Perceived Images of Retail Stores and Brands: Comparison among Three Ethnic Consumer Groups

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This exploratory study was designed to determine whether three ethnic groups (Blacks, Koreans, and Whites) are different in their perceived images of the social-class orientation of selected retail stores (I. C. Penney, Wal-Mart, Dillards, Nordstrom, and Macy's) and the attributes of selected clothing brands (Polo, Calvin Klein, and Levi's). The results illustrate that store and brand-image perceptions differ by ethnic group. To meet the needs of diverse ethnic groups, educators may need to incorporate ethnicity in the consumer behavior paradigm and marketers must evaluate the potential of ethnic marketing.

Reaching and motivating consumers today is not an easy task because the market is highly competitive, with a wide range of stores and brands. As the marketplace becomes more crowded, consumers often make purchase decisions based more on the image of a store or brand than on its actual physical attributes (Graeff, 1996) . The challenge to retailers thus has been to create a store and/or brand image that will appeal to a particular segment of the population, because an individual's image of a store or brand can ultimately exert a major impact on shopping behavior (Jacoby and Mazursky,1984).

This challenge becomes even greater because minority consumer groups have grown in number in the United States. For example, the population of Black-Americans, representing the largest minority group, will double over the next 60 years (Braun, 1991) and Asians are the fastest growing population segment in the U.S., more than doubling over the past decade (Fisher, 1994). Furthermore, the immense purchasing power of these ethnic consumer groups has led to acknowledgment that they constitute a logical source of market share growth (Braun, 1991). In total, Blacks earn $ 262 billion a year, and the number of black families with annual incomes of $50,000 or more increased by 50% during the 1980s (Miller, 1993). The average Black-American woman spends $1,100 a year on apparel compared with the Caucasian woman's spending of $700 per year (Underwood, 1993). Asian-Americans have a high level of education and income and represent a very potent target group for upscale goods and services (Delener and Neelankavil,1990) .

The geographic concentration (predominantly in metropolitan areas) of ethnic minority consumers provides additional attractiveness to marketers, requiring them to alter marketing strategies substantially from those used successfully for white majority (Henricks,1992) . In fact, it is widely known that the country is moving away from the "melting-pot" concept and toward a "multicultural society" in which no single ethnicity dominates the culture (Doka, 1996). Given this trend toward multiculturalism, along with the attractiveness of ethnic minority consumers as target markets, consumer educators and marketing practitioners have to understand that Whites can no longer be the major focus of their curriculum or marketing strategies.

Researchers have postulated that subcultures, although sharing the values and norms of the dominant culture, express significant differences of their own, which may warrant differential marketing efforts (Kim, Laroche, and Joy, 1990). Thus, individuals from dif ferent cultural backgrounds may have different interpretations of stores and products. These interpretations can vary when consumers associate stores with a specific social class and when different consumers perceive brands as having different attributes. Despite the importance of developing specific strategies for ethnic consumers, little is known about cultural differences in consumers' perceptions of a store or brand image.

The purpose of this exploratory study is to determine whether three ethnic groups (Blacks, Koreans, and Whites) are different in their perceived images of stores and brands. More specifically, this study will determine whether three ethnic groups are significantly different in their perceived image of (1) the social classes of selected retail stores and (2) the brand attributes of selected clothing brands. …