factors while the Japanese had all four factors distinct from one another. This result is not totally unexpected. Literature on Japanese life style and their social structure had suggested that it had the most complicated structure.



Aside from the factors in these three dimensions other factors for each of the regions exist. In general these factors explained a low percentage of variance (which ranged from 3.4% to 4.7%) in the data although they have eigenvalues higher than one. They included simple (4.7%) and value (3.4%) for Japan; neat (4.3%), modern (3.8%), simple (3.6%) and important (3.5%) for Hong Kong; value (3.4%) and neat (3.4%) for Singapore; glamorous (4.0%) for Korea; and enjoyment (4.0%) and inexpensive (3.4%) for Taiwan.

The above findings suggest that consumption value structures are not identical across the regions, yet a common structure does exist and it dominates in these regions, hence pooling all five regional samples is needed. When all the samples were factor analyzed together six factors with eigenvalues greater than 1 were obtained. The six factors can be classified again in the instrumental, aesthetic and social dimensions. Table 10 below describes the factor loadings of the attributes higher than 0.3.

Compared with the country by country result factors belonging to the same dimensions were collapsed together. In particular the aesthetic and mood factors, the basic and high level factors and the social acceptance and morality factors were combined into one factor for each dimension. This suggests that by pooling the five regions together some of the finer classification of the consumption values for each region were destroyed yet the important dimensions were preserved.



In addition to the three basic dimensions two factors including enjoyment and value were obtained. Though both factors can be traced to the regional results, it is inappropriate to assume that each region had these factors.


The preliminary results provide some support of using product attribute importance as consumption value measures in the five Asian regions surveyed. In particular it was found that consumers from the five Asian regions possess patterns of consumption values unique to themselves. Perceived attribute importance were able to obtain a common structure that cuts across the regions. The result tend to agree with some of the premises proposed in the study.










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