Prof's study: background dictates how teens buy

By Carolyn Smith

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Arizona teenagers' consumer preferences differ according to cultural and ethnic backgrounds, a UA professor studying buying habits noted.

Soyeon Shim, a professor in the University of Arizona's Family and Consumer Resources Department, conducted a study and examined the differences in consumer decision-making styles among three ethnic groups of adolescents: white, Hispanic and Native American.

Although research had been conducted on the shopping behavior of adult Hispanics, little or no research had been done on the shopping behavior of adult Native Americans, or on adolescent Native Americans or Hispanics, she said.

Her primary goal when she began was to study and characterize the way adolescents mentally approach shopping how they make choices in the marketplace.

She realized that one component could not be overlooked in determining the behavior patterns the interaction the teens had with socialization agents such as parents, media, school and peers, Shim said.

These are the factors influencing the adolescents' knowledge of consumer-related information, and the development of their shopping skills and attitudes, she said.

"Identifying these factors is useful in understanding consumer behavioral differences among subcultures, such as ethnic groups," Shim said. "Parents are very influential in determining consumer behavior, often kids as young as three or four will see their parents being consumers and adopt the same behavior patterns."

Using a written questionnaire, she targeted 29 high schools in Arizona, in all 15 counties proportionally. While analyzing the data she received, Shim found significant differences among all three groups in the way they approached shopping. These variations reflected cultural, not racial, influences.

"Hispanic teens seemed to be more influenced by the media, whereas white teens seemed to have more buying power overall," she said. "Often when they get their driver's license, their parents will give them money and they immediately become powerful consumers."

Other results included:

White adolescents tended to shop for values the best quality at the best price.

Hispanic adolescents seemed to prefer to buy brand-name and fashionable or novel items.

Native American adolescents tended to find the wide array of consumer choices available more bewildering by its sheer variety, and tended to indulge in impulse buying.

"Previous studies have been conducted and have shown there is a feeling of being overwhelmed and helpless as a result of the difficult task of trying to reconcile Native American and white cultures," she said.

She said she noticed that Native American adolescents in her study seemed to reside in rural areas where geography limits shopping experience, consequently elevating their shopping anxiety.

Monica Nuvamsa, psychology senior, confirmed this. After living on the Hopi reservation, she came to the UA in 1992 and was overwhelmed by the nearby stores and malls.

"It wasn't always a luxury to go shopping, I used to only look for necessities. ... I think it's a universal issue that people need to budget their money and be responsible with it. After living on an isolated reservation and having the town be an hour away, it has taken a couple of years to get used to the nearby stores and huge shopping malls," Nuvamsa said.

Shim has written several papers based on the study, which are being considered for publication. She said she would like to continue to do more research, preferably with Native American and Hispanic teens, and perform an in-depth analysis of cultural backgrounds and parental influence.

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