The Influence of Country of Origin on Consumer Attitude and Buying Behavior in the United States and Canada

ABSTRACT - Intercept surveys with consumers in Canada and the United States were conducted to assess the consistency of consumer attitudes with consumer behavior following the purchase of an apparel product. The results across cultures suggest that information on-consumer attitude related to country of origin is not sufficient for making purchase assumptions.


Susan B. Hester and Mary Yuen (1987) ,"The Influence of Country of Origin on Consumer Attitude and Buying Behavior in the United States and Canada", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 14, eds. Melanie Wallendorf and Paul Anderson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 538-542.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 14, 1987      Pages 538-542


Susan B. Hester, Cornell University

Mary Yuen, Cornell University

[Funds to support this research were provided by the College Grants Committee, New York State College of Human Ecology.]


Intercept surveys with consumers in Canada and the United States were conducted to assess the consistency of consumer attitudes with consumer behavior following the purchase of an apparel product. The results across cultures suggest that information on-consumer attitude related to country of origin is not sufficient for making purchase assumptions.


In 1985, the U.S.- textile and apparel trade deficit reached 17 billion dollars, an increase of 25% over 1984, preceded by a 53% increase from 1983 to 1984 (U.S. Department of Commerce 1986). Textile and apparel imports were subject to both tariffs or explicit duties (averaging 22' ) and quotas or quantitative restrictions. Munger and Rehbein (1984) estimated that the 1984 costs to consumers for this protection were $19 billion for tariffs and $4.4 billion for Multifiber Arrangement (MFA) related quota restrictions. The increase in imported textile products to Canada has also resulted in the demand for protectionist policies by the Canadian textile and apparel industries. Jenkins ( 1980) estimated that the 1979 costs to consumers for protection in the clothing sector were $269.1 million for tariffs and $198.3 million for bilateral quota restrictions under the MFA.

The economic impact of these policies on consumers is evident, but consumers' ability to influence the adoption or modification of these policies is much less obvious. For this reason, recent studies have attempted to measure consumer attitudes toward imported versus domestic apparel. Dickerson's study of 1,350 consumers in 32 states ( 1982), and Gallup and Roper polls in 1983 concluded that U.S. citizens are influenced by a garment's country of origin, preferring American-made apparel and finding it to be of superior quality (Consumers Prefer American-Made Merchandise According to Gallup and Roper Polls 1984) . A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll in 1985 also used a nationwide telephone survey and round that of the 53% of consumers (N - 1,573) who looked at labels, 76% generally chose domestically produced apparel (Gilman). Another 1985 nationwide telephone and mall survey (N - 2,435) conducted for the domestic industry concluded that "These findings again demonstrate clearly that most people prefer clothing made in this country" (Crafted with Pride Update 1985, p. 2). The existence of a large and growing trade deficit during this period raises doubts about the conclusions of these studies .

The findings of the early Dickerson study (1982) were the catalyst for the formation of the Crafted with Pride in the U.S.A. Council, a coalition of 245 domestic industry and labor organizations. The Council has already spent millions of dollars to promote American textiles with sophisticated media campaigns; an additional $40 million advertising effort is planned for the next three years (Stars Join "Crafted with Pride" Campaign 1986). Two associated groups with many of the same members, the Fiber, Fabric and Apparel Coalition for Trade and the Man-made Fiber Producers Association, Inc., spent more than $1.8 million in the first nine months or 1985 in their lobbying and public relations efforts (Lobbyists' Spending Aimed at Tax and Textile Measures 1986).

No industry coalitions, on the scale of the U.S. Crafted With Pride Council, exist in Canada to promote domestically produced textile and apparel products. The nearest facsimile is the Think Canadian program initiated during the summer or 1984. Funded by the federal government's Department of Regional Industrial Expansion (DRIE), the program's mandate is to create nationwide awareness of Canadian-made goods. Unlike Crafted With Pride, the Think Canadian campaign is a comprehensive marketing program which is targeted at both the consumer and the industry segments.

Although consumer awareness was promoted by the use of national network television and print media at the beginning of the Canadian campaign, its major focus has been directed at mobilizing the private sector via the use of marketing seminars and special trade shows. The manufacturing and retailing sectors have been encouraged to clearly identify and promote domestically produced goods by using "Think Canadian" tags and labels, by featuring Canadian-made goods in advertising, and by drawing attention to Canadian products with point-of-purchase displays (DRIE 1984). Assistance to the apparel industry was provided by the Think Canadian program's sponsorship of regional designer and fashion associations in the 1986 Festival of Canadian Fashion.

Although the population or the U.S. is approximately ten times larger than that of Canada, the textile and clothing industries fulfill similar economic roles in their respective countries. The economic contribution of the U.S. textile and apparel industry is undeniable. The complex employs two million people directly, and one million more jobs are dependent on the viability of the sector. Wright and Kobel (1981) estimated that the Canadian textile and apparel complex employs approximately 200,000 people directly, and an additional 330,000 people are employed indirectly. The employment trend in both countries during the last decade has been one of steady decline, the losses due in part to the increase in imported apparel in the domestic markets.

Trade legislation and the expenditure of federal funds for activities such as technical assistance and the retraining and relocation of workers are important public policy issues which involve the allocation of national resources in Canada and the U.S. These are difficult decisions to make given the current economic and political climate in both countries. Legislators and those in policy making positions need as much information as possible in order to accurately assess the alternatives. Consumer input should be one of the variables considered.

A statement from the Consumers' Association of Canada (CAC) suggests that consumers are becoming more aware of the increasing costs of protection they must bear (CAC 1985). The question which remains to be answered 19 whether this knowledge will result in a demand for fewer import restrictions or in continued support for a protected domestic industry.

The purpose of this research was to test the assumption that consumer attitudes are accurately reflected tn consumer behavior and to assess the consistency of consumer attitudes with consumer behavior following the purchase of an apparel product. Recent polls and surveys have attempted to measure consumer attitudes toward imported versus domestic apparel in the United States and have concluded that U.S. consumers are influenced by a garment's country of origin, prefer American-made apparel, and find it to be of superior quality. Apparel import statistics give rise to questions about these conclusions.


Few research problems can so clearly identify a single point of origin as the one involving the relationship of attitude to behavior (A-B). This problem was first posed by La Piere (1934) and has been of interest to social scientists ever since. Whether, how, and under what circumstances attitude can predict behavior has become a research topic of burgeoning interest, particularly during the last two decades. Social psychologists are responsible for most of the work in this area, but the A-B problem is of interest to political scientists and economists as well, in part because this problem links theoretical issues to applied fields such as market research. Social psychologists usually study this issue on the micro level and look at the correlation between individuals' attitudes and their behavior. Political scientists and economists, in contrast, are usually more interested in aggregate predictions (Schuman and Johnson 1976) . This may be an advantage since some researchers have suggested that while individual correlations are often low, attitudes may stochastically predict behavior en masse (Katona. Strumpel, and Zahn ( 1971).

Social psychologists have expressed concern that conclusions from social scientific research, which are primarily based on verbal responses, are strongly influencing social action programs primarily concerned with overt behavior (Deutcher 1966). Economists, interested in public policy and the expenditure of public resources, likewise should be concerned. To paraphrase Wicker ( 1969) , caution should be exercised in making the claim that studies of verbal behavior are economically significant simply because the attitude objects are economically important. Most economically significant questions involve overt behavior, as well as people's feelings, and the assumption that these feelings will be directly translated into actions has not been consistently demonstrated.

Hundreds of studies designed to assess the relationship between attitude and behavior have been conducted since 1934, but their results have railed to yield a consensus among scholars in the field. For example, research has revealed everything from no relation between attitudes and behavior whatsoever (Corey 1937) to nearly perfect correlation observed in the context of voting behavior (Kelly and Mirer 1974).

Wicker ( 1969) reviewed 31 studies covering a wide range of subJect populations, verbal attitude measures, overt behavior measures, and attitude objects. He concluded that "taken as a whole, these studies suggest that it 19 considerably more likely that attitudes will be unrelated or only slightly related to overt behaviors than that attitudes will be closely related to actions" (p. 65). McGuire shares this view; after studying over a dozen reviews of empirical findings he concludes that only within quite limited circumstances do attitudes account for more than 10% of behavioral variance (1985).

Numerous reasons have been hypothesized for the apparent discrepancies in research findings. Situational forces (Hyman 1949), reference group pressures (Brannon et al. 1973), the strength, clarity, salience (Schuman and Johnson 1976), and accessibility of attitudes held (Fazio, Powell and Herr 1983) may all contribute to differences found. Direct experience and amount of information about the object may also play a role (Fazio and Zanna 1981). Wicker suggests that extraneous events may intercede in the process (1971). Blackwell and Engel (1982) explain this in the context of consumer behavior:

Common sense ought to indicate that attitude alone cannot fully explain a complex behavioral act; yet this has often been the expectation. Consideration also must be given to the moderating effect of social pressure, economic circumstances and expectations, attitude toward the situation in which the behavior takes place, and a variety of other factors. Examples could be exposure to new information, opportunity to make brand choices, the influence of competing brands. the effect of store environment, price, and financial constraints, and family decision processes (pp. 443>444).


In order to assess the relationship between consumer attitude and consumer behavior in an apparel purchase, the following objectives were formulated:

1. To assess at the point of purchase or as soon thereafter as possible, consumers' awareness of the country-of-origin of the apparel product just acquired;

2. To determine at the same point in time, consumers' attitudes toward imported versus domestically produced clothing;

3. To determine the salient factors which influence consumers' decision to purchase an item of apparel;

4. To determine the relationship between demographic variables and consumers' awareness, attitudes, and reasons for purchase;

5. To determine consumers' awareness of the Crafted with Pride and Think Canadian campaigns and the relationship between this awareness and their attitude and awareness of country of origin; and

6. To examine the variance in consumers' attitudes and awareness which may be related to differences in geographic location.


Previous Work

The first phase of this study was begun in June 1984 in Ithaca, New York. Intercept surveys were completed with 507 consumers who had Just purchased apparel. Three trained interviewers, working at different locations in an enclosed mall, collected data at various times of the day and on different days of the week. Consumers were questioned about their attitudes toward domestic versus imported clothing and their awareness of the country or origin of their purchase. Reason for purchase and demographic information were also collected.

A replication of the first study was completed in July 1985 in Utica, New York. Intercept surveys were completed with 525 apparel consumers. The second study was done in an effort to assess the variance which might be related to macro county demographics such as differences in family income, educational levels, and major employers. In addition, it was anticipated that a year of media attention on the trade deficit and the importance or buying American products might be reflected in consumers' awareness and attitudes. While some differences were apparent between the two populations, most were not statistically significant. In fact, the most significant finding was that the percentage of consumers who were both aware of the country of origin of their purchase and cared whether it was imported or domestically produced was exactly the same, 11 S, in both samples.

Current Study

Methods for data collection which were tested in the exploratory stages of this research were utilized for the second phase of the study. During the spring and summer of 1986 intercept surveys were conducted Edmonton, Alberta, and at the two New York sites used in the previous study. A total or 505 consumers was surveyed in Canada and 953 in New York State. The instrument was revised slightly to include a question on awareness of the "Crafted with Pride in the USA" and the "Think Canadian Campaigns

Questionnaire data from all collection sites were combined into one data base and analyzed using SAS procedures. Descriptive statistics were obtained; in addition, non-parametric methods appropriate for nominal and categorical data (e.g., chi-square) were used to explore possible correlations between variables. For example, the relationship of attitude towards imports and awareness of country of origin to age and sex of respondent, reason for purchase, and item purchased, were examined.


A total of 1, 458 consumers were interviewed for this phase of the study, 505 in Alberta and 953 in New York. The breakdown by age and sex was similar in both samples (Table 1). Approximately three-quarters of the apparel consumers were females, and slightly over half of the total sample were in the 21 to 50 year age group.



The two most common items purchased by this consumer group were slacks and shirts, slacks being the most popular item in Alberta and shirts in New York. The reasons given by consumers for the purchase of their garments showed similar response patterns. In both locations, "need" was the most frequent response, followed by "like" and "price" Since "need" tends to be a socially acceptable response, it was not surprising for this to be the most frequent answer. The response of "like" may involve one criterion or a complex of criteria used by consumers to assess the acceptability of their garments. It is of interest to note that while an expected important criterion such as "price" was identified to be a major purchase incentive, another criterion such as "quality" was not highly considered by this group. "Country of origin" as a reason for purchase was claimed by only one consumer in the U.S. sample.

A higher percentage of males than females in both countries said they knew where their garment had been manufactured (Table 2). In the Alberta sample, 25% claimed to be aware of the country of origin, while 20% of the New York consumers said they knew the production location. Larger differences between the samples were evident in answers to the question which asked consumers if they cared whether their garment had been domestically produced or was imported. Only 19% of the Canadian sample cared; 39% or the U.S. sample said they did. Males and females in the New York sample were equally likely to say they cared, while male Alberta consumers were more likely to care than females by a margin of 10% (Table 2). Those consumers who said they cared that the clothing they bought was domestically produced were asked why in an open ended follow-up question. The most frequent response in both samples was because it was important to support the domestic industry and to buy domestically produced products.



Only a small number of consumers in each sample were both aware of the country of origin and cared that their purchase had been domestically produced, implying that they were searching for a Canadian or American-made garment. In Alberta 9.9% of the consumers were in this category; in New York, 11.7%. Earlier phases or this study yielded remarkably similar results. Eleven per cent of the New York consumers surveyed in 1984, and 11% of those interviewed in 1985 in a second location responded in this manner.

Two different but similar campaigns are being conducted in Canada and the United States to raise consumer awareness and to promote the purchase or domestic products. In the U.S., the Crafted with Pride campaign is sponsored by the textile and apparel sector and 13 targeted at the consumers or those products. American consumers interviewed for this study were asked if they were familiar with this campaign; 42% of the respondents answered affirmatively. The Think Canadian campaign deals with all Canadian-made products and is being sponsored and funded by the federal government's Department of Regional Industrial Expansion. More male consumers than female consumers (45% males versus 35% females; significant at the .05 level) were aware or the Canadian promotion, and the total, 38% was somewhat lower than the awareness level of the U.S. promotion by American consumers.

The lower awareness level of the Think Canadian campaign among Canadian consumers may reflect the different orientations or the two programs. The U.S. Crafted with Pride Council has employed intensive media campaigns to reach American consumers, while the Canadian marketing program 19 aimed primarily at mobilizing the private business sector. Also, because the Canadian effort is directed at all domestically produced goods, textile and apparel products have received proportionately less emphasis than those products promoted by the Crafted with Pride campaign.

The comprehensiveness of the Think Canadian campaign may be the reason why more male consumers were aware or the program. In contrast, awareness of the clothing or ended Crafted with Pride program was higher for female consumers than for male consumers. This may be related to the media campaign's target market and the fact that female consumers usually fulfill the role of family clothing purchaser. It should also be noted that the awareness level of the Canadian campaign may actually be less than the reported 38%. The words "Think Canadian" are a literal translation of the program's objective. It is possible that some positive responses were based solely on the suggestive nature of the campaign slogan.

Chi-square analyses were done to explore possible relationships between the variables under study. For all tests, a < 0.05. Significant relationships were found in both the New York and Alberta samples between sex and awareness of country of origin. In both cases, males were more likely to say they knew where their garment had been produced than the females sampled. A similar significant relationship was found in the Canadian sample between sex and concern that the garment had been produced domestically. Again, men were more likely to care than women.

The greater awareness of country of origin among male consumers may be the result of men reading clothing labels in order to gain information about a garment prior to its purchase. In terms of reason for purchase, "designer name" and "quality" were two characteristics chosen by an equal or greater percentage of males than females sampled. Reading labels in order to identify care instructions may also be an expected behavior or male respondents who are unfamiliar with laundering procedures and must rely on care labelling.

Age and awareness of country of origin were significant only for females in both countries. In the U.S., the oldest females were more likely to be aware than either the middle age group or the youngest women; in Canada, the middle age group (21-50) was the most aware, followed by the oldest age group. The least aware Canadian consumers sampled were women under 21 years of age.

Age and concern with country of origin were significant in both countries for both sexes. For Canadian females the pattern repeated that of age and awareness (middle, oldest, youngest). For American females, the oldest women were most concerned, with the middle age group next. Male age groups in both countries followed the same pattern as female age groups. That the oldest age groups in the American sample demonstrated the highest concern for their garments' country of production was not an unexpected finding. A 1985 Washington Post/ABC News survey of a random sample or 1,512 adults also found that elderly Americans were more likely than younger age groups to support the purchase of American-made products regardless of their quality (Behr 1985).

It was also anticipated that the oldest age group or Canadian consumers would care the most about buying domestically produced goods. Thus, the finding that respondents from the middle age group showed a higher level of concern was unexpected. A possible reason for this result may be that there is a growing interest among Canadians in their own fashion industry. The Festival of Canadian Fashion is an annual event that 19 held in Toronto. It was initiated in 1985 and drew a crowd of 50,000 fans during its first year. Although the Festival has some components of a trade show, it is also aimed at promoting the fashion industry to consumers. Since people within the 21-50 year age group are the major consumers of fashion, they are the target market for this Festival. Their concern for domestically produced garments may be a demonstration of their support for Canadian design talent.

As might be expected, awareness of country of origin and concern with place of production were related. Consumers in New York who were aware of the country of origin were more likely to care; however, of those consumers who said they cared, 70% did not know where the garment they had Just purchased had been manufactured. The relationship was significant between these two variables in the Alberta sample, but the direction was different. In this group of consumers, those aware of the country of origin were more likely to not care about the production location, whereas individual consumers who voiced the concern that their clothing be made in Canada were as likely to be unaware of the country of origin of their purchase as they were to be aware. The largest group of Canadian consumers (65%) were neither aware of their garment's country of origin nor cared if it were manufactured in Canada or elsewhere. In contrast, 52% of the American sample fell into this category.

In an-attempt to assess the effectiveness of the promotional campaigns, relationships between awareness of country or origin and knowledge of the respective campaigns were explored. The relationship was significant in both countries. In New York State, consumers who were aware of the country of origin of their purchase were more likely (56% versus 44%) to be aware of the Crafted with Pride campaign. However, only 27% or the people who were aware of the campaign knew where the garment they had just purchased had been manufactured. The numbers were similar for this relationship in the Alberta sample. Only 34% of the consumers who said they knew of the Think Canadian campaign had looked at the country label in the garment Just purchased. Similarly, 52% of the consumers who knew the country of origin also knew about the campaign.

The relationship between concern with domestic production and knowledge about the promotional campaigns was examined. Again a significant relationship was found in both countries. New York consumers who cared about the country of origin were evenly spilt between those who knew about the Crafted with Pride campaign and those WhO did not. However, of those who were familiar with the campaign, more than half (54%) did not care where their clothing was produced. In Alberta, this number increased to 74% of the sample. or those who did care, the spilt resembled the New York sample, with 51% also aware of the Think Canadian campaign.

These findings suggest that both campaigns may have made some impact in terms or creating awareness among consumers. Over half of those respondents who looked at country of origin labels were also aware of the marketing program in their respective countries. However, only about one-third of each sample aware of the domestic patriotic campaign had also examined the garment label for country of origin. Lack of concern for where their clothing was produced was further exhibited when the majority of those who claimed familiarity with the program did not express a stronger preference for domestically produced goods. This suggests that while the two programs have succeeded in raising awareness, they have not influenced potential apparel buyers to actively seek information about a garment's country of origin prior to purchase.


The consistency of consumer attitudes with consumer behavior was assessed for two samples of apparel purchasers. Canadian shoppers in Alberta and American shoppers in New York State were asked about their awareness of and concern with their garments' place of production. Although differences were noted between the two groups, the lack of consistency between attitudes and behavior was a common phenomenon. In both cases, the percentage of those who searched for domestically produced goods because they cared about protection of the home industry was much lower than the percentage of those who expressed a concern for buying Canadian or U.S.-made clothing.

The somewhat high awareness level of domestic promotional programs suggests that negative attitudes toward imports may have been intensified by the patriotic nature of the campaign messages. This was especially true for the New York sample where knowledge of the Crafted with Pride campaign was almost equalled by the level of concern for protecting the domestic industry. In contrast, only half as many Alberta respondents cared about purchasing domestically produced clothing than those who were aware or the Think Canadian campaign. There was only a difference or 4% (42% New York versus 38$ Alberta) between the two groups' knowledge of their respective promotional campaigns. The percentage difference between samples for those who actively sought domestically manufactured apparel was only 2% (12% New York versus 10% Alberta). However, a difference of 20% (39% New York versus 19% Alberta) between samples was measured for those who expressed a concern for their garments' country or origin.

These findings may reflect a lack of concern by those Albertans interviewed to give the most socially acceptable response, in this case, an expression of national loyalty. Furthermore, the Canadian consumers sampled were more likely than the U.S. sample to be aware of their garments' country of origin. This suggests that the Alberta respondents may be consciously making those apparel purchase decisions which are most advantageous to them as consumers.

The intense media campaign by the U.S. Crafted with Pride in the USA Council also suggests that the level of concern for domestic clothing production may be influenced by the level of marketing effort. It is evident that a greater number of those interviewed in the New York study had attitudes that supported the appeal of the textile and apparel complex to protect domestic industry than respondents in the Alberta study. However, the Council's expected behavioral effect of raising the number of potential clothing buyers who actively seek out and purchase American-made apparel was not displayed by respondents in this study. Since it is consumers who ultimately make the final purchase decision, industry representatives and legislators should examine more closely the link between attitudes and action before making production and public policy decisions which will have significant economic effects on all parties concerned.


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Susan B. Hester, Cornell University
Mary Yuen, Cornell University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 14 | 1987

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