With China's rapid economic growth, more consumer products are becoming available, many of which are new and technologically complicated. The changing market structure of the transitional economy in China makes it very difficult for consumers to choose products. The coexistence of the old centrally planned economy and the emerging market economy causes the consumer commodity market to be neither perfectly competitive nor effectively regulated. Counterfeit products are quite common, and the system of consumer protection and services, although improving, is still primitive. Caveat Emptor is the rule of thumb for consumers to follow, especially because it is very difficult for a consumer to return a product once purchased. Given this unique market environment, how do Chinese consumers make purchasing decisions? How are the processes of consumer decision making different for Chinese consumers compared to consumers in other nations? Are these differences caused by situational or cultural differences? This study attempts to answer these questions.
Although the decision-making styles of Chinese consumers have not been studied in a scholarly context, literature on consumer decisionmaking styles using U.S. and Korean data can be found. According to Sproles and Kendall (1986), a consumer decision-making style is defined as a mental orientation characterizing a consumer's approach to making consumer choices. Broadly speaking, there are three types of approaches in studying consumer decision-making styles: the psychographic/lifestyle approach, which identifies hundreds of characteristics related to consumer behavior; the consumer typology approach, which classifies consumers into several types; and the consumer characteristics approach, which focuses on different cognitive dimensions of consumer decision making. For a review of these different approaches, see Sproles and Kendall (1986).
Building on the literature related to consumer decision making in the field of marketing and consumer studies (Maynes 1976; Miller 1981; Sproles 1979; Thorelli, Becker, and Engledow 1975), Sproles (1985) identified nine decision-making style traits and developed a 50-item instrument using the consumer characteristics approach. Using data collected from 111 undergraduate women in two classes at the University of Arizona and employing a factor analysis technique, Sproles (1985) found that six out of the nine traits were confirmed to be present. In a later study, Sproles and Kendall (1986) used a similar approach with a slightly revised model of consumer decision making with eight dimensions. An instrument of 48 items was developed. Each dimension of consumer decision making was represented by six questions. The questionnaire was administered to 482 students in 29 home economics classes in five high schools in the Tucson, Arizona area. The eight-factor model was confirmed by a factor analysis using the survey data, although not all questions were deemed to be useful in representing intended dimensions of a consumer styles inventory (CSI). The eight dimensions included in the CSI were (1) perfectionism or high-quality consciousness, (2) brand consciousness, (3) novelty-fashion consciousness, (4) recreational, hedonistic shopping consciousness, (5) price and "value for money" shopping consciousness, (6) impulsiveness, (7) confusion from overchoice, and (8) habitual, brand-loyal orientation toward consumption.
To verify Sproles and Kendall's (1986) results and to compare consumer decision-making styles between young consumers in Korea and the United States, Hafstrom, Chae and Chung (1992) collected data in Korea using a questionnaire similar to the one used by Sproles and Kendall (1986). The set of 44 items was administered to 310 randomly selected college students at four universities in Taegu, Korea, in 1989. Using the same eight-factor conceptual framework and analytical methods as those of Sproles and Kendall (1986), Hafstrom et al. …