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Shopping Behavior and Social Classes
Shopping behavior varies by social class. For example, a very close relation between store choice and social-class membership has been found, indicating that it is wrong to assume that all consumers want to shop at glamorous, high-status stores. Instead, people realistically match their values and expectations with a store's status and don't shop in stores where they feel out of place.

Thus, no matter what the store, each shopper generally has some idea of the social-status ranking of that store and will tend not to patronize those where they feel they do not "fit," in a social-class sense. The result is that the same products and brands may be purchased in different outlets by members of different social classes. Therefore, an important function of retail advertising is to allow the shopper to make a social-class identification of stores. This is done from the tone and physical character of the advertising.

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:

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• 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-class 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.

Let us examine more closely the nature of social-class variations in shopping 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 customers' 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.

Middle Class. Women of this class "work" more at their shopping. They exhibit more anxiety, particularly when purchasing nonfoods, which they feel can be a demanding and tedious process filled with uncertainty. They are value-conscious and try to seek out the best buy for the money. Such an orientation would indicate a strong tendency to patronize discount houses.

Working Class. Because of this group's strong concern with personal relationships, there is a tendency to shop along known, local friendship lines. This attitude also explains their loyalty to certain stores in which they feel at home. One study describes situations in which lower-status women who shopped in high-status department stores felt clerks and higher-class customers in the store "punished" them in various subtle ways. One woman expressed her feeling that in a higher-status store "the clerks treat you like a crumb”. Another related how she had vainly tried to be waited on, finally to be told, "We thought you were a clerk”.

The working classes buy with less pre-purchase deliberation than do middle and upper classes. They are much more likely to use in-store information sources, such as displays and salespeople. The routinized nature of their shopping suggests for the marketer an emphasis on the use of enticing point-of-purchase displays and easy availability of items. It is clear that this group is a prime target for discount houses, and in fact it has been a potent force in the development of suburban discount retailing.

Lower Americans. This group is one that buys largely on impulse. This tendency results in the necessity to rely heavily on credit, since money that might have been spent for big-ticket items has been drained off in impulse buying of small things. At the same time, however, these people can be poor credit risks because of their low-income status. This often forces them into a pattern of dealing with local merchants who offer tailor-made (yet sometimes quite exorbitant) credit terms.

Source of Reference:
Albert Loudon and David Della Britta, Consumer Behavior : Concepts and Applications, , McGraw Hill. You can obtain this fine book here