Impulse buying linked to perception of equality

November 03, 2009

Impulse buying linked to perception of equality

There's a new study from Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Business that may provide insights for marketing to different cultures. The study looked at how people from differing countries compare in their perspective of equality and how that relates to their tendency to make impulse purchases. The study, Power-Distance Belief and Impulsive Buying, was authored by Rice management professor Vikas Mittal and recently accepted for publication in the Journal of Marketing Research

The researchers describe power-distance belief (PDB) as the degree of power disparity the people of a culture expect and accept. Measured on a scale of zero to 100, the higher the score, the more a person accepts disparity and expects power inequality. For example, Americans score low in PDB, while countries like China and India score higher.

The study also looked at different types of purchases including daily items like snacks and drinks. In addition, researchers examined purchases that fall under "vice goods", such as candy and chocolate as opposed to "virtue goods" like yogurt and granola bars. Researchers found that those with a higher PDB score were more likely to practice self-control than those with a lower PDB score, therefore making more impulse buys. The results showed that people with low PDB scores spend twice as much on "vice goods" than those with high PDB scores.

In one portion of the study, the PDB of 901 Americans, with an average income of $50,000/year, were measured. They were then given $10 to use towards online shopping with the option of keeping whatever they did not spend. On the PDB (Geert Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions), the U.S. scores at a low 40 compared with Russia (93), the Philippines (94), Singapore (74), China (80) and India (77). Austria (11), Germany (35) and New Zealand (22) also score low, whereas Japan (54), Vietnam (45) and South Africa (49) score more in the middle. 

The study's author, Mittal, suggests that marketers can use this information to their advantage by first evaluating which products are perceived as "vice goods" and which as "virtue goods" among different cultures. This knowledge can then be applied to PDB scores among cultures to specifically tailor marketing and advertising.

To read the complete study, click here