American-made to label-conscious China
manufacturers wanting to cash in on China's clothing market might
be better off preaching to the choir than trying to convert the
masses, according to a study by CSUS family and consumer sciences
professor Dong Shen.
Her sizable survey of Chinese consumers found the "Made in
the U.S.A." label is a better sell to those who already appreciate
American culture. More traditional Chinese shoppers prefer garments
manufactured in the People's Republic of China.
The results were published in the September issue of Family and
Consumer Sciences Research Journal.
The study, which was done prior to China's inclusion in the World
Trade Organization, or WTO, found most Chinese consumers are very
interested in U.S.-made clothing and in fact prefer it. Shen notes
that this is consistent with research done in other developing countries
that shows consumers prefer products made by companies from developed
countries. "It's a good time for American companies to go into
China," she says.
The 3,000 residents of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou who responded
to the survey represented a variety of occupations, from business
people to factory workers.
Their support for American-made clothing was closely associated
with their level of exposure to and acceptance of American culture,
which has implications for business. "If you want to promote
American clothing in China, you need to create a lifestyle to convince
them to buy rather than focus on a particular line of clothing,"
Shen says. "If they are open to the lifestyle, it will be easier
to sell to them."
With today's global communication, even without visiting, people
have access to other cultures. The Chinese have ready access to
American movies and fast food. To determine if that exposure translated
into interest in American brands Shen used two sets of scales to
measure cultural acceptance.
One measured belief in traditional Chinese values such as having
at least one son. The other, a cultural behavioral measure, related
to events or behaviors such as celebrating only Chinese traditional
festivals or celebrating American festivals like Christmas. "If
a person has a high rank, they strongly believe in Chinese culture
and you would expect them to favor Chinese clothing," she says.
"That hypothesis was supported."
One topic that surfaced that may make American companies hesitant
about the Chinese market is that respondents said that even if they
like American clothing and had access to it, they wouldn't buy it
because it's too expensive. But, as Shen points out, that shouldn't
be enough of a barrier. "The answer is 1.4 billion people.
If you just target five percent, it's still a huge market."
Another way to solve the problem is for U.S. companies to hire contractors
and facilities in China but carry the American brand, she says.
Some companies are already in the Asian region, such as Levi, Calvin
Klein and Nike. "Chinese people will buy the American brand,
even if it's made in China," she says.
Now that China has joined the World Trade Organization, Shen expects
dramatic changes, which represent a wonderful opportunity for America.
An upcoming research project will have her working with business
professors Craig Kelley and Joseph Richard to study the Chinese
market after China's entry into the WTO.