Much of human behaviour is viewed as a process, which begins with early childhood experience, and develops into later life emotions, values, beliefs, and behaviours. Today’s children possibly have more autonomy and decision-making power within the family than previous generations, which follows that children are vocal about what they want their parents to buy (Dotson and Hyatt, 2005). Therefore young children are increasingly the target of advertising and marketing. This is not only because of the influence they have on their parents spending, but also because they are going to be adult consumers of the future. Therefore marketers should recognise the children’s increasing influence in purchase decisions.
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This paper will explore the extent to which family shopping behaviour is influenced by children and what role do they play in decision-making process. Internal and external influences which affect what, when and how family members buy things and what role they play within the family will also be discussed. Additionally, it will examine the lessons for marketing practice. Finally, these concepts and critically analysed and evidenced data will be explored throughout the essay and brought towards the conclusion.
Family decision making is a type of consumer decision-making that involves several individuals as potential decision makers and influencers (Norgaard et.al. 2007). According to McNeal (1992), children have long been recognised as an influencing market and at the same time future market, and parents started paying more attention to their children and their opinions. These changes in family communication have made it possible for children to exert influence on family decision-making. Consequently, family structures have changed which noticeably influences family decision-making. Flurry (2007) who has written a number of credible articles about children’s influence in purchase decisions and is specialised in marketing, argues that children’s influence varies by number of variables, including type of product, decision-making stages, parental attitudes as well as characteristics of the child and the family unit. In general, children may have significant influence in product decisions for which they will be the primary consumers. For instance, it has been found that children have substantial impact on decisions such as breakfast cereals, snack foods, toys, children clothes and school supplies (Evans et.al. 2006). However, even though they are primary consumers of these products and are considered to have significant influencing power, it usually depends on the age of the child. In contrast, in Thomson’s et.al. (2007) study children have been found to have less influence on decisions for products that are more expensive and used by the whole family (for instance TV).
Earlier attempts (in marketing) to understand the role of children was made by Berey and Pollay (1968), the research was done when they were university students, however, the project was reviewed by educated professors during most phases of the project, which gives the paper more credibility. Berey and Pollay (1968) state, that a mother’s purchase behaviour is independent of number of variables, such as a child’s age, the number of children in the family, mother’s employment status and the number of trips to the shopping centre. Furthermore, authors argue that mothers who are more child-centred have a greater tendency to purchase products following their view of what is right and healthy. On the other hand, a mother who is less child-centred may be more likely to purchase the brands that the child prefers in order to keep the child happy (Berey and Pollay, 1968). According to Norgaard et.al. (2007), one of the areas where children have gained strong influence is food choice. Since food plays a central role in family life and routines, parents want to ensure that their children eat healthy food, but at the same time also what they like. Moreover, it has been found that food choices are less healthy in families with more influential children. According to Mintel (2002), baby boomers as a generation have tended to spoil their offspring, making them more receptive to children’s reasonable demands and making ‘pester power’ an even more effective weapon in the marketing. ‘Pester Power’, a term used to define a child’s influence over a parent in the buying process (Mintel, 2002). It has been found, that younger children tend to make more ‘pestering’ requests than the older siblings.
Children may try to persuade or dominate parents by using emotive appeals, crying, pouting or other non-verbal techniques to gain influence over the decision outcome (Lee and Collins, 2000). Thus when parents exert less control over child-rearing, children are more likely to suggest or request items for their own consumption and to participate in the search for and decision to purchase these items. Moreover, Ward and Wackman (1972) found that children’s purchase influence attempts may decrease with age, depending on the type of product, however, mothers’ yielding to requests increases with age. This might be because of the increased competence of older children in making judgments about purchase decisions. Later study by Beatty and Talpade (1994) suggested that personal resources of the child, usage of the product and child’s product knowledge determined the degree of influence. For instance, children are considered to be more acknowledgeable than their parents in areas such as sports and beverages, or computer games. Furthermore, Commuri and Gentry (2000) whose research on the topic is supported by a great number of sources, argue that the role of the child in family decision making depends partly upon whom one asks and how many members in the household there are. Following from the earlier studies, Flurry (2007) examined further the extent to which parents may be more inclined to consider the input of older children when making family purchase decisions. Moreover families with fewer children, where there is less competition for resources, enable a child for more freedom in selecting their own products. Flurry’s (2007) study concluded that the child’s birth order may also be related to a child’s participation in decision-making with first-born children exerting greater purchase decision influence. However, the respondents in the research were children aged 9-11 with their mothers; therefore Flurry’s research results may not be generalizable for all children, for instance under 9 years old.
Palan and Wilkes (1997) have provided one of the first comprehensive identification and categorization of influence strategies used by children to influence the outcome of family purchasing decisions. The strategies include: bargaining, persuasion, emotional, legitimate, request, expert and directive strategy. However, there are age-related changes in adolescent thinking and transitions in decision-making competence during youth. Furthermore, Wimalasiri’s (2004) study undertaken with families from broad diversity of socio-economic statuses revealed, that children may be perceived as influencers or even nagging influencers and sometimes have the power in persuading their parents in fulfilling their needs. For instance, children can use tactics such as upward appeal, pressure tactics, ingratiating tactics, rational persuasion, inspirational appeals and consultative tactics. Children slowly acknowledge the power and authority of their parents and they learn through experience or trial and error that certain tactics may persuade their parents to fulfil with their requests. The use of the emotional strategies in order to gain influence is relatively common. However, the use of the various tactics changes as children get older. As children grow up they rely less on the pressure tactics employed by toddlers and become more clever in their appeals (Wimalasiri, 2004).
Today’s child-influenced sales volume can be credited to several factors, for instance, most families have fewer children, which increase the influence of each child. Secondly, working couples can afford to allow their children to make the choice, and finally, because of the constant exposure to media, children learn about products and services and are in position to convince their parents as what is good or bad (Wimalasiri, 2004). Children are consuming average of 5.5 hours a day using media such as television, print and computer (Dotson and Hyatt, 2005). Therefore it can be said, that the market speed of technological change and educational development has left many children more knowledgeable than their parents. The perceived knowledge of the Internet by children in comparison to their parents may impact on the way children develop Internet consumer skills (Thomson and Laing, 2003). Consequently, children sometimes not only have greater input, but also their input is being shaped by unmatched access to external socialisation agents.
Consumer socialisation, the process by which an individual acquires the skills needed to function in the marketplace as a consumer (Solomon et.al, 2010) has also significant role in family shopping behaviour. Family is identified as the primary socialisation agent for children. According to Flurry (2007), today’s trends show that parents are less child-centred, less controlling and investing less time with their children than their parents were. This change in socialisation means that children may have more control over their own marketplace decisions as well as the freedom to apply their preferences in purchase decision-making. It is also possible, that time pressured parents of today may also feel guilty about not spending enough time with their children and therefore allow them more influence. Moreover, children are raised in different types of families and learn different norms, roles and consumer skills which play a significant role on the way children participate in family decision-making process (Flurry, 2007). Therefore, the differences in children’s consumption behaviour may be shaped by various skills learned in different socio-economic backgrounds, parental child-education attitudes as well as parental communication styles (Page and Ridgway, 2001). However, it is important to mention that agents from the external environment such as mass media and peers may sometimes be outpacing the family.
Lessons for marketing practice
According to Caruana and Vassallo (2003), from the early 1990s children have progressively become focus of marketers since it became obvious that besides being customers in their own right, children’s influence on family purchasing was steadily increasing. Dotson and Hyatt (2005) state, that marketers already recognising children as an important group to study, because their attitudes regarding products and brands are still in their formative stages and their current experiences affect their future brand preferences and marketplace behaviour. However, the authors do not discuss in their paper the ethical issues associated with marketing to young people. Today it is widely accepted that retailers have ethical and commercial responsibilities to their stakeholders, for instance, dealing honestly with customers, suppliers, avoiding using manufacturing labour, or indulging in unsustainable environmental practices (Nicholls and Cullen, 2004). Clark (2002) stresses that when advertising the goods, either to children or adults, marketers need to take into consideration the rules created by Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which points out that advertising should not exploit children’s credulity, loyalty, vulnerability, or lack of experience.
According to Nicholls and Cullen (2004), advertising may even help children learn to be consumers and consequently has an important socialisation role to play in their development. However, in ethical context, children younger than 10 years old cannot always distinguish between television advertising and entertainment or factual programming. Therefore children may be vulnerable to improper manipulation by marketers. Newlands and Frith (1996) state that children do not understand persuasive intent until they are eight or nine years old, therefore it is unethical to advertise to them before then. For instance, the TV advertising appears to be dominated by junk food that of confectionery, fast food and pre-sugared cereals (Turner, et.al. 2006). It seems that there are no adverts for fresh fruit or vegetables during the children’s programmes. This may have a negative influence on children’s understanding of what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, healthy or unhealthy.
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Children have a significant impact on the success of many businesses despite the fact that they spend little or no actual money. In terms of marketing perspective, it is important to consider the four of seven P’s. For instance, it is vital to keep in mind that the environment plays a key role in marketing and sales efforts. Suitable shop interior design can put consumers in the mood to buy. Regarding children’s shops, the merchandise should be easy to reach, shops should interact with children letting them to touch the toys or play with games and the use bright colours are key factors to success (Mintel, 2008a). Moreover, ‘cool’ product packaging attracts children’s eye and marketers should be creative when using colours, interesting boxes, and shapes (Mintel, 2008a). When marketing to children, marketers need to be particularly safety-conscious. This refers to both the product and the manner in which the product is being advertised or promoted.
Marketers need to understand that gender segmentation is an important variable used when marketing the products to girls and boys, however, media strategies used to reach them can be the same for both genders (Lee and Collins, 2000). For some products, marketers could even target children directly rather than through parents (even though parents are the ones who have the final veto on what is bought) with child oriented messages, logos and characters that highlight cool and fun image. However, Dotson and Hyatt (2005), who have done a number of observations on young people’s consumer behaviour, argue that the cool brand image appeal might not be effective with certain segments of the children’s market, for instance, those who are less independent in their marketplace. In terms of promotion, marketers could direct messages regarding decision making to family members who dominate particular stages of the decision process. For example, marketers could directly target mothers regarding children clothing. Moreover, featuring cartoon or other characters from children’s television programmes to gain their endorsement for their products is a worthy tactic. Celebrity endorsement may be even more influential among children than adults and could also be used when advertising the products (Mintel, 2008). The use of age-appropriate language, current phrases, and being succinct is important when creating promotional messages in communication campaigns for children.
Another trend observed by Dotson and Hyatt (2005) show that young people are more adaptive and open to new technologies than adults. Therefore this openness might mean that what marketers know today about marketing to children may relatively quick become out of date, because young people surf onto the next emerging idea or trend. Additionally, when observing children’s attitudes towards brands and their shopping behaviour, marketers should not only rely on traditional market research approaches, but also through observation, conversation and engagement.
Finally, marketers who target children have three main objectives: to directly seek children as customers, to work directly on parents through children’s ‘pester power’ and to imprint the younger generation with positive brand associations.
To conclude, it can be said, that children are found to play an important role throughout the purchase process. Knowledge and information may facilitate and enhance the adoption of various influence behaviours.
Family consumer behaviour is a complex area compared to individual decision making which may be that the relationships among members of the family are relatively complicated to sort out into meaningful constructs. Children may have their own purchasing power, they influence their parents’ buying decisions through ‘pester power’ and they are adult consumers of the future. Families have also become more democratic and children’s views are taken more into consideration. According to the literature reviewed in this essay it can be said that children have a right to some control over purchases that involve them, however, that exercising this right can result in confrontation and ‘pestering’ of parents (specifics of this disruption may depend on the product category). The degree of a child’s influence on family decision making process varies with the child’s age, social class and education. Additionally, parents’ response towards their children’s initiation varies between cultures; therefore marketers should take these facts into consideration when designing and implementing sales promotion and advertising strategies.
Effective marketing of products requires knowledge of how products are purchased and what sources of influence individual family members apply to the decision process. Marketers need to examine the relative influence of family members at each stage of the decision-making process (possibly for each products category). Understanding choice and influence process (of children) may provide marketers with the opportunity to shape brand choice and children’s behaviour as future consumers.