Comments on Cross-Cultural Consumer Research

Johan Arndt, University of Missouri - St. Louis
[ to cite ]:
Johan Arndt (1978) ,"Comments on Cross-Cultural Consumer Research", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 05, eds. Kent Hunt, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 705.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 1978      Page 705


Johan Arndt, University of Missouri - St. Louis

Cross-cultural studies in consumer behavior are still in the early infancy stage. There is a paucity of published empirical studies; and worse, the few known studies suffer from methodological limitations. This not too encouraging state of the art is apparent in van Raaij's excellent comprehensive review in his "Cross-Cultural Research Methodology as a Case of Construct Validity."

Almost all empirical and theoretical consumer studies have been conducted in the U.S. by American or at least by U.S. trained academicians. This ethnocentric bias is manifested by the predominant marketing manager orientation and the focus on middle class consumers' problems in the mass-consumption society.

This occasion gives me an opportunity to reflect on the potentials and problems of cross-cultural consumer studies. The potential contributions should be self-evident:

1. Only cross-cultural studies may isolate the role of culture, a variable of interest in its own right as a determinant of consumer behavior.

2. Cross-cultural studies permit a more rigorous study of the role of various determinants of behavior by expanding the variation in them.

3. Cross-cultural studies permit extracting universals or trans-cultural concepts from idiosyncratic phenomena which are only the product of some unique historical or environmental factors.

The problems relating to cross-cultural research on consumer behavior may be divided into: (1) theoretical and conceptual problems concerning what to study and why; and (2) methodological problems relating to how to study the problems. As van Raaij has covered the methodological problems, particularly the problems of functional equivalence of samples and measurement instruments, in so much depth, the comments below will concentrate on the more fundamental problems of approach.

In the late 1940's and early 1950's, American business executives and academicians looked at the rest of the world mostly as a mission territory ready to accept the principles of modern business management and human relations. There is a danger that such "conceptual chauvinism'' may repeat itself. Much current American consumer research is influenced by the perspective of the Marketing Concept, with its one-way control process conceptualization, and emphasis on prepurchase decision processes for brands and reliance on concepts such as "brand loyalty'', "information overload", and "consumer satisfaction". To a Eastern European car buyer having just one brand to choose and little information, and to a poor Southeast Asian farmer such concepts may be meaningless. While in the U.S., much consumer behavior is an individual or nuclear family affair, the extended family may be the appropriate unit in other cultures.

Many cross-cultural studies give the impression of being opportunistic, a result of short-term sabbaticals abroad or sudden access to some secondary international data. Second, the research is reductionistic in the sense that the consumer behavior studied is not explicitly related to aspects of the consumers' resource situation and their market environment. Hence it difficult, if not impossible, to interpret the differences found.

In the future, perhaps the only feasible approach in cross-cultural consumer research, is the launching of larger scale projects operated by cross-national research teams. To explore the interrelations between political factors, the socio-economic environment, marketing institutions, and consumer behavior, one possible solution is more emphasis on detailed comparative case studies of selected marketing systems.