A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Source and Brand Choice As a Function of Consumer Price and Non-Price Cost Sensitivities

ABSTRACT - This paper reports a study of consumer cost sensitivities based on a model that views consumers as subject to the same categories of costs as other marketing channel members, incurred not only monetarily, but also as time, effort, risk and/or psychologically. Significant relationships between cost-sensitivity measures and selected source and brand choices were found in data gathered in the United States and Singapore. In general, the United States sample seemed more sensitive to price-related costs, while the Singapore sample exhibited greater sensitivity to certain non-price costs. Possible reasons for the differences between these samples are discussed.


G. Ray Funkhouser, Richard Parker, and Anindya Chatterjee (1994) ,"A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Source and Brand Choice As a Function of Consumer Price and Non-Price Cost Sensitivities", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, eds. Joseph A. Cote and Siew Meng Leong, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 140-147.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, 1994      Pages 140-147


G. Ray Funkhouser, National University of Singapore

Richard Parker, Rowan College of New Jersey

Anindya Chatterjee, Slippery Rock University


This paper reports a study of consumer cost sensitivities based on a model that views consumers as subject to the same categories of costs as other marketing channel members, incurred not only monetarily, but also as time, effort, risk and/or psychologically. Significant relationships between cost-sensitivity measures and selected source and brand choices were found in data gathered in the United States and Singapore. In general, the United States sample seemed more sensitive to price-related costs, while the Singapore sample exhibited greater sensitivity to certain non-price costs. Possible reasons for the differences between these samples are discussed.

This paper compares source and brand choices of samples of Americans and Singaporeans as a function of their sensitivities to a variety of costs of consumption. It is based on a framework for understanding and evaluating consumer behavior that conceptualizes consumers as active participants of the distribution channel, subject to the same categories of costs as manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers (Funkhouser and Parker, 1986; Parker and Funkhouser, 1987; see also Peter and Olson, 1990). According to this model, consumers may incur these costs in several types: money, time, effort, risk and/or psychological discomfort (e.g., stress, embarassment or anxiety). Moreover, this framework views the consumption process in totality, comprising not only procurement of goods and services, but also storage, preparation, use and disposal of same. We make no attempt to affix monetary-equivalent price tags to these non-price costs.

This framework helps to elaborate consumer motives by recognizing that not only do consumers seek to maximize, or at least optimize, benefits to be obtained from products (or brands). At the same time they seek to minimize, or at least optimize, the total costs of procuring, consuming and disposing of their items of consumption. This they may do by trading off costs to which they are more sensitive, against costs to which they are less sensitive; or by compromising the benefits they seek; or by shifting costs from one phase of the consumption process to another. Consumers, then, in making procurement, consumption and use decisions, may engage in cost / benefit analyses of a more complex nature than are typically considered in the consumer behavior and marketing literatures, which traditionally have emphasized monetary issues, especially price (c.f. Monroe and Petroshius, 1981). There have been, of course, exceptions to this general rule, for example Kelley (1958), Downs (1961), Peter and Tarpey (1975), Mason and Mayer (1987), and more recently work on consumer logistics (Granzin and Bahn, 1989), and relationships between price and quality (e.g., Zeithaml, 1988). Nevertheless, a recent conference on consumer efficiency (Frasier, et al, 1988) predominantly focused on efficiency in terms of monetary costs, to the neglect of efficiency implications regarding other categories of costs. A thorough discussion of the origins of, and rationale for, the present framework is beyond the scope of this paper. The reader is referred to Parker and Funkhouser (1987).

This framework has thus far proved useful in describing differences in cost orientations of demographic and psychographic categories in two quite different cultures: the United States and Singapore (Funkhouser, Parker and Chatterjee, 1990; Parker, Funkhouser and Chatterjee, 1993a, 1993c). Also it has shown application to consumer complaining behavior (Parker, Funkhouser and Chatterjee, 1994). The results for the analysis of the relationships between the cost-sensitivity indices and source and brand choice have been reported separately (Funkhouser, Parker and Chatterjee, 1991; Parker, Funkhouser and Chatterjee, 1993b). The contribution of this article is a cross-cultural comparison and analysis of these results. This may point the way toward further research, both toward greater depth of inquiry in specific cultures, and toward comparisons among a greater variety of cultures. Findings in either context could provide valuable insights to both scholars and managers interested in multinational or global marketing.

For purposes of differentiating costs from benefits in the context of consumer decision-making, we use the following definition of benefit : "a primary reason for acquiring a product" (Funkhouser and Parker, 1986, 36); in other words, the satisfaction of a specific need. Thus when someone consumes some item of food, the benefits sought typically would be nutrition, taste and relief from hunger-needs that the consumption of food satisfies. Specific foods (or brands) might also offer such benefits as status (e.g., caviar, or upscale brands), satisfaction of curiosity, etc. But people rarely are motivated to purchase a specific food item primarily to achieve a cost reduction: e.g., no Muslim would buy a kg of pork simply because the butcher offered it at a bargain price and promised free home delivery. These might reduce purchase and transportation costs but do not offer, by themselves, reasons for that particular shopper to buy that item rather than some other food (or non-food) item.

Our conceptualization of costs is far from new. More than two hundred years ago Adam Smith observed (1937, 30): "The real price of every thing, what every thing really costs to the man who wants to acquire it, is the toil and trouble of acquiring it." We (1987) extended this to include also costs of various activities involved in preparation, consumption, clean-up and disposal; for example, transportation, assembly, equipment and overhead, storage costs, handling and unpacking, financing, etc. These are costs similar to those incurred by distribution channel members; but consumers may incur these costs not only monetarily, but also potentially as effort, time, risk and/or psychologically. This framework permits the separation of benefits sought by consumers, from costs they seek to minimize (or at least optimize). Thus Haley's (1968) classic "benefit segments" actually comprise three segments seeking benefits offered by toothpaste and one whose defining motive is to minimize costs (i.e., "independents" who purchase any brand of toothpaste on sale).

This distinction between cost-minimization, as contrasted with benefit-maximization, brings to light the fact that many modern marketing "breakthroughs" owe their success to the former rather than the latter. Few would argue, for example, that convenience foods offer improvements on benefits: rarely are they more nutritious or tastier than well-prepared fresh foods, and pity the consumer on whom they confer enhanced status. Rather, convenience foods reduce numerous costs, including search time, number of shopping trips, preparation effort, anxiety over successful preparation, risk of loss through spoilage, and cleanup effort. The furniture offered by IKEA, a rapidly growing, international retailing chain, can hardly be said to exemplify superior benefits (in the case of furniture, such attributes as functionality, durability and aesthetic appeal). Rather, IKEA's line owes its success to a superior blend of cost tradeoffs. A sufficiently large segment of furniture buyers is willing to reduce the purchase price by compromising on the benefits, and in addition accepting non-monetary costs such as self-service, self-delivery, and self-assembly.


A 60-item battery of attitudinal/behavioral items, designed to measure consumers' sensitivities to a variety of monetary and non-monetary costs, was developed from our conceptual framework. These items used a five-point Likert-type scale with these response choices: "The statement describes me . . . perfectly (1) . . . very well (2) . . . fairly well (3) . . . only a little (4) . . . not at all (5)." Thus a low score indicates a "strong" tendency and a high score a "weak" tendency. Respondents were instructed to select (5) for items that were irrelevant to their situations, thus slanting the results toward behavioral, rather than attitudinal responses. The 60 items (most of which are shown in Table One) tapped different categories of costs, and also the different cost-types: money, effort, time, risk and psychological costs. Since this is an exploratory study, and since many cost sensitivities would be highly product-specific, no attempt was made to account for each and every possibility implied by the theoretical framework (55 different cells, not all of which correspond to common situations). Rather, items were selected that applied to a variety of products and situations and that could suggest practical applications. Demographic and psychographic items were included. Also the questionnaire included five items asking for respondents' choices among different brands and retailing situations (sources), which had been selected for their likelihood of revealing differences in cost-sensitivities, as well as their familiarity to most consumers. Options were offered for these items which seemed to express a range of different cost tradeoffs.

The pretested questionnaire was administered to a convenience sample of 315 adults in the Philadelphia metropolitan area during 1989/90Cundergraduate and MBA students, and also one, or sometimes two, friends or family members of the students . No attempt was made to design and implement a sample statistically representative of any defineable population, as our research budget (nil) did not permit such rigor. However, the sample was sufficiently large and diverse to serve as a basis for an exploratory investigation of cost sensitivities. In 1990, data also were gathered from a similarly selected sample in Singapore (n = 337): that is, students, plus students' families, friends and coworkers. While Singapore is geographically far-distant from Philadelphia, it is a modern city in which education is predominantly English-based. Minor adjustments in item wording were made to accomodate local idiom. Our Singapore sample is biased toward upscale respondents of Chinese backgrounds, and (needless to say) deficient in non-English speaking segments (Chinese, Malay and Indian). Thus this sample is no more a cross-section of Singaporeans than our U.S. sample represents an American cross-section. On the other hand, the design and implemention of our two samples are comparable, providing a basis for comparing and contrasting similar consumers from two diverse cultural settings.

Eleven summative indices were constructed, representing dimensions of cost-related attitudes and behaviors suggested by our theoretical framework. Table One shows the items comprising these indices. Items were assigned to indices based on factor analysis results, conceptual consistency and on the degree to which each correlated with its respective index (none had item-index correlations of < |.50|, and only two were <|.60|). For items having negative correlations with their indices, scores were reflected ( i.e., subtracted from 6.0) before being summed. Reliabilities (Cronbach's alpha) for the indices ranged from .50 to .73, considered satisfactory for newly-developed scales in the early stages of research (Peter, 1979), but suggesting a need for continued development as this project moves beyond the exploratory stage. The indices are:

Buying Anxiety (BA), a psychological cost. People strong on this index might be willing to trade off other types of costs (e.g., money, effort) to reduce their worries over purchasing.

Credit Buying (CB), the respondent's propensity to use credit, and credit cards, in making purchases.

Household Frugality (HF), behaviors aimed at economy in operating a household.

Hands-on-Economizing (HO), the extent to which respondents feel inclined to expend time and effort on "do-it-yourself" building or assembly projects.

Household Promotion (HP), the situation of households in which purchasers (e.g., mothers) may have to persuade users (e.g., children) to eat food or wear clothing or take medicines purchased for them.

Positive on Housework (PH), the tendency to view household tasks and duties as a neutral or even positive pastime, rather than as a cost of consumption.

Procurement Intensity (PI), a respondent's willingness to actively expend time and effort to maximize the monetary value of purchases.

Price No Object (PN), the degree to which price and economy are minor factors in an individual's purchase decisions.

Quality and Style Consciousness (QC), a tendency to place importance on achieving and maintaining quality in one's purchases.

Shopping Pleasure (SP), the extent to which a person views the act of shopping as an enjoyable form of recreation rather than as a cost.

Save Time Not Money (ST), the tendency to pay higher prices (perhaps even at the cost of quality) if doing so will result in time savings.

To investigate patterns of cost-sensitivity associated with different types of brand and source options, five additional items were included in the questionaire, covering: brands of ice cream; sources for baked goods, small appliances and dressy clothing; and preferences among types of dinners. While the product categories investigated were the same for both samples, different choices were offered to reflect local variations.


We will look at the American and Singaporean patterns of responses to these items separately (Tables Two and Three, respectively), and then analyze them comparatively. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to assess the significances of differences in index scores across choices among brand and source options.



American Patterns of Cost-Sensitivities (Table Two)

Several of the cost indices show roughly linear relationships with our American sample's choices of "ice cream for use at home". Those strongest on PI, HF and BA tend to favor the cheapest alternatives-store brand or whatever is on sale. Conversely, those strongest on PN, ST and SP lean toward the super-premium end of the spectrum. It appears that the former group seeks value for money, while the latter is more self-indulgent. At least in the context of purchasing ice cream, it seems that "buying anxiety" may pertain to concerns that the more expensive options may not offer adequate value for their enhanced prices.

The extremes offered on "source for baked goods" were "convenience store" (quick, high-priced and average quality) versus "prefer to bake them myself" (higher quality and cheaper but requiring much more effort). While saving money (HF and its converse, PN) did make a difference for this product category, time-saving (ST) yielded a more significant difference among the four choices. Larger still were the differences on the index, PH-"positive on housework." Those who prefer to do their own baking indicated that they view household chores as far less costly than those who opted for any of the other choices.

As with the previous two items, the money-related indices, HF and PN, showed big differences across the five choices offered as to where respondents would seek a small household appliance. "Catalog showroom" and "discount store" attracted the price conscious (strong on HF, weak on PN). Those who favored "department store" were strong on PN, ST and CB, and the weakest on HF.

The bulk of our American sample chose department stores as their preferred source for "clothing to dress up in." This group had strong scores on PN and ST and conversely, among the weakest scores on HF and PI. The value-seekers (strongest on PI and HF) opted for "off price stores". Very few chose "discount store" or "tailor" as their preferred source for dressy clothes. The discount store option attracted those with weakest scores on QC, PN, ST and HO. Those who would use a tailor were too few for reliable analysis, but their strong score on QC and weak score on HF suggest they do so in quest of high quality clothing.

Similarly to the "baked goods" item, "dinner for self" differentiated sharply on the PH and ST indices. That is, those who preferred to do it themselves indicated less sensitivity to the costs of their time, and tended less to view housework as a cost. Among the do-it-yourself segment, "cook from scratch" showed some interesting differences from "heat up prepared food". The latter group had a much weaker score on PH as well as a stronger score on ST, suggesting that to them prepared (convenience) food represented a less risky as well as more time-efficient option. Both these groups were relatively strong on BA, reprising similar results for the ice cream item and again suggesting that their "buying anxieties" center around whether or not they feel they are getting value for money.

Singaporean Patterns of Cost-Sensitivities (Table Three)

The index means for, "When buying ice cream to eat at home, I would probably buy . . . ?" , show virtually linear relationships along the continuum from "super-premium" to "bargain brand." Indices PI and BA strengthen as the price drops. Conversely, QC, PN, ST, SP and CB are strongest for "super-premium" and weakest for "bargain brand." In other words, those in our Singaporean sample who like to shop, who are inclined toward quality and who don't mind spending money tend to go for "super-premium," while "bargain brand" tends to attract those who put effort into maximizing monetary value of their purchases. As with the American sample, Buying Anxiety (BA) in this situation apparently indicates a tendency to select a cheaper brand out of fear of paying more for the higher-priced brands than they actually are worth.

Asked their preferred sources for baked goods, the majority of our Singapore sample indicated they would visit a bakery. The few who said they would "bake it themselves" had the strongest scores on HP and PH, and the weakest score on ST, indicating less sensitivity to the cost of doing housework and the cost of time. Supermarkets and convenience stores (e.g., 7-11), apparently representing a relative savings of time, had the greatest attraction for people with strong ST scores. "Convenience store" also had the weakest score on SP, suggesting that this choice drew people who, more than others, see the act of shopping as unpleasant and therefore tend to account it as a cost.

The majority of our Singapore sample, asked where they would buy a small household appliance (e.g., blender, steam iron), chose either department store or specialty shop. None of the cost indices showed a significant difference across the four source choices offered.

Of the five items on brand or source choice, only "clothing to dress up in" has visible and obvious status or fashion implications. Boutique stores apparently seemed like home to the people with strong scores on QC, PN, ST, SP and CB. Conversely those opting for discount stores were weakest on QC and PN. Those who would have their dress-up clothes tailored had the weakest scores on SP and ST, suggesting indifference to the pleasures of shopping and less urgency than those who made other choices. Those who chose a clothing shop in a town center were the weakest group on CB, possibly reflecting more traditional orientations (credit cards being a recent, modern innovation in Singapore).

Asked what they would do when they decide to have dinner for themselves, hawker centres were the most popular choice of our Singaporean sample. The group selecting home delivery was small, but extreme in their cost-sensitivitiesCthey were strongest on ST and CB, and weakest on PH, HO and BA. The strongest score on SP was with those who would go to a restaurant (they also were strong on CB); and this of the choices offered may bear the strongest similarity to "shopping as recreation". Some interesting differences emerged between those who chose "Cook from scratch with fresh ingredients" and those choosing "Heat up prepared food (e.g., canned or frozen)". "Cook from scratch" had the weakest scores of any group on ST, SP and CB: less sensitive to the costs of time, and more sensitive to the costs of shopping. They also had the strongest score on PH, indicating they like to cook. "Heat up prepared food" was strongest of all on BA and HO, and relatively strong on ST, but relatively weak on PH; in other words they tend toward "D.I.Y. projects", but shy away from housework. They don't want to spend time, and they are anxious about outcomes of consumption decisions. This combination of non-monetary cost-sensitivities amounts to a neat summation of the advantages of convenience foods to be cooked at home.

Comparison between the American and Singaporean samples

While our two samples were drawn from opposite sides of the globe, yet we found many similar patterns in their cost sensitivities relative to the five source and brand choice items reported here. For example, in both groups "super-premium ice cream" attracted respondents who liked to shop and spend money-perhaps these could be labeled "self-indulgent", at least in terms of their cost-sensitivities. Also for both samples, those who preferred cooking and baking from scratch scored low on time-saving and high on viewing housework as a relatively less costly activity.





However, interesting differences emerged as well. For the United States sample, three indices yielded statistically significant differences on every item: Household Frugality (HF), Price no Object (PN) and Save Time, not Money (ST). Each of these three indices has price implications. For the Singapore sample, two indices consistently showed significant differences: Shopping Pleasure (SP) and Save Time, not Money (ST). Furthermore, Household Frugality (HF) showed no significant differences at all for the Singapore sample. This seems to contradict stereotypes of Chinese as being relatively money-minded (e.g., Sowell, 1983). One clue to the greater observed effects of price concerns among Americans as compared to Singaporeans may lie in the two nations' relative savings rates. Singapore enjoys the highest rate of savings in the world, 46% of Gross National Product (Singapore Straits Times, 1993), while Americans are notoriously low on this measure. Possibly, among Singaporeans, striving to buy at a low price is a parameter, not a variable. However, a perhaps more parsimonious explanation for the difference on "Household Frugality" is that the items comprising this index may not apply well to Singapore, where couponing, etc, are less extensively used, and where shopping poses quite different transportation problems than it does in the US, where car ownership is more the norm. This latter possibility also underlines a pitfall of cross-cultural research, namely, differential applicability of metrics.

Singaporeans are thought to be avid shoppers-local lore has it that working, eating and shopping are the three activities of choice there. These results show source and brand choice varying according to the degree that Singaporeans find pleasure in that activity, suggesting that not all Singaporeans fit the local stereotype. Interestingly, the cost index on which having clothing tailor-made stands out is Shopping Pleasure (SP): it is the lowest on this of any of the choices of clothing source. Going to a tailor certainly does save the trouble of scouring store after store for the right combination of fabric, style and fit, and in Singapore the price difference is not great.

It is interesting to note that Hands-On Economizing (HO) was not a strong factor for either the "baked goods" or the "dinner for self" items, for either sample. Saving money via D.I.Y. is thought to be a major motive for IKEA patrons. Possibly, neither baked goods nor dinners entails sums sufficient to activate this dimension. In fact, in Singapore it is no more expensive to eat at a hawker center than to eat at home, and considerably less trouble.

But for the most part, patterns of responses to the brand and source choice items indicate that our conceptualization of non-monetary consumer cost sensitivities, originally derived in an American context, apply also to Singaporean consumers. Despite the differences noted above, many similar patterns of cost sensitivities vis-a-vis source and brand choice were found, at levels of statistical significance flagging them as worthy of note.


There is no point in drawing strong conclusions about similarities and differences found between two non-representative convenience samples containing disproportionate numbers of business students. While differences in cost-sensitivies corresponding to their respective patterns of source and brand choice were highly significant, these results, although suggestive, cannot be generalized with certainty to either of their respective populations. Rather, this research has accomplished three things:

1. As did previously reported findings, these results provide further empirical support for the validity of our conceptual framework, the idea that non-monetary as well as monetary costs play important roles in consumer decision-making. These results were limited to decisions regarding brand and source. Additional research along these lines could investigate cost sensitivities at other points along the total consumption process, for example patronage patterns, consumption strategies, logistics, response to promotional appeals and other important areas of consumer decision-making

2. Further, these results show that this framework applies across samples drawn from two quite different cultures. The instrument and approach are general enough that with relatively little modification, they can be applied to other (developed) cultures as well. This framework intuitively seems potentially to apply also to less developed cultures, which, we might expect, would be less sensitive to the costs of time and more so to monetary costs: more strongly oriented toward "make" than to "buy". Comparative research on consumer cost-sensitivities in less developed, or emerging, nations may be of interest. However, problems of language, literacy and expense will pose barriers to rigorous research in those situations.

3. These results show that the cost-sensitivities investigated vary across several sets of source and brand choices, in ways that, given more focused and applications-oriented research, could provide useful guidance for a wide range of managerial decisions regarding product, channel and promotion strategies. Indeed, practitioners have for decades, perhaps even centuries, been incorporating consumer cost-sensitivities into just such decisions.

There remains much additional, more rigorous, research to be done in this area. Subsequent waves of this study will be based on an improved version of the questionnaire and more representative samples.


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G. Ray Funkhouser, National University of Singapore
Richard Parker, Rowan College of New Jersey
Anindya Chatterjee, Slippery Rock University


AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1 | 1994

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