Millennials Buying Behavior towards Fashion 

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Purpose

The purpose of this thesis is to explore the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on millennials’ consumer decision making in regarding their fashion consumption. This exploratory study may aid marketing practitioners in assessing the behavioural changes that the pandemic has triggered in context of the theory provided, and to apply the findings towards evolving their marketing mix or other related strategies to adapt to the decision-making behaviours that have been taken on during the pandemic. This exploratory research aims to investigate the effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on consumers’ decision making, and to contribute to the growing field of knowledge surrounding consumer behaviour in times of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Need Recognition

Need recognition starts when the consumer becomes aware of the difference between the current state of an aspect in their lives versus the optimal state of said aspect (Blackwell et al., 2006), which is supported in “The Buying Decision Process Model” by Kotler & Keller (2016) which begins with “Problem Recognition”. Additionally, in McKinsey’s “Dynamic Model of the Consumer Decision Journey” (Court et al., 2009), the consumer journey begins with an “initial consideration” which has the same fundamental meaning as need recognition in the CDP model (Blackwell et al., 2006). This sparks a stimulus in the consumer to take action to fix or improve the perceived dissonance. The product’s ability to solve the problem that is perceived will result in a purchase if the value of the benefit is greater than the cost of purchasing it. Simply acknowledging that there is a need that must be fulfilled, meets the criteria of a consumer recognising a need. Consumers can also have the same feeling towards desires instead of needs, but these desires are more easily bargained away when their purchasing authority or ability is too low, and desires might be discarded as long as the fundamental need is met (Blackwell et al., 2006; Kotler & Keller, 2016; Stankevich et al., 2017). One such example might be a mobile phone purchase. The consumer might desire an iPhone, but their purchase ability does not accommodate such an expensive purchase, and thus the consumer settles for a cheaper phone. The Need Recognition itself can be divided into internal and external stimuli, or environmental influences and individual differences. These include but are not limited to culture, social class and situation for environmental influences as well as consumer resources, motivation and knowledge for individual differences (Blackwell et al., 2006; Stankevich et al., 2017). These differing factors alter our perceptions and what consumers are able to identify as needs.

Pre-Purchase Evaluation of Alternatives

In this stage, the consumer strives to give answers that arise during the previous phase (Blackwell et al., 2006). The consumer may ask questions such as What options are available? and Which one is most appropriate under my circumstances? are asked in order to make sufficient evaluations and comparisons with available alternatives (Blackwell et al., 2006). They use their own knowledge acquired during previous steps in order to allow this comparison to give them an accurate depiction of what alternative best fits their needs, in order to narrow down their options before they make a sound decision (Stankevich et al., 2017). These evaluations can be stored for later use, since similar transactions often use the same line of reasoning for products with similar attributes, and not rarely to solve similar problems. Different consumers use different evaluation criteria, also known as the standards and specifications used to compare different products and brands to allow for a choice to be made (Stankevich et al., 2017). How consumers evaluate these choices are unique to themselves, and are coloured by individual and environmental influences (Stankevich et al., 2017). This means that the evaluation criteria essentially become product-specific in its implementation, and is based around an individual’s values, lifestyles and their needs etc. Stankevich et al. (2017) also highlight that a consumer who possesses product preferences and brand loyalty might not engage in this stage of the consumer decision making process. In addition to this, there needs to be an evaluation of where the purchase is to be made as well, more specifically what store, website and/or company they shall choose (Blackwell et al., 2006; Kotler & Keller, 2016; Stankevich et al., 2017).

Impact of Crises on Consumer Behaviour 

External shocks are characterised by and often include trade-shocks, natural disasters, changes in international economy and interest rates (Raddatz, 2007). Negative external shocks often disrupt economic activities such as trade, stock exchanges and business operations, which ultimately lead to increase in unemployment, falling wages and are followed by a period or periods of weakened economic growth. The impact of external crises on consumer behaviour are often viewed through the concept of consumption smoothing. This concept is employed to observe the expenditure patterns of consumers between necessary and discretionary goods during times of crises (Dutt & Padmanabhan, 2011).

Consumer’s Reaction During Times of Crisis.

Quantitative studies have shown the effects of external shocks on consumer’s behaviour on an expenditure level, however qualitative research has also been done to observe the psychological aspects that influence consumers during times of crises (Dutt & Padmanabhan, 2011., & McKenzie, 2006). Kaytaz and Gul (2014) understood that the psychology of consumers has not been observed enough due to the focus on expenditure smoothing. Through their research they observed that Turkish consumer’s behaviour were affected regardless of whether they experienced a decrease in income during the 2008 economic crisis (Kaytaz and Gul, 2014). The findings suggested that regardless of changes in income, an economic crisis inhibits uncertainty and lowers confidence in the future (Kaytaz & Gul, 2014). The existing body of literature concerning consumption patterns during times of crisis have established the concept of designation of goods between being essential and discretionary, and within those categories exists sub-categories that classify them between durables, semi-durables, non-durables and services (Dutt & Padmanabhan, 2011). Goods from the fashion industry fall on the spectrum of being discretionary goods and are semi-durables due to them being able to be used multiple times over an extended period (EuroStat & OECD, 2007). Previous studies have shown that discretionary goods such as clothes are the goods that are most negatively affected due to expenditure smoothing (Dutt & Padmanabhan, 2011). There are emerging studies in the field of marketing that have begun to observe the behavioural patterns of consumers towards fashion goods during times of crisis, such as the one conducted by Ertekin et al. (2020). The study observed Turkish consumers and their consumption practices in regards to fashion goods. Through conducting semi-structured interviews Ertekin et al. (2020), found that the respondents displayed six consumption practices during and after the economic crisis of 2018, which were; reusing, reducing, rejecting, searching for alternative channels, reconsidering and relying on discounts. This study contributes to the body of literature as it provides a holistic view on consumer behaviour during times of crisis as it qualifies the anti-consumption patterns that arise during times of crisis. In addition, it allows for marketing research avenues in the future so that businesses can adjust their communication, distribution, pricing and product strategies in accordance to consumer’s reactions to these events.

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Covid 19’s Impact on Consumer Behaviour.

Research has found that consumption patterns and behaviours are affected during times of crisis, in the form of lowered confidence, risk aversion and consumption smoothing across categories (Kaytaz & Gul, 2014). However, the COVID-19 pandemic has not been an ordinary crisis, as efforts to contain the pandemic have led to large parts of the world being forced into shutdown, which has resulted in economic instability throughout the globe (Mehta et al., 2020). In addition, consumer’s behaviours have been transformed in a way that has likely never been before, in the form of stay at home orders and social distancing directives (Mehta et al., 2020). Due to the novelty of the phenomenon, research on the effect of COVID-19 has only begun to be explored. Furthermore, the long-term impact on consumers will most likely not fully show itself until normalcy is restored to everyday life (Loxton et al., 2020). As a result of the uniqueness of the current pandemic, academics are questioning to what extent consumer behaviours will be changed, not just on a fiscal, but on a fundamental level that will reshape how people will view consumption in the future (Mehta et al., 2020).
Research has shown that on a rudimentary level, the effects of COVID-19 have been consistent with observations made on past crises. Loxton et al. (2020) found that consumer behaviour during the initial months of the pandemic corresponded with previous shock events such as the SARS outbreak in 2002, the Christchurch earthquake of 2011 and 2017’s Hurricane Irma. The findings showed that, like the previous crisis events, consumers during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, showed signs of panic buying, herd mentality, decrease in discretionary spending and a heightened influence of the media on consumer sentiment (Loxton et al., 2020). Their findings provide preliminary results which show similarities between the reactions of consumers towards the current pandemic and previous external shock events. The authors do acknowledge the uniqueness of the pandemic due to its international scale and duration, and that the full effects of the pandemic cannot yet to be observed, and until a vaccine is administered to a wider population, uncertainty and fear will continue to alter consumer behaviour (Loxton et al., 2020).
In light of the dramatic lifestyle changes taken on by a large portion of the world in the form of lockdowns and stay at home orders, researchers have begun to question the effect that the pandemic has had on consumer materialism. Through conducting interviews with marketing professionals and consumers in India, Mehta et al. (2020) were able to identify themes, shifts in values and actions that arose amidst the pandemic. Through their interviews with marketing professionals, they found external and internal drivers of consumer behaviour such as personality type, brand image, status and self-concept were mitigated during the lockdown phase of the pandemic (Mehta et al., 2020). The interviews with consumers presented that people have begun to reconsider and reflect on their own buying behaviours, in which they further elaborated and expressed sentiments about appreciation for their current possessions. In addition to this, consumers expressed that they have grown their sense of solidarity in these times and have shifted their expenditures towards local brands (Mehta et al., 2020).

Millennials Buying Behaviour towards

Fashion According to Andreea-Ionela (2020), a consumer’s personal decision-making process is influenced by numerous factors, and the “importance of each factor varies by market segments”. Owing to this, Andreea-Ionela (2020) describe the purchase decision-making process of fashion items as an intricate phenomenon. The fashion industry is driven by influencing change in styles and tastes of the consumers, but research lacks in areas surrounding why consumers buy clothing and researchers therefore consider it vital to understand how the psychology of consumption works (Goldsmith et al., 2012). According to Rise et al. (2010), clothing is used by individuals as a communication tool to convey messages about themselves and their self-identity. This is also considered to be the factor that shapes generation Y’s interaction with fashion brands. Unlike generations before them, millennial consumers display inconsistencies in their behaviour, thus forcing marketers to keep up with their changing behaviours and implement strategies to attract this important generation (Valaei & Nikhashemi, 2017). As mentioned by Valaei and Nikhashemi (2017), this generation is known to be able to influence the spending and purchase behaviour of their parents and is the reason they are considered to be an essential generation cohort for researchers investigating the fashion retail industry. Millennials interact and resonate with brands that complement their personality, lifestyle and social values. Khan et al. (2016), highlight fashion to be very important to generation Y and classify this generation to be very fashion conscious. According to (Khan et al., 2016) Millennials and Gen Z are known to have become the focus of marketing activities and are specifically targeted by companies in the fashion industry due to their impulse buying behaviour and heavy spending tendencies. The research conducted by Khan et al. (2016) also states that millennials are more likely to make a purchase on impulse if they have the financial capacity and time available to make the actual purchase and if they find the store environment to be comfortable. Impulse buying has been historically defined as unplanned purchases due to consumers taking the action to purchase a product without prior intention to do so (Engel et al., 1968). However, new research suggests that many situational, demographic and behavioural factors play a crucial part in a consumer’s impulse purchase behaviour (Sharma et al., 2010).

Table of contents :

Introduction 
Background
Problem
1.3 Purpose
1.4 Research Question
1.5 Delimitations
Literature Review 
2.1 Introduction to Literature Review
2.2 Method for Literature Review
2.3 Consumer Behaviour
2.3.1 Consumer Decision Making Process
2.3.2 Additional View
2.4 Impact of Crises on Consumer Behaviour
2.4.1 External Shocks
2.4.2 Consumer’s Reaction During Times of Crisis.
2.4.3 Covid 19’s Impact on Consumer Behaviour
2.5 Consumer Behavior of Millennials
2.5.1 Millennials
2.5.2 Millennials Buying Behavior towards Fashion
2.6 Gap in Literature
Methodology & Method 
3.1 Methodology
3.1.1 Research Paradigm
3.1.2 Research Approach
3.1.3 Research Design
3.2 Method
3.2.1 Primary Data
3.2.2 Sampling Approach
3.2.3 Semi-Structured Interviews
3.2.4 Interview Questions
3.3 Ethics
3.3.1 Anonymity and Confidentiality
3.3.2 Credibility
3.3.3 Transferability
3.3.4 Dependability
3.3.5 Confirmability
Findings 
4.1 Change in Social Settings
4.1.1 Change in Needs
4.1.2 New Social Settings
4.1.3 Change in Satisfaction
4.2 Change in Requirements
4.2.1 Change in Needs
4.2.2 Brand Adoption
4.3 Behavioural Shift
4.3.1 Justifications
4.3.2 Seeking Information
4.3.3 Change in Purchase Frequency and Quantity
Analysis 
5.1 Need Recognition
5.2 Search for Information
5.3 Pre-Purchase Evaluation of Alternatives
5.4 Purchase
5.5 Post-Consumption Evaluation
Conclusion
Discussion 
7.1 Contributions
7.2 Practical Implications
7.3 Limitations
7.4 Future Research
References

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