One research study of the shopping behavior of a group of urban women has provided a number of valuable insights into the influence of social class on the shopping process.
Most women enjoy shopping regardless of their social class, however, reasons for enjoyment differ. All classes enjoy the recreational and social aspects of shopping as well as being exposed to new things bargain hunting and comparing merchandise. However, lower classes found acquiring new clothes or household items more enjoyable while upper middles and above more frequently specified a pleasant store atmosphere display and excitement.
Middle and upper women shopped more frequently than those in the lower class.
The higher a woman’s social class the more she considered it important to shop quickly.
Middle and working classes had a greater tendency to browse without buying anything.
The lower the social status, the greater the proportion of downtown shopping
A greater percentage of lower class women favored discount stores than did women in the middle or upper classes. The attraction to high fashion stores was directly related to social class. Broad appeal stores were more attractive to the middle class.
Objective compared to perceived social class level (based largely on relative class) may produce differences in patronage. For example one study showed higher specialty and department store patronage by objective middle class respondents identifying with the upper class, than by respondents who were objectively upper class but perceptually middle class. Those in the objective working class had lower patronage of department stores as perceived class dropped from middle to lower. Also, mass merchandiser patronage was significantly lower among those identifying it the lower class than among identifying with either the working or middle class. Discount store patronage rise as class level decreased from upper to middle.
Research on social class and information searching under different levels of perceived risk has found few significant relationships. In high risk purchase no social class pattern existed for information search using friends, relatives, magazines, newspaper, TV / radio, and sales people. However, upper classes are more likely than lower classes to consult consumer guides. In midlevel risk purchases friends and relatives are more likely to be used as information sources as social class decreases. In low risk purchases there were no significant relationships between social class and information searching.
Let us examine closely the nature of social class variations is hopping patterns in order to better understand marketing strategy decisions.
Uppers and Upper Middles: Women of this group organize shopping more purposefully and efficiently than those of lower status. They tend to be more knowledgeable about what they want, where and when to shop for it; their shopping is both selective and wide ranging. These consumers are more likely to search for information prior to purchase. They are more likely to read brochures newspapers, and test reports before buying appliances.
There is also an emphasis by this group on the store environment. Stores must be clean, orderly and reflect good taste. Moreover, they must be staffed with clerks who are not only well versed in their particular product line, but also well aware of their customer status. This attitude indicates a leaning toward urban and suburban specialty stores and away from larger more general outlets. For example women from this group have been characterized as usually buying most of their public appearance clothes at specialty shops or in specialty departments of the town’s best department stores.
Is there a paradox between consumer status and discount house patronage among this group? Actually, the extent of patronage depends on the nature of the product sought. This group apparently has few qualms about buying appliances in discount houses they feel they cannot go wrong with nationally advertised brand names. A furniture purchase, however, is another matter and the same consumer is likely to go to a status store which can act as an authority on tasteful home furnishings.