Shopping As a Jungle Trip

Yaolung James Hsieh, National Chengchi University
Janeen Arnold Costa, University of Utah
ABSTRACT - This paper employs projective techniques premised upon anthropomorphism and totemism to explore shoppers’ inner world and how consumers’ shopping perceptions vary between Taiwanese and American cultures. The data indicate that more similarities than distinctions exist in comparing the two societies. Informants in both cultures focus on shopping strategy and shopping partners’ loyalty and overall helpfulness; informants also responded similarly to queries concerning Agood@ and Abad@ salespeople. Nevertheless, while the Taiwanese data suggest a pro-social orientation consistent with Taiwanese cultural values of Aface,@ group and harmony, the American data often suggest an individualistic point of reference and experience.
[ to cite ]:
Yaolung James Hsieh and Janeen Arnold Costa (2001) ,"Shopping As a Jungle Trip", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28, eds. Mary C. Gilly and Joan Meyers-Levy, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 198-203.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28, 2001     Pages 198-203


Yaolung James Hsieh, National Chengchi University

Janeen Arnold Costa, University of Utah


This paper employs projective techniques premised upon anthropomorphism and totemism to explore shoppers’ inner world and how consumers’ shopping perceptions vary between Taiwanese and American cultures. The data indicate that more similarities than distinctions exist in comparing the two societies. Informants in both cultures focus on shopping strategy and shopping partners’ loyalty and overall helpfulness; informants also responded similarly to queries concerning "good" and "bad" salespeople. Nevertheless, while the Taiwanese data suggest a pro-social orientation consistent with Taiwanese cultural values of "face," group and harmony, the American data often suggest an individualistic point of reference and experience.


Many scholars have examined factors that affect shoppers’ consumer behavior, including temporal aspects (Bergadaa 1990; Taylor 1994), physical and social surroundings (Hirsch 1995; Solomon, Zaichkowsky and Polegato 1999), and individual cognition, emotion and mood (e.g., Dube and Schmitt 1991). Social characteristics such as gender, class and ethnicity contribute to variations in shopping behavior and experiences (e.g., Belk and Costa 1990; Costa 1995; Fischer and Arnould 1990; Fischer and Gainer 1991; McGrath 1996; Otnes, Kim and Lowrey 1992; Sherry and McGrath 1989). According to Babin, Darden and Griffin (1994), humans engage in shopping for either utilitarian or hedonic reasons. While some or all of these findings may be generalizable to other societies, it is important to recognize that the majority of thes and other studies concerning shopping have been conducted in the U.S.

We would anticipate both cross-cultural and contextual variation in the extent to which the above-mentioned factors and social characteristics and conditions influence consumers’ shopping experiences and behavior. Similarly, if we place Babin et al’s (1994) shopping purposes at opposite ends of a continuum, we would expect the degree to which individuals in a given society pursue utilitarianism vs. hedonism to vary cross-culturally and also on the basis of a given shopping experience. In the research presented here, the data indicate both important differences and similarities in the shopping experiences of informants from two distinct societies, Taiwan and the United States.

In order to achieve a greater understanding of how consumers in these two societies feel about their shopping experiences in general, we chose to utilize projective techniques, described in greater detail below. In addition to looking broadly at consumers’ feelings about shopping, however, we were also interested in their specific comprehension of themselves in terms of positive, negative, and social dimensions of shopping. Thus, we inquired about how our informants felt after they had purchased something they liked, what their descriptions of their regular shopping #partners’ would be, and their understandings of #good’ and #bad’ service people. While we were attempting through these latter queries to discern aspects of the entire shopping process, the data also provided extensive information about shoppers’ strategy or style. An emergent finding of this study, then, is that shopping strategy or style is a particularly important part of the way in which consumers understand their shopping experiences, including their own moods, emotions and self-perceptions, shopping with relevant social others, and encounters with salespersons.

Taken as a whole, the body of data indicates that shopping is a process wherein an individual’s judgements and perceptions of self and others may alter during the course of a shopping experience. In turn, these alterations affect the shopper’s mood, which in and of itself may have a strong impact on which products are purchased and how they are evaluated (Dube and Schmitt 1991). For the purposes of this paper, however, we focus upon an analysis of the cultural similarities and differences in the shopping experiences as expressed by our Taiwanese and U.S. informants. We leave an exploration and explication of the shopping process as a whole, with its mood-altering elements and implications, for later, expanded research.


Studies of shopping behavior in Taiwan are limited. However, according to Hsieh’s (1997) work, Taiwanese consumers’ shopping motives can be classified into two categories: Personal motives and social motives. Personal motives include physical (e.g., tasting good food and taking exercises), economic (e.g., paying less during on sale and being able to shop for better prices), psychological (e.g., releasing personal stress, being fashionable in order to be compatible with one’s friends, and enjoying spending money), and emotional motivations (e.g., showing care for his/her family or girl/boy friends). Alternatively, Hsieh indicates that social motives involve understanding social others and sharing good times with friends, a sense of belonging (being accepted by one’s friends), purchasing gifts for friends, negotiating as a fun thing to do, and gaining respect by paying the role of an opinion leader. Based on these descriptions, it appears that shopping behavior may be much more of a social than an individual activity for many Taiwanese consumers.


Projective techniques permit the consumer to describe and/or analyze him/herself, others, and given situations freely and imaginatively. The "projective hypothesis" also suggests that the use of projective techniques allows informants to reveal "personality styles as well as clues about specific conflicts and problem areas" (Rabin and Zlotogorski, 1981, p. 127). In consumer research, it is clear that researchers have used projective techniques primarily to aid consumers to access more easily their feelings and thoughts about various consumption situations (Belk, Ger and Askegaard 1997; Bamossy and Costa 1997; McGrath, Sherry and Levy 1993; Sherry, McGrath and Levy 1992, 1993; Zaltman and Coultier 1995). Some evidence exists that such techniques also provide for less ethnocentric cross-cultural research, as long as the researchers are willing to recognize that wording and concepts still must be adjusted on the basis of cultural and linguistic considerations (see Belk, Ger and Askegaard 1997; Bamossy and Costa 1997).

It is critical to base projective queries on comparisons that facilitate, rather than hinder, the human imagination. Some theorists have suggested that consumers’ "inner worlds" may be accessed more easily through research premised upon either anthropomorphismCwhereby human attributes are ascribed to nonhumans, or totemism C the assignation to humans of animal or other emblematic qualities (Belk 1988; Hirschman 1994). In both U.S. and Taiwanese/Chinese societies, self-identification or, at the very least, a sense of affinity, with animals, is a cultural feature. In the U.S., for example, animals may be seen as an extension of self, as friends, children or child substitutes (e.g., Beck and Katcher 1983; Belk 1988; Feldman 1979; Hirschman 1994; Robins, Sanders and Cahill 1991; Sanders 1990; Serpell 1986; Savishingsky 1986). American totems include the politically-affiliated donkey and elephant, as well as the boom and bust stock market bull and bear, for instance (Daniels 1995). Among the Chinese, a particularly important example of totemism is found in the zodiac calendar, where 12 animals (mouse, cow, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, chicken, dog, and pig) represent 12 types of animal qualities as well as the people who are born in a particular animal year. These "totemic qualities" are enhanced for individuals each time the year in which they were born comes around on the calendar: "So here we go, into the Year of the Tiger, and here I goCas a tiger myself, I am of course feeling courageous, determined, alert, restless, spendthrift, independent and argumentative" (Checketts 1998, p. 7). Because our intent was to investigate cultural aspects of consumers’ shopping perceptions, and because we were aware of the ease with which both U.S. and Taiwanese informants access comparisons of themselves with animals, we chose projective techniques based on #animal terms.’

In this project, we sought to investigate the shopping process through consumer perceptions of themselves and others during and immediately after shopping. Thus, projective inquiries were designed to elicit information about the informant’s descriptions of him/herself during shopping and after he/she had purchased something particularly dsirable, and of others with whom the informant typically shopped. In addition, we elicited consumers’ projective portrayals of service people in terms of their behavior and attitudes toward consumers. In each query, we asked informants to provide the name of an animal that seemed to describe best the type of individual given, as well as to suggest reasons why that particular animal seemed appropriate. Using student researchers trained in qualitative research methods, we collected projective data on 26 Americans, aged 22-28, 7 females and 19 males, residing in a large metropolitan city in the western United States, and on 31 Taiwanese, aged 17-40, 20 females and 11 males, residing in Taipei, Taiwan.

The data were first coded according to animal type and were then analyzed for content and themes. Following this, the emergent patterns were contextualized within the individual culture/society in which the data were collected. Finally, the data were compared across the two cultures/societies. In this paper, we provide our conclusions both on the cultural contextualizations and on the cross-cultural comparisons and contrasts.

One of the authors is Taiwanese, while the other is American (United States). Both authors were involved in analysis and contextualization. While each individual author may be considered an "analytical informant" (Barrett 1984) with respect to his/her culture and the contextualization of responses within that cultural milieu, the authors also relied on the work of other theorists who have evaluated the respective cultures. In addition, one of the authors is an anthropologist (PhD) and is well trained in the area of culture and its effects. Both authors also have substantial training in marketing (Postdoc and PhD). The authors utilized an iterative process of inquiry of tacking between the data and pertinent scholarly works, both on cultural perspectives and on other relevant intellectual considerations. The trustworthiness of the data obtained in this study is ensured primarily through researcher and data triangulation (see Erlandson et al 1993). In addition, member checks were utilized in the American sample, as was peer debriefing. An audit trail exists for the entire study. Finally, the Taiwanese answers were translated into English by the Taiwanese author and by a research assistant, who then consulted with one another for accuracy.


As might be expected, some differences exist between the Taiwanese and the American data. However, the authors were surprised to find that the similarities may be more prevalent than the distinctions. In the first part of this section, we present and analyze those data that are comparable across the two societies. We then describe the data that seem to suggest important, but sometimes subtle, differences between the two cultures and the experiences of the informants in those cultures.

Similarities: Concern with Strategy and Style

Concerning the animals they described themselves to be while shopping, both Taiwanese and Aerican informants focused on their own shopping strategy and style. Their answers suggest such tactical and experiential approaches may be a very basic part of consumers’ approach to shopping. Furthermore, both American and Taiwanese responses indicate that shopping style and strategy are perceived primarily in terms of pace and attitude. Their answers also suggest that the ways in which informants look at products, seek bargains or information, and deal with other shoppers and with salespeople, as well as informants’ intentions in terms of purchase, are significant parts of shopping strategy. In describing themselves while shopping, informants indicated: [I would describe myself as a(n)]


...turtle. Because I usually stay longer than other people for window-shopping. If I really want to buy something, I will shop one store after another and take a slow and careful look at the products. I usually walk slowly and feel like I am blocking other people’s way, or there will always be someone who overpasses me (TF#11,19).

...crocodile. Crocodiles move toward their prey quickly, and I am the same. When I see something I like, I will go for it (TM#27,21).


...shark. When I decide I want something, I’m aggressive in getting it; sharks I perceive as aggressive (USM#1,25).

...Tiger (because I’ve very predatory. When I shop I am on the hung and finding a great deal on something fabulous is like making the kill). Also, I feel that my senses are at a heightened level. My eyes are scoping the area, my ears are perked up and my energy level is peaking (USF#25,24)

As with the projective queries concerning the informants themselves as shoppers, answers concerning shopping partners frequently mentioned shopping strategy, again with an emphasis on pace, compatibility and other aspects of strategy and style: [Shopping partners are]


...lions, tigers and leopards. Because only friends with such shopping speed can keep pace with me and buy all the products we need (TM#27,21).

...a herd of deer (good partners). If I shop with partners that I like, I feel that I am with a herd of deer. They give me the feeling of harmony (TF#7,22).


...hummingbirds. Flitting around from rack to rackBsometimes together,sometimes apart. Seeking each other out to test finds or to share discoveries with (USF#20,25).

...a pair of crocs. We just sit around allowing the flow [to] take us & when we see something, we grab it and won’t let the other have it (USM#19,26).

Another commonality between the Taiwanese and American data in the shopping partner projectives is the emphasis on partners’ "loyalty," willingness to shop with the informant, and overall helpfulness: [Shopping partners are]


...wolfhound. They are very loyal to me, just like wolfhounds are loyal to their masters (TM#30,26).

...dogs. Because I feel they are very loyal. They shop with me, chat with me, and if I need their opinions, they will provide (TF#13,19).

U.S.: Because there is a lot o "barking" (talking) among friends. A lot of loyalty to each other as a dog is to their owner (USM#8,27).

...flock of birds. We always stick together and ask each other’s opinion (USF#23,22).

Alternatively, a shopping partner who was not compatible with the informant in terms of strategy was portrayed as annoying and an overall hindrance to shopping activity. Such partners shopped together primarily by virtue of other aspects of their relationship that drive their choice to shop together, rather than their similarities in shopping strategy or mutual enjoyment of the experience:


...louse (girlfriend who shops with me). She is like a louse attaching to my body. She does not have special requests, but will spend all the money I have. I think that is like a louse sucking all the blood in my body (TM#28,19).

...Lion. Because he shops all the time and always shows his arrogance. He never listens to opinions of salespeople or anyone else(TF#4,20).


...sloth...Sometimes they don’t want to be there, so you have to drag them everywhere (USF#21,22).

...elephant. Elephants are considered giant rats in Africa because they’re a nuisance. My friends are annoying to shop with because they take forever and stop at every store (USM#16,23).

Similarities: Encounters with Salespersons

Finally, the Taiwanese and American informants responded in similar ways to projective queries concerning salespersons with "good" or "bad" attitudes. While the specific animals chosen were not the same in the Taiwan and U.S. samples, the underlying reasons for choosing that animal were comparable in the two data sets.

In general, for retail service providers who were seen as pleasant or having a "good attitude," informants chose an animal that represented the salesperson’s orientation toward the customer in terms of helpfulness, lack of "pressure," or overall amount/degree of interest in the consumer. These projectives typically described friendly, loyal animals: [Salespersons are]


...small pets. Because some people have very good attitudes, they [are] like lovely small pets. They always smile and make me feel good. With them around, I can shop without any pressure (TF#2,22).

...dogs. Because they make you feel warm and free of pressure. They are like lovely dogs, which please me a lot (TM#26,19).

U.S.: They are cheerful, nice and willing to help. A good store clerk doesn’t have any ulterior motives (USF#23,22). able owl. Wise, knows about its surroundings (store, products, etc.) can answer questions. Able to go swiftly to check out something or find something (USM#18,24).

With respect to unpleasant salespersons or those described as having a "bad attitude," both Taiwanese and American informants chose animals that seemed remarkably vile or vicious. This was the case when the underlying reason for choosing the particular animal emphasized the perceived "greed" of the salesperson:


...wolf...Because they always watch you with bad intention. They will try their best to hunt for your money (TF#7,22).

...spiders...They are like spiders. Before the sale, they induce [entice] you to their "nets" [webs] to buy their products. However, after you purchase the product, they, after sucking all of your money, kind of hang you there and ignore you (TF#18,22).


...vulture. Stands over you, won’t leave you alone, unfriendly. Just wants to take your money. If they think you don’t have money, won’t bother with you (USF#21,22).

...a reticulating python. Because they are really aggressive, mean, moody snakes (US#14,23).

Sometimes, the animals chosen in response to this projective query were described as annoying or pestering, without specific mention of any perceived underlying money-making motive of such salespersons:


...never dead cockroaches, flies and earthworms. Although I have no intention to buy, they still keep selling. I just cannot keep them away. They are like cockroaches and flies. They are so disgusting, but it is difficult to get rid of them. And some of them are very arrogant; that makes me angry even more. They are like earthworms. I hate earthworms very much (TF#10,20).

...hens...Because they will keep giving you their opinions or push you to make a quick decision(TM#26,19).


...a hyena. Annoying, always pestering (USM#11,26). B poorly trained. Hang around too close when you don’t want them. Follow you, you can’t lose them, breathing down your neck. Trying too hard to please. Won’t back off. Tries to be your best #unwanted’ friend (USF#20,25).

Finally, both Taiwanese and U.S. informants sometimes chose a projective that portrayed a salesperson as apathetic and unhelpful in general. The animals chosen in these responses were typically described as lazy or self-centered:


...cats...These service people do not pay any respect to their jobs and customers. When I ask them some questions, they do not really like to respond to me. This attitude really disgusts me. I think they provide very poor services. They are just like cats. Cats are difficult to understand and to stay close. Although you want to play with cats, they will play with you only when they have [are in a] good mood(TM#26,19).

...cockroachesCannoying service people. One type of service people is that they ignore you right from the beginning [when] you enter the store(TF#19,20).


...a sloth. Slow and quiet, doing nothing for anyone (USM#13,mid-20s).

...pig. Unattentive [sic], unhelpful, cares about only themselves and their own pleasures (USM#10,28).

Contrasts: Social Display vs. Individualism

The data from the Taiwanese informants typically are suggestive of the underlying pro-social orientation of Taiwanese culture. Rather than suggesting self-orientation, the data seem to indicate that behaviors and attitudes are often directed toward the social other. In this way, some of the Taiwanese answers contrast markedly with the individualistic orientation of many of the American (U.S.) informants. We present and analyze examples of the Taiwanese data, theorizing that the informant answers are overwhelmingly consistent with the Chinese cultural values of "face," social group considerations, and harmony (see Hsieh 1994, 1999; Hsieh and Scammon 1993). We then distinguish these from the examples in the U.S. data, where individualistic concerns are manifest much moreoften than in the Taiwanese data.

In answering the projective query concerning self during shopping, Taiwanese informants often suggested the importance of social display for the approval and observation of others:


...poodle. Because they are always dressed beautifullyBesides, they usually walk confidently and proudly. And they are also very attractive. I dress like that too when I go shopping. I like to attract other peoples’ attention (TF#2,22).

...peacock (wearing beautiful clothes to shop). Because peacocks are very beautiful, especially with their tails wide open. Wearing beautiful clothes makes me feel like peacocks. The purpose for me to dress up on the street is to show my clothes to other people (TF#14,20).

Similarly, in describing themselves when they have purchased something they "like very much," Taiwanese informants reflected the desire to exhibit themselves to others, as well as the "happiness" they feel in being able to do so:


...mermaid. Because I will demonstrate the products I bought to everyone I know. Mermaid is a rare animal and everyone will pay attention to me (TF#3,40).

...peacock. Because when I buy something new, I like to show it to everybody. I want to show the best part of me (TM#24, 17).

The notion of display for others, the presentation of self as beautiful while shopping, also appears in queries concerning animal representations of informants’ shopping partners:


...butterfly (girlfriend who shops with me). She looks like a butterfly, because girls like to dress beautifully when shopping. Being beautiful can attract other people’s attentions, just like butterflies, which are so colorful and beautiful (TM#21,24).

...poodle. Because they also like to dress up before shopping. I think all girls like to dress themselves beautifully(TF#2,22).

Finally, we see a similar notion of social exhibition in some of the projective responses concerning salespersons, with an emphasis placed on their beauty and elegance. In some cases, the informants indicated this was especially true in certain shopping districts or in shops/departments selling certain types of products:


...peacocks (service people in high class stores). They are very elegant and stylish. Mermaid (service people in the cosmetics counters)they are well trained, and have beautiful shapes and faces (TF#18,22).

...cats...service people in East District of Taipei. They are elegant, wear beautifully and have high dignity (TF#19,20).

In sum, Taiwanese apparently conceptualize shopping primarily as a social or group experience. As a final example of this, the data suggest that shopping is frequently perceived not only in terms of exhibition or presentation of self to others, but also in terms of the experience of a marketplace swarming with other humans. Thus, Taiwanese often see themselves as visiting shops in a crowd, where they are simply one of many shoppers:


...earthworm. Because there are always many people crowded together when shopping (TF#7,22).

...ant. I usually shop on holidays, so I am always trapped in a lot of crowded people. This is especially true when there is a sale. These people are like ants looking for something, and I am no exception (TM#23,21).

The Taiwanese clearly indicated a pro-social orientation more often than did the U.S. informants. Conversely, the American data often suggest an individualistic point of reference or experience; such self-orientation was notably lacking in the Taiwan data. U.S. informants provided answers to several of the projective queries in a manner that indicated they prefer to shop alone and/or to avoid the perspectives, opinions and experiences of others, including shopping companions or salespersons:


...a bear. I go it alone through the wildernessI rarely go shopping, and when I do, it’s by myself (USM#3,24).

...panther. Slipping quietly around the store, hunting for bargains or unusual items that there are only a few of. Ignoring displays with lots of the same items, going for the things standing alone (USF#20,25).

...unicorn. Because a unicorn doesn’t exist, and neither does the concept of "shopping with friends," for me. I want as little distraction as possible when I’m shopping (USM#6,mid-20s).

Again placing these responses in a cultural context, Americans often accentuate individualism, while Taiwanese prioritize social group over individual concerns. The American cultural emphasis on the individual pervades the social fabric of the United States. Individualism is manifest in competitive urges and behaviors observed throughout the social and economic systems, as well as in the primacy of individual interests even within the context of marriages or the family, for example (see Althen 1988; Harris 1981).


The projective-based investigation of consumers’ shopping perceptions and experiences accesses their inner worlds and enhances our overall understanding of their behaviors. Applying the same basic techniques in collecting data in Taiwan and the United States, we found both similarities and differences among our informants.

Our data indicate that shoppers in Taiwan and the United States approach and perceive their own shopping behaviors in remarkably similar ways, citing shopping style and strategy in particular. Taiwanese and Americans also provided analogous descriptions of desirable shopping partners as loyal, willing and helpful and of less desirable partners as those whose shopping strategies were unlike those of the informant. Finally, informants in both societies agree that "good" and "bad" salespersons affect shopping experiences through the clerks’ attitudes toward the shopper and toward profit in the shopping transaction.

The underlying reason for similarities in the two societies is unclear. It is possible that some aspects of shopping are "universal;" i.e., found in all or in many societies based on correspondence in the structure of the experience, the nature of transactions within a market system, etc. Alternatively, it is quite possible that, given global diffusion of U.S. consumer culture, aspects of engaging in that consumer culture through shopping have diffused as well. Further investigation may reveal the principal bases for the similarities we found in our data.

On the other hand, some apparent differences among Taiwanese and U.S. shoppers exist and are manifest primarily through orientation toward social other versus toward self. This discrepancy is validated through cultural contextualization. Thus, we better understand our Taiwanese shoppers by situating their answers within the Taiwanese cultural values of social harmony, group considerations and "face." Conversely, the cultural emphases on individualism, competition, and "going it alone" dominate many aspects of U.S. society and provide a broader framework with which we can interpret our U.S. informants’ responses.

We utilized projective techniques based on comparisons of self and others to animals in our investigation of consumers’ perceptions of shopping in Taiwan and the United States. While the specific choice of animals varied in the different cultural contexts, we found that the application and interpretation of those animal qualities to the shopping context provided ample basis for comparison between the two societies. In summary, our comparison of Taiwanese and American (U.S.) consumers’ answers to projective queries concerning their shopping expands our overall understanding of consumer behavior.


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