Culture is a factor in all buyer search
All buyer search is conducted within the framework of society. Buyers begin to learn at a very early age what is acceptable behaviour when seeking out products and what is not. We recognise that the individual is the smallest unit of buyer behaviour, and the pyramid rises from there according to the increasing sise of the unit with which the individual identifies. Culture affects all levels of the society as shown.
Culture operates on the individual buyer in many ways. For example, the individual knows that he or she must seek out and purchase needed goods rather than steal them. The buyer also knows, no matter what type of search is involved, that one is expected to honor all contracts, make payment, pay on time, register complaints in legitimate ways, observe rules, and assume responsibility for information seeking. We recognise these prescribed ways of doing business as cultural customs, beliefs, and ethics. No one has to tell us how to behave in the search process; it is a part of our culture.
Culture also affects buyer behaviour by operating through the family, business firms, and social groups. First, culture directly affects each of these groups helping to shape the attitudes, feelings, biases, and opinions that the individual buyer may draw upon. Second, the various groups render rewards to the buyer for correct behaviour and punish incorrect behaviour.
Culture Establishes Norms of Market Behaviour
Culture establishes the standards, or norms, upon which all market behaviour rests. A cultural norm is defined as an understood way of acting or behaving prescribed by the society as a whole. Norms sometimes change and are often unclear or ambiguous, but they exert a powerful influence that guides our daily lives. A norm can be any kind of social standard, but nothing is just or correct, ethical or moral, except what the norms of a society declare to be just or correct, ethical or moral. In some societies, a buyer is expected to haggle with the merchant over every purchase, but in the United States and Australia most purchases are made without much bargaining. Although some prices are negotiated, our system is characterised as a one-price economy because the retailer sets the price and the buyer can accept or reject it.
Cultural norms serve to guide our actions as buyers. For example, in searching for products the buyer is expected to acquire sufficient information to make a sound judgment. Society prescribes that the seller may withhold information, but not lie about the product. Cultural norms come in pairs: they prescribe what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. We are required to do one thing and are forbidden to do its opposite. We are required to drive on the right side of the road (prescribed) and forbidden to drive on the left (proscribed). Buyers are required to deal honestly and forbidden from dealing dishonestly.
Cultural norms are standards to judge behaviour. Conformity is accepted and nonconformity is not accepted after a given point. We can judge our own behaviour as well as that of others.
Types of Norms
There are many types of cultural norms that can be identified, but the most important are laws, mores, and customs.
Culture and customs are the ways that people interact with each other. Observance of these customs is not required by law; their only enforcement is by the people themselves. People conform to them because they believe in them. We eat three meals a day, observe retail store hours, and purchase the latest fashions because we feel it is the right thing to do.
Mores are those customs or usages of a society that are regarded as being essential to its welfare and even survival. They include moral attitudes and are the more formal rules and customs prescribed by the society. Although there are no agencies to enforce mores, the penalties for breaking the rules can be severe. Whereas deviations from customs are not serious, deviations in moral conduct are considered a threat to the entire society. Thus, family responsibility, sexual behaviour, and business ethics are considered very serious matters.
Laws are the most formal of all social norms and pertain to deviations from accepted conduct, some so serious that they cannot be tolerated by the society. In every culture there are some laws that are questioned by certain groups. Laws are formally enacted by the courts or some duly authorised governmental body and may be enforced by various agencies such as the police, national guard, or army. The legal structure has a direct bearing on the operation of business. Laws prescribe many of the relationships between business and the buyer.
Norms Operate through Rewards and Sanctions
Norms of culture are enforced by the use of rewards and sanctions. Rewards are the favors that society can bestow in appreciation for conformity; sanctions are the penalties society can bring to bear on the nonconformist. Both can be effective in assuring a large measure of conformity, and both can be formally or informally structured into the system.
Formal rewards are such things as diplomas, awards, plaques, medals, and testimonials. Informal rewards usually take the form of approval by our friends—a handshake, a pat on the back, an acceptance of a dinner invitation, or flattery.
Formal sanctions result from the laws previously mentioned. These sanctions vary in form from money payments for minor deviations, such as parking violations, to long prison terms for more serious crimes, such as stealing. Informal sanctions are in the form of disapproval by our peers. The ostracised person, or the social outcast, knows informal sanctions. These sanctions may take the form of a look, a gesture, silence, or avoidance, and any one of these can be effective. People conform to norms for a number of reasons. First, norms bring a high measure of order into daily interactions. We know what to expect from the behaviour of others because we conform to the same norms. Second, norms are a partial substitute for judgment. Because of established norms, we know what is right or wrong and what is acceptable behaviour without worrying about it. Third, people like the approval of their peers that results from conformity to norms. Fourth, most people do not care for the disapproval that results when norms are broken. Finally, it is often easier to conform than not.
Norms affect market behaviour because they apply to both buyer and seller. Such everyday business ethics as honoring contracts, offering honest service, and competing fairly are based on norms.