Document 72583

Parental Influence on the Purchase of Luxury Brands of Infant Apparel:
An Exploratory Study in Hong Kong.
Gerard Prendergast1
Claire Wong2
Associate Professor, Department of Marketing, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong
Research Assistant, Department of Marketing, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong
Author Biography
Gerard Prendergast is an Associate Professor of Marketing and the Director of the MBA
program at Hong Kong Baptist University. His research is in the area of marketing
communications, and his publications have appeared in journals such as the Journal of
Advertising, International Journal of Advertising, Journal of Marketing
Communications, Journal of Promotion Management, and the European Journal of
Claire Wong is Research Associate with the Department of Marketing, Hong Kong
Baptist University. Her research interests are in branding and retailing.
Parental Influence on the Purchase of Luxury Brands of Infant Apparel:
An Exploratory Study in Hong Kong.
Why do some parents buy luxury brands of clothing for their infants, when in fact their
infants are too young to appreciate Armani, Versace, and other such labels? Are the
parents doing this to impress others? By researching the purchasing behaviour of parents
buying luxury brands of infant apparel, this paper is related to the concepts of buying
roles, conspicuous consumption/social consumption motivation, and materialism. A
survey of 134 mothers who had purchased luxury brands of clothing for their infants
found that parents are motivated by the good quality and design associated with the
luxury brands. The relationship between the amount of money spent by parents on
luxury brands of infant apparel and social consumption motivation was not significant.
However, interviewees who spent more on luxury clothing brands for their infants were
more materialistic. It is thus recommended that marketers should emphasis the good
quality and design of their luxury brands of infant apparel. In addition, marketers should
promote the materialistic values of purchasing luxury brands of infant apparel, showing
that buying luxury brands of infant apparel may be a route to happiness, rather than being
a route for impressing others.
The marked decline in the birth rate of the Hong Kong population is replicating the
common trend in industrial countries toward smaller families (Speece and So, 1998).
With higher disposable income, and with more affluent working parents having their first
child in their mid 30s, the overall expenditure on children's wear and children related
products has been increasing. In particular, more consumers are moving away from
traditional low-cost local brands to more upmarket luxury brands (Corral, 1999; Speece
and So, 1998). In fact, parents are actively purchasing well-known brand name products
for their children (McNeal, 1987). In this sense, the concept of the “little emperor” is not
only a Mainland China phenomenon, but exists in Hong Kong too. Darian (1998)
suggests that buying luxury brands for children would reflect favourably on the financial
status of the parents. This desire for parents to impress others via the appearance of their
children suggests an opportunity for luxury brand marketers to develop their business in
infant apparel.
Corral (1999) has provided a broad overview of several retail trends for infants from the
ages of 0-3. While disposable diapers remain the overwhelming top purchase for babies,
the increasing popularity of brand name apparel for babies is attracting parents in their
20s and 30s into the stores, buying the same brands that they wear for their babies (such
as Nike and DKNY). There is also the steady growth of extension product lines of luxury
brands such as GapKids, Baby Dior and Baby Esprit reflecting the competitive market
for luxury infant apparels. Marketers in this way may indulge parents’ fashion and brand
consciousness for choosing infant apparel.
Much research has looked at parent-child decisions when buying children’s apparel. But
there is a deficiency of studies relating to parents’ decision-making process for infant
apparel. This area is of particular interest because, when it comes to infant apparel, the
infant has no influence on the purchase decision. The purchase decision is completely in
the hands of the parents. The primary objective of this research is thus to determine the
motives of parents purchasing luxury brands of infant apparel. At the same time, this
paper also investigates if materialism and the social consumption motivation are related
to parents’ expenditure on luxury brands of infant apparel. Such issues are of interest to
manufacturers of luxury brands of infant apparel, as well as manufacturers of other
products where the user of the product is neither the buyer not the influencer.
Consumption of Children's Apparel
A lot of research has focussed on different perspectives of the purchase motivation for
children's products. For instance, McNeal (1990) found that children aged 10 years
averaged about 250 store visits a year. With greater affluence, higher consumer
socialisation of children and more mothers working outside the home, the trend of
children making their own decision in the purchase of apparels is increasing (Lackman
and Lanasa, 1993). Shannon (1997) provided empirical evidence that children are
capable of making their own choices between brands. Marketers recognise this, and the
advertising efforts towards children as targets has been proliferating to such an extent
that it has prompted pressure groups to highlight "child pester" labels against the
aggressive firms (Grossbart et al, 1991, Marshall, 1997; Tylee, 1997). They argue that the
commercial messages encourage children to harass parents into buying products and are
seen to be disruptive to parent-children relationships (Martin, 1997).
However, children, especially those who are very young, may not always influence the
purchase of products destined for their use. Rowley (1997) suggested five main roles in
the decision making process. They are namely: (1) users, who actually use the product or
service; (2) influencers, particularly those with previous experience of the service; (3)
deciders, the actual decision makers in the use/purchase decision, such as parents for
children, or children for parents; (4) approvers, who finally authorise the decision within
an organisation and (5) buyers, those with the formal authority to buy and act as
gatekeepers for purchasing. Users, in the case of infants/babies, are not capable of
making their choice of apparel. They have no direct influence on the decision process of
the decision-makers, that is, the parents. That means the decision process totally lies
with the parents. Studies have shown that the relative influence that a husband and wife
have on a particular consumer decision depends in part on the product and service
category (Schiffman and Kanuk, 1997). For children’s apparels, the wife is seen to play
a dominant role from information search to final decision (Martez and Polo, 1999), yet
children may still influence the purchase process. What previous research does not reveal,
however, is parent’s purchasing behaviour in circumstances where the child (in this case
an infant) has no influence on the purchase of products destined for themselves.
Social Consumption Motivation
Clothing is often used for its symbolic value reflecting the wearer's status (Solomon,
1983). In the situation whereby the clothing is of a luxury brand, it may be perceived as
an ostentatious display of wealth. Consumers are motivated by a desire to impress others
with their ability to pay particularity high prices for prestigious products (Mason, 1981).
What constitutes a luxury brand? Vigneron and Johnson (1999) define it as the highest
level of a prestigious brand encompassing several physical and psychological values
such as perceived conspicuous value, perceived unique value, perceived social value,
perceived hedonic value and perceived quality value.
While there are no direct studies of luxury brands of children or infant products, related
studies on luxury brand names are widely reported. Dubois and Paternault (1995), for
instance, found that there is positive relationship between brand awareness and desire to
own the brands. Luxury brands are perceived to be competing on their ability to evoke
exclusivity, brand identity, increase brand awareness and perceived quality, and finally
retain sales and customers’ loyalty. In other words, to maintain prestige, luxury brands
must sustain high levels of awareness. Since different marketing initiatives for luxury
brands have to be adapted to different markets with different cultures, a number of
replications with extensions have been conducted (for example, Chung and Zaichkowsky
(1999) in Hong Kong and Phau and Prendergast (2001) in Singapore). A new direction
was introduced in these studies - consumers’ dislike for high awareness luxury brands. It
was found that a luxury brand enjoying high brand awareness does not necessarily
indicate high likeability.
Research reflects that Asians are extremely conspicuous consumers (Asian Business,
July 1994, Dubois and Duquesne, 1993; Fortune 1/16/95; Tai and Tam, 1997) and
therefore it is likely that this will transcend to infant apparel as well. Darian (1998)
suggested that children wearing luxury brands is a form of status symbol reflecting the
wealth of the parents. Parents thus enjoy consuming vicariously through their children.
Their study compared the in-store behaviour of children (above five-years of age) and
their parents while shopping for children’s apparel. Results indicated that a purchase was
more likely where both parties were highly involved in the search. At the same time,
parents had positive evaluations of quality, price, practicality and style, while children
had positive evaluations of price, style and colour. Moreover, results found that 92% of
the parents were mothers, indicating that the consumption of children apparel is
mother-dominated consumer behaviour. This finding is further supported by Martez and
Polo's (1999) study.
The concept of materialism suggests that possessions and money are a route to personal
happiness and social progress (Moschis and Churchill, 1978). Belk (1985) argues that
materialism can be thought of as a cluster of related traits, attitudes, and values focussing
on possessions and guiding the selection of events and things. For instance, more
materialistic individuals are prone to be acquisitive (a trait), to have positive effects
related to acquisition (an attitude), and to place high priorities on ownership (a value).
Richins (1987) describes materialism in terms of its role in consumer culture as “the idea
that goods are a means to happiness; that satisfaction in life is not achieved by religious
contemplation or social interaction, or simple life, but by possession and interaction with
goods". Highly materialistic individuals find possessions to be generally involving and
devote more energy to activities involving products and brands (Browne & Kaldenberg,
1997). Under high-involvement purchasing conditions, buyer decision processes are
thought to proceed through extended decision-making, a series of sequential stages
involving information search and the evaluation of criteria. The extent that information
is processed and the importance of attributes, such as product appearance, functionality,
quality, and prestige, in determining a decision is affected by the personal characteristics
of the buyer.
Integrating Darian's (1998) findings with the concept of materialism, it is logical to imply
that more materialistic parents are likely to spend more on luxury brands for their
children (infants). Further, the motivation for purchase may be a function of the
materialistic traits of their personality.
Although the preceding literature highlights some of the influences on consumers buying
luxury brands of children’s apparel, no previous research has attempted to provide a clear
picture on the influence on parents’ decision to buy luxury brands for their infants. This
paper serves to fill this gap. From a consumer behaviour perspective this is intriguing
because it represents a situation where the user is neither the buyer nor the influencer.
The focus in this study is based on a research question and two hypotheses. The research
question is detailed as:
RQ1: what are the parent's motives behind consuming luxury brands of clothing for their
The study also evaluates if the need to conform to social pressure or materialism are
related to parents’ levels of expenditure on luxury brands of clothing for their infants.
Building on the prior literature, the following hypotheses are presented:
H1: There is a positive association between the interviewees’ level of social
consumption motivation and their expenditure on luxury brands for their infants.
H2: There is a positive association between the interviewees’ level of materialism and
their expenditure on luxury brands for their infants.
In-depth interviews were conducted initially to identify the motives behind parents
buying luxury brands for their children. Seven parents known to be affluent were chosen
for the interviews. Their responses were coded and formed the main options for the
section on purchase motives in the main survey instrument.
Mall intercepts at various locations in Hong Kong was used as the survey method for the
main research. Malls on both Hong Kong Island and Kowloon were chosen because they
are known to have retailers handling luxury brands of infant apparel. The interviewees
were briefed about the research and then screening questions were asked to identify the
target interviewees. After screening out interviewees not qualified for the study (i.e.
those without an infant under years of age and/or those who had not purchased a luxury
brand of apparel for their infant), 134 valid questionnaires were received.
Survey Instrument
The questionnaire was comprised of four parts. Part one contained two screening
questions, asking interviewees if a) they had a child aged less than four years old, and b)
they had purchased at least one of a list of luxury brands for their child aged less than
four years old. The list of luxury brands was those defined by Chung and Zaichkowsky
(1999), which have infants’ clothing available in Hong Kong. The list included:
Christian Dior
Donna Karen
Emporio Armani by Georgio Armani
Gianni Versace
Paul Smith
Ralph Lauren
Part two of the questionnaire was designed to investigate the motives for buying luxury
brands of infant apparel. Eight motives were listed, based on the earlier in-depth
interviews with parents. Interviewees had to tick those motives that applied to them.
Part three of the questionnaire included two scales for the measurements of Social
Consumption Motivation and Materialism. The Social Consumption Motivation scale
developed by Moschis (1981, 1978) was adopted to measure the importance consumers
place on what others think or are doing before buying a product. The scale is a four- item,
five point Likert-type summated ratings scale. The question, and its items, was as
Before purchasing a product, it is important to know:
1. What others think of different brands or products.
1 2 3 4 5
2. What kinds of people buy certain brands or products.
1 2 3 4 5
3. What others think of people who use certain brands or products.
1 2 3 4 5
4. What brands or products to buy to make good impressions on others.
1 2 3 4 5
The total score is calculated by adding the score for each statement. A high total score on
the scale indicates a high sensitivity to the social visibility of their consumption.
The Materialism scale was adopted from Richins (1987) “Media, Materialism, and
Human Happiness” to measure the materialism of the interviewees. The scale is a
six-item, two-factor measure and is scored on a 7-point Likert-type format from
"strongly disagree" to "strongly agree". The items are as follows:
1. It is important to me to have really nice things.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
2. I would like to be rich enough to buy anything I want.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
3. I’d be happier if I could afford to buy more things.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
4. It sometimes bothers me quite a bit that I can’t afford to buy all
the things I want.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
5. People place too much emphasis on material things*
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
6. It’s really true that money can buy happiness.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
* denotes reverse scoring
The level of materialism is measured by summing the score for each statement. The
higher the score, the more materialistic the interviewees are.
Part four of the questionnaire included the demographic information of the interviewees.
Before administering to the full sample, the questionnaire was pretested, translated into
Chinese (and back-translated to check accuracy), and any deficiencies identified were
corrected accordingly.
The results were analysed using the Independent T-test for comparison of the mean score
of materialism between interviewees with different consumption motives and those
without specific motives in buying luxury brands for their infants. Bivariate correlation
analysis was adopted for testing 1) the association between specific motives for buying
luxury brands of infant apparel and social consumption motivation, and 2) the
association between specific motives for buying luxury brands of infant apparel and
materialism. The 0.05 probability level was used as the cut-off level for significance.
Table 1 presents the profile of the interviewees. All the interviewees were mothers with
infants from new-borns to age below four. A little more than half the interviewees fell
between 30-34 years of age. About 46% of the interviewees were housewives. 43.3% of
interviewees had a household income level of $70,000 or above while another 30% of the
interviewees were evenly distributed in the level of $40,000, $50,000 and $60,000 in
household income.
Insert Table 1
Scales for Social Consumption Motivation and Materialism
The scales for evaluating interviewees' a) social consumption motivation and b)
materialism were assessed for reliability by calculating the coefficient alpha for each
scale. The alpha values of 0.7364 and 0.6535 reported respectively are considered to be
satisfactory for exploratory research (Hair et al, 1998). The mean score for the
materialism scale was 26.17 (maximum possible score is 42). The mean score for the
social consumption motivation scale was 9.59 (maximum possible score is 20).
Parent's motives behind consuming luxury brands of clothing for their infants
Table 2 presents the means for motives of parents buying luxury brands for their infants.
The table also presents a comparison of the means of the materialism and social
consumption motivation scales, with the means of those who had chosen and those who
had not chosen the options for motives of purchase.
Insert Table 2
The main motive for buying luxury brands of infant apparel was “good quality” (86.6%
of interviewees). Nearly 80% of the interviewees perceived that luxury brands have
good design and 62.1% of them perceived that luxury brands make their children look
nice. 55.2% of the interviewees were driven by the satisfaction of dressing their children
nicely in luxury brands. Only a small number of the interviewees (19.4%) reported "The
luxury brands indicate to other people my ability to consume luxury brands”.
The materialism score of those interviewees who had specific motives for purchasing
branded infant apparel and those who did not is next compared. All the p-values are
higher than 0.05 except for the items of “The luxury brands have good design” and
“Specific luxury brands can show my children’s character”. This suggests that other than
for these two items, there are no significant differences between the two groups. Those
who bought luxury brands of infant apparels because “The luxury brands have good
designs” or “Specific luxury brands can show my children’s character” have a
significantly higher score on the materialism scale than those who did not.
Also shown in Table 2, there is no significant difference between specific motives for
purchasing luxury brands of infant apparel and social consumption motivation since all
the p-values are larger than 0.05. The lack of significant difference shows that specific
motives for buying luxury brands of infant apparel are not related to the parent’s
materialism score.
Relationship between Expenditure and Social Consumption Motivation
and Materialism
Bivariate correlation was used to examine the correlation between the two scales (i.e.
"Social consumption motivation " and "Materialism") and the expenditure on luxury
brands for infants.
For the first scale, the p- value is found to be 0.462 (> 0.05). Thus it can be concluded that
there is no relationship between social consumption motivation and expenditure on
luxury brands for infants. This result does not support H1: “There is a positive
association between the interviewees’ level of social consumption motivation and their
expenditure on luxury brands for their infants”.
For the second scale (materialism) the p-value is 0.00 (< 0.01) suggesting that there is a
relationship between the expenditure on infant apparels and materialism. The correlation
coefficient of 0.295 shows that the two are positively related. While the coefficient is not
large, it could be classified as a medium strength correlation. Thus H2: "There is a
positive association between the interviewees’ level of materialism and their expenditure
on luxury brands for their infants" is accepted. The higher the spending on luxury brands
of infant apparel, the more materialistic the parents are.
The findings in this study show that parents buy luxury brands for their infants because
of the good quality and design. In this sense, a brand name offers a guarantee, and
perhaps exp lains why generic branding has been limited, mainly, to commodity products
whose quality is predictable (Prendergast and Marr, 1997). The findings also suggest
that mothers tend to rank "quality" as the most important criterion in buying luxury
brands for their infants, because it offers the best to the ones they love and care for.
Further, results show that mothers with a higher materialism score regard the motives
“The luxury brands have good designs” and “Specific luxury brands can show my
children's character" as more important criteria for them to buy luxury brands for their
There is no relationship between parents’ expenditure on luxury brands for infants and
their social motivation score. Mothers buying luxury brands for their infants are not
motivated by the social visibility factor. This contrasts with Darian's (1998) suggestion
that children with brand name products reflect favourably on their parents' financial
status and parents enjoy vicarious consumption through their children. It is surprising
that social consumption motivation was not related to expenditure on luxury brands of
infant apparel. Asia, especially Hong Kong, is known as the home of conspicuous
consumption, and therefore one would expect buying behaviour for luxury brands to be
driven by a desire to display one’s wealth to others.
Other findings from this study however show that there is a positive relationship between
expenditure on luxury brands for infants and materialism. That is, the higher the
expenditure on luxury brands for infants, the more materialistic the parents are. This
seemingly contradicting phenomenon, where social consumption motivation is not
related to expenditure but materialism is, seems to suggest that "materialistic" parents
pay less emphasis on the possessions of luxury brands for infants as a way to show off
their wealth.
Building on the findings, several implications are inherent for brand management,
strategy formulation, and product and promotion campaign tactics. Good quality and
design of the luxury brands are critical for luxury brands to succeed. For retailers of
luxury brands of infant apparel, these two product attributes should be the focus. Those
luxury brands without a product line for infants, but having a favourable image regarding
quality, may benefit by launching infant apparel (with emphasis on excellent quality and
good design). Successful launching of the infant apparel may strengthen its good-quality
awareness in consumers' perception and generate profit by extension of the existing
brand image. Parents' interest in quality as the number one criteria for consuming luxury
brands for their infants should be highly emphasised in promotion initiatives. Marketers
can develop promotional themes using emotional appeals to create an image for luxury
The materialistic nature of the target market means that it regards possession of luxury
items as an important component in quality living. This may be exploited to promote the
product’s appeal to mothers. Marketers could promote the materialistic values of
purchasing luxury brands of infant apparel, showing that buying luxury brands of infant
apparel can in fact buy happiness. Studies show that materialistic people are those who
commit high involvement in the purchase process and extend the information search in
product attributes such as quality and design (Browne and Kaldenberg, 1997). Marketers
can provide consumers with informative catalogues on the product attributes, such as
quality and design, which enhance the value of the luxury brands for infants. Since
parents buying luxury brands for their infants are those not motivated by social visibility
considerations (as indicated by the low average score on Social Consumption Motivation
Scale), emphasis on the social factors in luxury brands for infants are less important.
The overall implication for managers of luxury brands of infant apparel is that they
should incorporate messages about the pleasure of possession, and allow more resources
to promote the excellence in quality and design of the products and better image
Other than the small sample size and sampling methods that may limit the findings,
another limitation should be highlighted. This research involved the concepts of social
consumption motivation, materialism and the motives for buying luxury brands for
infants. As materialism can be viewed as a negative characteristic connected to
possessiveness (Richins, 1994), interviewees may distort their answer. Although
corrective actions were imposed, the social desirability response bias may still exist.
As a pioneer study on the influence of parents on buying luxury brands of infant apparel,
there are many areas that may be worthy of further study. First, this study could be
replicated in different geographical areas to see whether the results from different
cultures are the same. Second, this research could be extended to investigate if the
self-concept of parents could be a factor in the choice of branded infant products.
In summary, parents tend to regard good quality and design as being associated with
luxury brands. The relatively low social consumption motivation score reflects that
parents are not very motivated by third parties, however, this study provides some
evidence that the consumption behaviour of parents buying luxury brands for their
infants is positively related to materialism. For marketers of luxury products, especially
those luxury products which are purchased by consumers who are not the ultimate users,
these findings may assist in terms of identifying opportunities in the areas of product
improvement, product line extension, and marketing communications.
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Table 1
Profile of Respondents
Household Income
Below 25
40 or above
Below $20,000
70,000 or above
Table 2
Relationship Between Specific Motives for buying Luxury Brands of Infant
Apparel and 1) Materialism 2) Social Consumption Motivation
Number of
Materialism Score
Social Consumption
Motivation Score
selecting this
motive #
Motive for
Not Motive
Motive for
Not Motive for
The luxury brands have
116 (86.6)
102 (76.1)
83 (62.0)
74 (55.2)
41 (30.6)
38 (28.4)
37 (27.6)
26 (19.4)
good quality
The luxury brands have
good design
The luxury brands make
my children look nice
I am satisfied when
dressing my children
nicely in luxury brands
For specific use, such as
parties and social
Specific luxury brands can
show my children’s
I am satisfied by someone
praising my children when
they wear luxury brands of
The luxury brands indicate
to other people my ability
to consume luxury items
# = percentages in parenthesis
* = significant at p < 0.05