An Exploratory Study of Children’S Purchase Influence in Urban China

ABSTRACT - The one-child policy in the People’s Republic of China has created a generation of only children in many urban areas. Popularly called xiao huang di, or little emperors, these only children are widely believed to be an important market force. For this reason, urban China offers a unique environment in which to study the influence of children in family purchase decision-making. The objective of this study is to explore to what extent U.S. findings related to the purchase influence of children are applicable in the newly emerging market economies of urban China. To this end, research propositions are developed and preliminary results from a study of food consumption activities are presented.



Citation:

Laura A. Williams and Ann Veeck (1998) ,"An Exploratory Study of Children’S Purchase Influence in Urban China", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, eds. Kineta Hung and Kent B. Monroe, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 13-19.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, 1998      Pages 13-19

AN EXPLORATORY STUDY OF CHILDREN’S PURCHASE INFLUENCE IN URBAN CHINA

Laura A. Williams, San Diego State University, U.S.A.

Ann Veeck, Louisiana State University, U.S.A.

ABSTRACT -

The one-child policy in the People’s Republic of China has created a generation of only children in many urban areas. Popularly called xiao huang di, or little emperors, these only children are widely believed to be an important market force. For this reason, urban China offers a unique environment in which to study the influence of children in family purchase decision-making. The objective of this study is to explore to what extent U.S. findings related to the purchase influence of children are applicable in the newly emerging market economies of urban China. To this end, research propositions are developed and preliminary results from a study of food consumption activities are presented.

INTRODUCTION

In the late 1970’s in the People’s Republic of China, two radical sets of policies were initiated, each with dramatic, nation-transforming results. The first was the wide-sweeping economic reforms that have opened the Chinese economy to the outside world and led to a remarkable growth in GNP, averaging near 10% annually in the last fifteen years. The second was the draconian population control measures that, while showing very recent signs of relaxation (Kahn 1997), have led to a generation of urban dwellers growing up as only children.

While numerous interesting outcomes are associated with each of these sets of policies, the interaction of these effects has led to a particularly intriguing phenomenon. Stated plainly, precisely when Chinese adults are suddenly experiencing a new environment of consumption choice and are enjoying increased spending power, 50 million urban Chinese children are growing up in the singular position to enjoy the benefits of a consumer culture, with no siblings to compete for the spoils. Popularly called xiao huang di, or little emperors, these only children are widely believed to be spoiled by doting parents, grandparents, other relatives, and friends (Goll 1995; Johnstone 1996). Hoping to reap the benefits of this phenomenon, many manufacturers and retailers, both Chinese and international, are zeroing in on urban children, targeting youngsters with a large assortment of goods and services, from Sesame Street (Tung 1997) to Wahaha nutritional drinks (Kaye 1993) to Barbie dolls (Parker-Pope and Bannon 1997).

Indeed, there is evidence that a large proportion of the spending money of urban Chinese families is allocated to expenses associated with their children, with estimates hovering near 50% (Davis and Sensenbrenner 1999; Xi 1996). But, to what extent the popularly-believed myth that these spoiled children hold their parents’ pocketbooks in their hands holds true is unclear. There is some evidence that parents’ sensibilities may prevail over the selfish desires of children. The presence of strong family values that place a high priority on children’s educational and physical development may lead to parents being much more willing to spend money on products that enhance their offsprings’ education and health rather than on those that are coveted by their children (Chu and Ju 1993; Davis and Sensenbrenner 1999; Scary 1996). Altogether, there remains a need to examine the extent and in what ways urban Chinese children influence their families’ spending patterns.

Given this backdrop, urban China offers a unique environment in which to study the influence of children in family purchase decision-making. Largely investigated in the U.S., this area of research would benefit greatly from the additional understanding of cross-national nuances. One important study by McNeal and Ji (1996) of 626 urban Chinese households suggested that urban Chinese children may have the highest purchasing influence in the world, pointing to the need for further investigation as to how and why Chinese children exert these influences.

The objective of this study is the explore to what extent U.S. findings related to the purchase influence of children are applicable in the newly emerging market economies of urban China. To do so, the paper will proceed as follows. First, using the research conducted to date on American children as a framework, a number of propositions related to the purchase influence of urban Chinese children will be developed. Then, the verity of the propositions will be examined for consistency with the findings of preliminary data collected on food consumption behaviors in urban China. It is hoped that this research will begin to uncover similarities and differences between American and urban Chinese children’s influence on purchase decisions.

LITERATURE REVIEW AND RESEARCH PROPOSITION DEVELOPMENT

Research on the influence of American children in family purchase decision-making dates back to the 1960s when Berey and Pollay (1968) conducted a study on the child’s role as influencer in cereal purchase decisions. Since that time, several studies have examined children’s influence. It has been found that children exert varying degrees of influence on family decision processes and that children’s influence varies by product, child, parental and family characteristics (Mangleburg 1990).

Although these findings have been replicated across studies, the samples have largely been only in the United States. To date, few studies have examined the universality of these findings with samples from other cultures. This research begins to address this issue by developing research propositions for the study of urban Chinese children. In order to develop research propositions, the following procedure will be followed. First, a summary of the theory developed to date will be provided. This will be followed by a discussion of what variation is expected in urban Chinese families.

Product Decisions

Numerous studies of American children have shown that child influence on family purchase decisions varies by product. For example, Foxman and Tansuhaj (1988) studied the impact of product category and product importance on the relative influence of family members in purchase decisions. They found that children have more influence in the selection of products for which the child is a primary user or consumer. For example, research indicates that children are influential in the purchases of cereal (Belch et al 1985), vacations (Belch et al 1985; Jenkins 1979), toys (Burns and Harrison 1985), and movies (Darley and Lim 1986).

As with American families, it is expected that urban Chinese children will exert great influence on purchases of products for their primary consumption. A recent survey of urban Chinese families’ grocery shopping behavior revealed that children select almost half of the products bought, almost double the amount of influence typically accorded to American children. On average, an urban Chinese family was found to spend $1077 on groceries per year, $448 of which was determined by the child. The products with which children were shown to have a large amount of influence included beverages, snacks, and dairy products, all product categories in which children are the primary consumers (McNeal and Wu 1995).

In addition, it is expected that Chinese children will also have a large amount of influence on purchase decisions that affect the entire family. Research has found urban Chinese children to be influential in the selection of leisure activities for the family. Since the introduction of the long weekend, a decree by the Chinese government changing the workweek from 48 to 40 hours, and the change in the school week from 34 to 30 hours, families have had more leisure time. The choice of how to spend that time has been primarily left to the child (McNeal and Ji 1996). In fact, one study shows that children decide on leisure destinations in 80 percent of urban Chinese families (McNeal and Ji 1996). Another stdy, conducted in Beijing, found that children often selected restaurants on behalf of their families, with fast food restaurants often being the first choice (Yan 1999). Other evidence of the influence of children is implied by the amount of advertising dollars spent promoting directly to children. Asian Business magazine reports that in 1995, $13 million was spent in advertising targeted toward children aged 4 to 12. Thus, the following research proposition is suggested:

P1:  Urban Chinese children will exert great influence in the selection of products for their own and their families’ consumption.

Decision-Making Processes

A number of studies have assessed American children’s influence on family decision processes. Across these studies, American children exerted the most influence during problem recognition and search stages (Szybillo and Sosanie 1977; Nelson 1978) and the least influence during the choice stage (Szybillo and Sosanie 1977; Nelson 1978; Belch et al 1985). In addition, children exerted little influence on the decisions of how much to spend (Szybillo and Sosanie 1977; Jenkins 1979; Belch et al 1985), where to go (Belch et al 1985; Jenkins 1979), and transportation mode (Jenkins 1979).

In contrast, urban Chinese children are expected to exert influence in all stages, including problem recognition, search, and choice. In addition, it is felt that urban Chinese children will exert influence in decisions of where to go and the transportation mode. In a study of 626 urban Chinese families, McNeal (1996) found that children were said to recommend the transportation mode for the family in 69% of family travels. In addition, children were accorded influence in many aspects of shopping decisions. In 70% of the families, children decided when to shop and where to shop. Only the decision of where to stay during travel was found to be primarily a parental decision, although children expressed opinions in 26% of the families. Thus, the following research proposition is suggested,

P2:  Urban Chinese children will exert influence in all stages of the decision-making process.

Child and Family Characteristics

A number of studies have examined how demographic variables specific to the child and his/her family affect children’s influence. For example, research indicates that American children have more influence in purchase decision making as they grow older (Atkin 1978; Darley and Lim 1986; Moschis and Mitchell 1986; Nelson 1978; Ward and Wackman 1972). In addition to the child’s age, the gender of the child may affect his/her influence in family decisions. One study found that female children are more influential than male children and that children who earn income have more influence in purchase decisions than those children who do not (Moschis and Mitchell 1986).

Other results from the U.S. indicate that children who are members of middle class and higher income families may have more influence in purchase decisions than children in low income, low social class families (Atkin 1978; Moschis and Mitchell 1986; Nelson 1978). In addition, children who live in single parent households may have greater influence than children in dual parent households (Darley and Lim 1986). Finally, in large families, children are more likely to be involved in decision-making processes (Nelson 1978).

Some of the U.S. findings concerning child and family characteristics are expected to hold in China, some are expected to be irrelevant, and at least one is expected to vary. One of the U.S. findings that is irrelevant for urban Chinese families is the finding involving family size. For the past seventeen years, virtually all urban families have been restricted to one offspring. With little variation in family size, it is not appropriate to examine the effect of number of children on purchase influence. However, it is important to point out that as of quite recently, in select areas including the huge metropolis of Shanghai, the one-child policy is being revised to a two-child policy (Kahn 1997). As such, in the future, family size could become an important variable in the purchase influence of children in urban China.

Another U.S. finding that is largely irrelevant compares single-parent to dual-parent households. At present, too few single parent households exist in China to merit study. Again, however, change is afoot. With the enactment of more liberal divorce laws, the divorce rate has been steadily climbing in urban areas. In the cities of Shanghai and Beijing, the current divorce rate is reportedly as high as 25% (Chen 1995). This too may merit study in future years.

One of the U.S. findings that can be expected to hold in urban China is that children from higher income families will exert more influence on purchase decisions than will children from lower income families. Lower income families in China are still struggling to pay for basic necessities such as staple foods and rudimentary clothing. As such, these families will spend little on the products with which children typically have the most influence, such as leisure activities and snack foods. While the one-child phenomena ensures that child-related expenditures will be more uniform across income levels than would be the case with larger families (Davis and Sensenbrenner 1999), lower income families do not have the luxury of allowing their children to contribute to purchase decisions. This leads to the following proposition:

P3:  Urban Chinese children from higher income families will exert more influence on purchase decisions than will children from lower income families.

Further, similar to the U.S. finding, it is expected that as urban Chinese children growolder, they will have more influence on family purchase decisions. This follows from the fact that the purchase decisions on which children may exert influence, such as expenditure of leisure time and transportation, require knowledge and experience that can only be acquired with age. That proposition can be stated as follows:

P4:  Older urban Chinese children will exert more influence on purchase decisions than will younger urban Chinese children.

One important difference from the U.S. findings related to child characteristics is expected for urban Chinese children. Given the fact that most urban Chinese children are currently only children, it is expected that male and female children should have equal influence in purchase decisions. That is, with no competition from siblings, the gender of the child should not affect a child’s influence. This proposition is supported by a study of Shanghai children that found that parents of boys and girls spent approximately equal amounts on educational expenses and toys (Davis and Sensenbrenner 1999). Thus, the following proposition should follow:

P5:  Male and female urban Chinese children will have equal influence in purchase decisions.

In summary, studies have found that American children exert varying degrees of influence on family decision processes and that American children’s influence varies by product, child, and family characteristics. However, as discussed previously, research has not explored how these relationships may vary across cultures. It is suggested that some variation may be expected in the urban Chinese population. Primary areas where differences from American children are expected include influence exerted in decision processes and the effect of gender on influence.

METHODOLOGY

The data examined in this study originates from a larger study of food consumption patterns that occurred during the 1995-96 academic year in Nanjing, China and involved joint research with the School of International Business of Nanjing University. Nanjing, population 2.8 million, was selected as the site for the study, as it is fairly representative of cities in China that are experiencing change in the 1990s. While the primary purpose of the research was not to investigate the purchase influence of children, it became a secondary theme as the study unfolded. The major study used multi-method ethnographic field methods to place consumption influences in their full environmental context. Thedata from three of these methods-nonparticipant observations, focus groups, and in depth interviews-were analyzed to uncover themes related to the purchase influence of children. Each of these methods will be briefly described as follows.

The nonparticipant observations involved accompanying twenty informants as they conducted routine food shopping trips. Informants were selected through purposive sampling, i.e. selecting respondents sequentially and judiciously according to issues and questions that arose as the research unfolded (Lincoln and Guba 1985). Variety and contrast was used as a guide to recruitment of respondents (Penaloza 1994), with contrasts including young/old; large household/small household; low income/high income; busy/not busy; household with baby/household with older child. Each formal observation started and ended at the informants’ homes. These consumers were questioned on every step of their shopping trips, including the influences of each consumption choice. The informants were then accompanied home and observed as they and other household members participated in the preparation of a meal. All of these observations were audio-recorded and later important descriptions and quotations were translated and transcribed.

In addition to the observations of these 20 shopping trips, three focus groups, incorporating a total of 26 primary food shoppers, were recorded. Each focus group represented a different age range of consumer, i.e. 25-35, 36-45, and 46-65. Aside from age and food shopping experience, there were no specific requirements for participation in the groups, but an attempt was made to find respondents who were diverse in location (within the city of Nanjing) and profession. The focus groups allowed the in-depth exploration of particular areas of interest, including the effect of the preference of children on consumption. Each focus group was translated and transcribed.

The study also included twenty in depth interviews with retailers, such as a bakery owner, a KFC manager, a McDonald’s manager, and a supermarket manager. As with the nonparticipant observations, the subjects were chosen via purposive sampling, with evolving research interests dictating the choices. Those interviewed addressed a number of topics, including trends in the retail environment and characteristics of consumers. Again, all interviews were translated and transcribed.

To examine the research propositions, data from the observations, focus groups, and interviews were examined to uncover evidence related to the influence of children on consumption activities. Next, these items were assessed vis-a-vis the propositions to examine to what extent the data substantiated the propositions. The findings related to this analysis are presented in the following section.

PRELIMINARY FINDINGS

The overall finding from examination of the data is that, at least in Nanjing, China, children appear to have an overwhelming influence on the their families’ food consumption behavior. Time and time again, parents attributed their choices in food purchases to a desire to please their children. For example, during the focus group for respondents aged 26 to 35, when asked who had the most influence on food buying decisions in their family, the respondents chorused, "My child." Following is a sample of quotes from all three of the focus groups that represent the substantial influence that children appear to have on food buying decisions:

I serve what my child wants. Almost every meal, I ask her what she’d like. (Female, 30)

First we meet the desires of our grandchild, and then our daughter and son-in-law. We don’t care what we eat. Our grandchild likes her meals to be varied, so I try to change the food and breakfast to satisfy her. (Female, 67)

I buy food every day after work...I mainly consider what my child wants when I buy food. (Female, 40)

Each time I buy food, my first consideration is my son. I seldom think of myself. I like what my husband and my son like. (Female, 31)

My husband’s family is Hui minority, so beef is our main food. My son also likes to eat beef. Pork never enters my home. Along with beef, I will buy chicken or anything else my son likes to eat. (Female, 33)

The prevalence of making food purchase choices in view of pleasing children is represented particularly poignantly by a 57-year-old female retiree, who, upon being left with an empty nest, expressed bafflement at making food choices:

I am often puzzled when I have to decide what to eat every day. At our age, we have neither old parents nor young children living with us. Since before we always cared about them more than we cared about ourselves, it is only in recent years that we’ve been able to think of ourselves. One should not save money from one’s mouth. I think it’s true that you look after your children by looking after yourselves. So, I pay a lot of attention to nutrition. I will not buy fashionable food. (Female, 57)

Note that the woman has solved her dilemma by continuing to frame her food choices in terms of meeting the needs of her children, even in their absence.

In the following sections, evidence corroborating each of the propositions will be examined.

Product Decisions

The first proposition suggests that children will exert a great amount of influence over products that are primarily for their personal consumption. In addition to the evidence already presented related to food buying, the data also contained a number of examples in which parents felt pressure to buy food items solely for their children. One mother noted that she shopped in supermarkets exclusively to buy products for her 4-year-old son:

I don't use supermarkets very much because they are expensive. I use them to buy packaged food for my child. I buy him potato chips, chocolate, candy, jellies, and salted snacks. I don't like my child to eat too much of that stuff, though, because it will make him lose his appetite and then he won’t eat nomal foods. (Female, 29)

Several parents noted that food advertisers often target their products, particularly snack foods, candy, and, beverages, toward children. Their children would subsequently beg them to buy those products. One mother told the following story related to one advertiser’s hold on her daughter:

I’ve noticed that there are more and more advertisements for children’s food. .. For example, my daughter once bought a kind of candy, a jumping ball, after she saw a commercial for it. She found out that if you collect 28 balls, you can participate in a lottery and have a chance to win a grand prize. So she bothered us to buy her one every day. Once she lost one and then she even cried. (Female, 32)

Another mother seemed to feel that products directly targeted to children were priced artificially high to take advantage of a child-centered society:

Children’s food is getting more and more expensive. Advertisers know that it’s easy to get money from parents in a one-child family. Only children want everything that they see other children with. (Female, 33)

One mother lamented that because children’s products are so expensive, she finds herself sacrificing her own desires to cater to her daughter’s wishes:

Everything for children-what they eat, what they wear, what they play with-are all very expensive. Sometimes we adults want to buy something for ourselves, but in the consideration of what our child needs, likes, etc., our needs get degraded to second place. (Female, 32)

While there was a great deal of evidence that many children successfully apply pressure to obtain products for their personal consumption, there was evidence that children also have a substantial influence on consumption decisions affecting the whole family. This phenomenon will be discussed further in the next section.

Decision-Making Processes

The second proposition relates to the stages in decision-making in which children have influence. The proposition that urban Chinese children exert influence in all stages of the decision process appears to have tentative support from the data. There was evidence that children apply their influence not only during the problem recognition and search stages, but also during the choice stage. Children in Nanjing often accompany their parents on food shopping trips and tend to be quite vocal about their preferences. For example, the mother of a 7-year-old said that she almost always goes shopping with her daughter and involves her in the decisions:

We have fun shopping. My daughter comes with me and it becomes like an adventure. We have fun looking around and choosing things. (Female, 35)

Of course, a child does not have to be physically present during a shopping trip to have influence on choice. One man observed:

Before a family goes to the market, they always ask their children what they want to eat and what they like. (Male, 25)

The son of a man who was a rather accomplished cook went to even more extreme lengths to get what he wanted:

Once my son bought a cookbook. Then he looked through and selected some dishes and asked me to cook them for him. So I did. (Male, 49)

There is also a great deal of evidence that Nanjing children influence where families go to eat. According to parents, the children typically choose Western or Western-style fast food restaurants, particularly KFC. At the time of the study, KFC had a prominent presence in Nanjing, featuring six branches throughout the city. The first McDonald’s opened in Nanjing in January of 1996, halfway through the data collection period, but quickly achieved name recognition with children. The American owner of a Western-style restaurant that had recently closed for lack of business stated that the most certain way to have a successful operation is to cater to children:

...And then there’s the children. If you want to make money in this market, appeal to the children. That’s why the fast food restaurants will be successful. (Owner of failed Western-style restaurant)

The general manager of KFC in Nanjing agreed that children were the key to success in the business:

Now we are trying to establish a reception system at every branch, targeted toward children. Children are our major consumers. Many adults come to KFC just because their children want to. We have opened up a birthday celebration area and added playground equipment to attract children. (General Manager, KFC-Fuzimiao Branch)

Child and Family Characteristics

The final three propositions explore how characteristics of children and their families affect children’s influence on purchase decisions. The first of these propositions, suggesting that children from higher income families will have greater influence on purchase decisions than will children from lower income families, was difficult to evaluate via the data set. Unquestionably, with the newly developed consumer market in Nanjing, all families are bound to be experiencing pressure from their children to buy products that were not available to the parents when they were young. But how the widening income gap affects consumption choice is unclear. One older woman described these recent changes in the consumer environment quite eloquently:

The burden for the younger generation of raising children is quite different than our’s. In our time, tuition was free, and you only had to pay for books. And since everyone had the same standard of living, it wasn’t common to compare one another. So children didn’t have all these desires. That is quite different from now. Children from poor families tend to compare themselves with those from rich families, who wear brand-name clothes and shoes and sing karaoe. They then ask their parents to give them the same things, although their families don’t have high-level salaries. Considering that there is only one child per family and the tradition that parents must try their best to satisfy their children, these parents have a tough burden. So, income gaps are becoming larger and larger. (Female, 56)

Among the respondents, it was observed that the two children from the highest income families were able to successfully influence their parents to buy higher priced products. One was the 7-year-old child mentioned previously who always accompanied her mother on shopping trips, upon which "it becomes like an adventure." This pair was observed on a shopping trip in which the daughter requested, and received, a rather expensive donut. The other high-income family included the mother who bought her four-year-old son "potato chips, chocolate, candy, jellies, and salted snacks." These are all relatively high-ticket items that are difficult for the average Nanjing family to afford to buy regularly.

On the other hand, the parents from the two lowest income families among the respondents both stated that they would not allow their children to eat snack foods or candy for nutritional reasons. The female adult of one of these families stated:

I never buy processed food. It’s too expensive. My teeth are very bad. I ate candy and chocolate when I was little, and they destroyed my teeth. I only want my children to eat fruit. (Female, 29)

The male adult of the other low-income family said:

I don’t shop in supermarkets. All the food is wrapped up and you can’t see in it to know if it’s good or not. It’s hard to choose. Plus, most of the food in the supermarkets are just snacks, and my child doesn’t like snacks. Eating snacks isn’t a good habit. (Male, 35)

Note, however, that according to this father, his daughter has no interest in eating the relatively expensive snack foods. Altogether, while these scant observations do not provide conclusive support, they offer tentative support to the proposition that children have greater influence in higher income families.

The next proposition, related to the characteristics of the child, suggests that older children have more purchase influence than do younger children. Certainly, given that age brings greater purchase experience and knowledge, this proposition makes intuitive sense, regardless of the consumer environment. While all of the parents in the Nanjing sample seem to cater to their children’s desires, the older children’s food requests seemed to be formulated more specifically. For example, the father of a 17-year-old said:

I buy pork chops just for my son. My son, like all young people, likes to eat meat. So, we buy pork and chicken just for him. He doesn’t like fatty product so we buy him lean meat. Also, my son is picky-he likes his chicken stir-fried, not boiled in broth. (Male, 45)

Similarly, the mother of a 15-year-old child stated:

I buy meat about every other day. I buy a lot of meat, because my son is so tall and he eats a lot of meat. Yesterday I bought 15 yuan worth of meat. Our son is the center of our lives. I plan meals with our son’s desires in mind. (Female, 42)

The purchase influence attempts of younger children, on the other hand, tend to be more spontaneously influenced by point-of-purchase cues. Several parents of children in the 59 age range noted that they felt pressured by their children on family outings and shopping excursions to buy snacks and other treats that were prominently displayed. Thus, the proposition that older children affect purchase decisions more than younger children is also tentatively supported by the data.

The final proposition suggests that, given that urban Chinese families are almost exclusively one-child families, female and male children should exercise equal influence on purchase decisions. While this important proposition merits further exploration, there was no evidence among the data that specifically identified the gender of the child as a factor that affected the amount of a child’s influence. Rather, as implied by the data, the overwhelming finding from this study is that most respondents’ children, regardless of gender, exerted substantial influence on food consumption decisions.

DISCUSSION AND FUTURE RESEARCH

The findings of this research support the need to further explore urban Chinese children’s influence on purchase decisions. From a tentative and preliminary examination of research propositions, it is felt that there are important similarities and differences between American and urban Chinese children’s purchase influence. First, urban Chinese children are similar to American children in that they are allotted much influence in purchase decisions where the product is for their primary consumption. American and urban Chinese children are also similar in the amount of influence that they exert on the beginning stages in the decision-making process; that is, both American and urban Chinese children are accorded influence in problem recognition and search stages. Finally, there is also some limited support for the notion that American and urban Chinese children from higher income families exert greater influence in purchase decisions than children from lower income families and that older children have more influence than younger children.

Differences between American and urban Chinese children were also identified. First, as well as influencing decisions related to purchases for their primary use, urban Chinese children are also believed to be influential in purchase decisions involving the whole family. Second, there is some support that urban Chinese children exert influence in more stages of the decision-making process than do American children. Whereas American children are not accorded much influence in choice and decisions about how much to spend, where to go, and transportation mode, urban Chinese children appear to influence these facets of purchase decisions. Third, urban Chinese children may also differ from American children in the amount of influence that is related to the gender of the child. The tentative support for this proposition follows from the fact that urban Chinese families are restricted to one child and from the lack of evidence to the contrary in the present data set.

It is important to point out the limitations of these findings before suggesting avenues for future research. The purpose of this study was an exploratory look at the influence exerted by urban Chinese children. The sample utilized for this study is not considered to be representative and is, therefore, not generalizable to the urban Chinese population. The information provided herein is instead offered as an initial step in the ongoing study of children’s influence in urban China.

The insights provided by this exploratory study ca be utilized to identify areas for further research. First, the research propositions asserted herein should be further investigated with a larger, more representative sample. A second area which may offer interesting insight is to examine the degree to which urban Chinese children’s influence is attributable to direct versus indirect influence. Given the cultural differences present, it is reasonable to believe that urban Chinese children may exert considerable indirect influence. Another interesting research question would be to compare only-children in the United States to urban Chinese children. This comparison would highlight whether or not only-child status is the operant factor in influence differences or whether there is an underlying cultural difference which merits further investigation.

Altogether, these findings and future research suggestions are significant in that they highlight the importance of considering how geographical differences affect children’s influence in family decision-making. This need is supported by the potency of children in the global marketplace. Across twenty-seven industrialized nations, children represent a marketing segment of three-quarters of a billion consumers, equaling almost a quarter of the total population (McNeal 1992). In terms of dollar allocations, these children are conservatively accorded purchasing power of over $86 billion. The sheer size of the market segment of children and the important national differences that are likely to exist related to children’s influence of purchase decisions make this a burgeoning area for research.

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----------------------------------------

Authors

Laura A. Williams, San Diego State University, U.S.A.
Ann Veeck, Louisiana State University, U.S.A.



Volume

AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3 | 1998



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