Ethnocentrism 101: Consumerism; Do People Buy Because It Is Good or Because It Is Local?

Ethnocentric tendencies in consumers do not develop in isolation but rather are part of a constellation of social psychological and demographic influences.


Sharma, 1995


Ethnocentrism is a concept born in anthropology, is a concept elaborated in anthropology and lately is enriched by other sciences, and in order to give a quick review to it (that can be complemented with previous articles): Ethnocentrism is about the emotional tendency (rather than rational) that makes people understand other culture, ethnicity or country not only as different but also as inferior, especially regarding their behaviors, beliefs, and expressions. It has been said that a mild expression of ethnocentrism leads to intragroup cohesion, but the negative side of it rests on the practice of rejecting and disparaging foreign practices, and in the case of consumer ethnocentrism (CE), foreign products.


When people have a personal economy that allows them to “choose” what to buy, usually in a supermarket, the mechanisms that influence the final decision are way more intricate than expected. Of course, there are biodemographic factors to have in consideration; age, gender, education level, income, interest, and experience in travelling abroad, size of the country (yes, it is important), and lately, a new category has been raised among experts who make this kind of studies: Developing countries versus developed countries. One last thing in consideration before going further is the kind of product people are going to buy, it has been shown that for choosing a refrigerator the reasoning that applies is not the same as the one applied for buying toothpaste, or food. There is an important load of history and group pressure among most consumers, buying a specific article has a deeper lecture than it may seem.


Students from the University of Sao Paulo's School of Communication and Art
"Blind Ones" perform as a protest against consumerism.

Since the ’70s, there have been important studies about the ethnocentric phenomenon applied to consumerism, and the number of studies and publications about it increases decade by decade, there is always going to be financial support for studies that helps to understand how to rule the market or what are the consumer preferences. The early studies (so far known and recovered) were started by Nagashima, A. (1970) and also Bilkey, W. and Nes, E. (1982) and it surrounded two main areas, the ethnocentric traits in the U.S.A. versus Japanese consumers and also the general insertion of the ethnocentrism concept on the analysis of consumers patterns in general. These studies kept developing and an important tendency in the following decades surrounded the consumer profile among the post-Soviet Union, being that they had a delayed insertion into consumers globalization and had been receiving certain propaganda for generations. In more recent years the analysis around gender preferences for specific categories of products has raised due to the phenomenon of the female workforce and its consequent purchasing power, especially in developing countries.


One of the most quoted authors in this matter is Sharma (1995), who identified certain features about Consumer Ethnocentrism, and those are; protection duty citizens feel regarding their country, the perception of imports as threats to their personal welfare, the welfare of the domestic economy, individual prejudices and finally, the group pressure. The most important tool to make a study related to this subject is the scale for measuring consumers’ ethnocentric tendencies: The CETSCALE developed by Shimp and Sharma (1987), which has been modified according to times, the needs of each study, and its context.


In a review made on the last two years, applied to new studies (Agarwal, 2020; Erkaya, 2018 and Kvasina, 2018) gave a new perception to some biodemographic factors and kept the perspective in others, being the following:


  • According to age, the older the consumer, the more ethnocentric especially in the case of Europe for the return of nationalism triggered by economical uncertainty and immigration.


“Murdock (1931) observed that ethnocentrism is confined not only to tribes and nations but reveals itself in all kinds of social groups, developing into family pride, sectionalism, religious prejudice, racial discrimination, and patriotism”


  • In regard to gender, there was a perception about women being more ethnocentric than men, but it seemed the indicators to evaluate this matter, have been corrected. Nowadays, this statement does not seem very solid.

  • The inverse relationship between educational level and consumer ethnocentrism is confirmed in most studies. In regard to the educational level, it must be addressed that education in some context is not the synonym of mind-opening, just a change of status.

  • A factor that is in discussion is the relationship between people who have traveled or are interested in doing it vs. the ethnocentric consumer practices. Some studies say it is a positive correlation, and others say it is negative. These indicators could be improved by considering what country the buyer belongs to and what countries she/he has been visited; there can be an anti-colonialist, or third-world despise attitude determining this factor.

  • There is a positive correlation between the size of the country and the consumers' ethnocentrism, and finally, a very discussed topic is still going on and it is in regard to developing and developed countries' consumers’ attitudes. Tendency shows that developing countries tend to be more ethnocentric than the developed ones, a situation that has to be contrasted with more data.


High Powers (2.019) by Anthony White

When consumer ethnocentrism is strong, there is an overestimation of domestic products and an underestimation of foreign-made products. When the domestic product is not available, the tendency among the strong ethnocentric consumers is to buy the option made in the culturally closest country because of the symbolic shared value this product has for them among others of furthest cultures. This does not only happens between countries but is also observed in sub-national circumstances, especially those with a pronounced cultural difference.






Because of the previously described consumer patterns, for a long time, literature made a difference between local products (grown and marketed in the same area), regional products (same as local but on a larger scale), and traditional products; the last ones are products associated to have a consumption ritual associated to a local, national festivity. The products usually have more than one label and if it has the three; local, regional, and traditional, there is going to be a strong preference among them. The last one might or not be also important because of environmental factors such as the special weather conditions a locality has to grow certain products.


Because of globalization, there are supposed to be similarities among what people need and desire and even in that context and along with the transformation of marketing; the impact on the consumers' preferences has not changed as expected. What has changed meaningfully is the people's access to information about the long term effects of certain foods on their health and about the impact certain ways of production are causing to the environment. Nevertheless, there are still generations who have another set of priorities and different memory and context and among those, especially those, the quality or impact of the product they buy is still secondary among ethnocentric tendencies.




Sources


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Melisa Silva

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