Family Influence On The Purchase Behaviour Education Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.


The aim of this study is to uncover if families have any influence over the purchase patterns of young independents. The author intends to research the area and then complete a qualitative study to deduce if the shopping patterns that a child witnesses from his parents have any affect, positively or negatively on the shopping patterns that child undertakes once they become young adults and independent shoppers. Previous studies, which will be discussed later have shown that intergenerational influence is a necessary part of socialisation (Moore, Wilkie and Lutz, 2002). In this study the researcher hopes to find if this intergenerational influence applies to shopping behaviour of both high involvement and low involvement goods.

Literature Review


The family, or to be more precise, the nuclear family is a concept that holds some sort of emotional attachment with everybody. For the purpose of this paper, the researcher will deal only with the nuclear family unless otherwise stated. The family unit itself has been described in many ways; Bourdieu (1996: 19) states that 'the family is a set of related individuals linked either by alliance or filiation, or, less commonly, by adoption, and living under the same roof.' While this is a relatively precise and acceptable description of the family, the true definition of a family has become more complex due to possibility of divorce, single parent families and people living together that are not married. It has even been mentioned that 'the nuclear family is a minority experience compared to the number of unmarried couples living together, single-parent families, married couples living apart, etc.' (Gubrium and Holstein cited in Bourdieu, 1996: 19). And as this notion of the family becomes more blurred, it may become harder to distinguish what does and what does not constitute a family.

One method of determining a family comes in the form of evaluating the properties that hold a group of people together. According to Bourdieu (1996: 20) there are two sets of properties that are common among true families. The first being when the properties of an individual are attributed to the whole group, in this case the family is seen as 'a transpersonal person with a common life'(Bourdieu, 1996:20). The second set of properties mentioned by Bourdieu (1996: 20) is that the family assumes it exists in a separate social universe or inner circle in which its intimacy is protected by a barrier to those that are not part of this circle. This equates to a certain privacy or code that only the members of the family have access to and outsiders are kept at a distance from this private universe. It also suggested by Bourdieu (1996: 20) that the idea of a household or residence also forms part of this separateness to the world. The household is a physical structure associated with those that make up the family and, in turn, helps form the barrier between those that are part of the family and those that are not. (Bourdieu, 1996)

2.2 Family Influence and Intergenerational Influence.

Families appear to be complex in nature, and their behaviour can differs with each family as some families may be closer than others and some may show more affection than others. Researchers trying to understand what affects and influences families with regards to consumption can find these studies very useful. Those who want to know who makes the purchasing decisions and who holds the most influence can find the family concept very helpful. For this study, the family concept is also useful in determining the role the family plays in young adults' brand preference.

Some studies have formed the basis for the researcher's interest in the area, Bravo, Fraj and Montaner (2008: 255-68) conducted a study in which they looked at how families influence their children's attitudes to brands and their associations with perceived quality. It was undertaken with the hope of finding out if these associations create a positive or a negative perception and will it lead to them potentially purchasing the product or service. The study uncovered that the influence a parent has over their children as young adults depends on a number of influencers; namely family, the child's sense of belonging and the strength of the family. It also uncovered that low involvement goods tend to be more likely to be intergenerationally influenced than high involvement goods and that this influence tended to decline as the young adult grew older and gained their own experience. This study was primarily devised to uncover if such influences would lead a young adult to pay a premium for a product they deemed to be superior based on family influence. While this study is interesting, the researcher feels it is necessary to further the study to include more generic products and not these requiring a premium. This study will be more product based than price based, although though not exclusively so.

Moore, Wilkie and Lutz (2002) conducted a similar study previous to the aforementioned study. The basis for their study was to uncover Intergenerational influences in consumption. Their study also took more generic consumer products as the basis of their study, unlike the previous study which used premium products. Moore, Wilkie and Lutz used common groceries as the products in their study. It was asked that both the parents and children be interviewed with regards to product preferences and the results be compared. What became apparent in their study was that it can be possible for parents to influence their children's potential use or non use of an entire product category. The study showed that children whose parents used canned vegetables were more likely to use canned vegetables themselves and vice-versa for children whose parents did not use canned vegetables. In 70 per cent of instances, brands correlated between the parents and children (when three brands were mentioned).

The two studies mentioned above give an insight into the area the researcher is studying, it is hoped that by combining the two in a more modern study, it will be possible to uncover more about how important family consumption behaviour is in influencing the purchase patterns and brand preferences of recently independent young adults.

With regards to intergenerational influence, Moore, Wilkie and Lutz (2002) state that 'the key elements are embedded in socialization theory'. In order to fully understand the subject are, it is necessary to look a briefly at socialization theory.

2.2.1 Socialization Theory

Socialization is 'the process by which people learn the social roles and behaviours they need to participate effectively in society' (Brim 1968 cited in Moore, Wilkie and Lutz 2002). It helps society function and allows people to mould their self identity throughout their life. It is of utmost importance during child and adolescent stage as these are very important to the shaping of one's personality and behaviour, which will in turn affect their future (McNeal 1987 cited in Moore, Wilkie and Lutz 2002: 17). Parents and families play an important role in the development of their children socially; the transmission of influence and attitudes to these children come from the habits, communication and observation of their parents (Bravo, Fraj and Montaner 2008). These can then become social norms for these children.


The aim of this paper is to determine the influence, if any, that family purchase decisions have on a newly independent young adult. It is hoped to explore the purchase patterns of these young adults and find any correlations between their own brand preferences and the preferences of the household in which they grew up in. The researcher will also be open to the possibility that no correlation exists in this area. For the purpose of this research, when dealing with the concept of family influence, we will be referring mainly to parental influence.

Research Question:

Do families influence brand preference among young independents?

Further Questions:

Is there a positive/negative perception of products and product categories based on family consumption?

How does any level of influence vary when comparing high involvement and low involvement goods?

When exploring underlying traits and characteristics, such as is being done in this paper, a form of qualitative data analysis is more suitable than quantitative analysis. For the purpose of this study, the researcher used an in-depth interview and a focus group to more efficiently answer the research question.

Sample Selection

Qualitative research uses non-probability sampling as it does not aim to show a statistically representative conclusion (Wilmot). As the criteria needed in this sample is very exact, purposive sampling was used. Purposive sampling is a qualitative technique that is used to pick the sample based on the characteristics of individuals matching the criteria of respondents that would best answer the research question (Wilmot). For example, in this study, it is necessary that the sample will consist of young adults, ideally 18 - 26, that have left home and can comment on, and compare, their purchasing patterns to those of their parents.

In-Depth Interview

Interviewing is a method of researching that facilitates the move away from fixed answer questions. Interviews allow for depth of research not possible with questionnaires that are rigid and restrictive. Interviews allow the researcher to 'access the "world" in the terms of those people being researched (Stroh 2000: 197). These interviews are one to one and allow the researcher access to underlying traits of the interviewee through depth of conversation. This is achieved through open-ended questions which require the interviewee give long discursive answers.

In this study, the researcher has interviewed a 22 year old male currently living away from home for the purpose of attending college.

Focus group

A focus group 'consists of a group of people discussing a topic or issues defined by a researcher' (Cameron, 2005: 157). It generally consists of between six and ten people and usually last as long as two hours. A successful focus group relies on interaction between the members of the group. The idea of the focus group is get the most discussion possible out of the group in a free flowing conversation style atmosphere. Ideally the participants will be relaxed to encourage a free-flowing session. For this reason, it is not unusual to use ice-breakers or games to begin the conversation and get everyone settled before the true topics are discussed. According to Morgan (1996) a focus group has three essential components that distinguish it from other groups. They are as follows:

The primary purpose of a focus group is research.

Interaction and group discussion is the source of data

It acknowledges the researchers active role in creating discussion for the purpose of data collection.

The focus group conducted for this study consisted of 5 participants, of various living arrangements including renting and living at home, it was also mixed gender.

Data Analysis

For the purpose of this study, it was necessary to code the data sources available. Each source was read multiple times before coding began. Once coding had commenced, it quickly became apparent that there was a core category, Influence. And the sources of this influence and the nature of it were repeatedly discussed throughout both sources. As the sources were coded and recoded, a number of sub categories were also developed leading to an interesting map from which to carry out the data analysis. The coding categories can be seen below.

Category: Influence

Subcategory 1: From Parents

Code: Positive Influence

Code: Negative Influence

Subcategory 2: Over Parents

Code: Positive Influence

Code: Negative Influence

Subcategory 3: High Involvement Goods

Code: Parents Influence

Code: Own Experience

Subcategory 4: Low involvement Goods

Code: Parents Experience

Code: Own Experience

These categories and subcategories provided us with a basis to see what influenced our interviewee's with regards to the purchasing, was it a positive or negative influence and how it affected purchase decisions when it came to the time for respondents to make their own choice about which products to purchase.

Data Analysis

Influence from Parents

From our research, we can deduce strong influence from parents both positively and negatively on their children's purchasing behaviour. This can be traced back to childhood memories that stick with the individual throughout adolescence and into young adulthood. It appears that strong happy memories produce positive influences and the negative memories come from unhappy childhood experiences. With boys, the father appears to create a positive influence on product choice:

Michael: I guess one thing that always comes to mind when I'm shopping, em, when I'm shopping for toiletries, especially shaving gel or foam, eh, when I was a kid, my dad would show me how to shave, he used to always use foam and then I just got into the habit of using that instead of gel so anytime when I'm shopping for that kind of stuff I would always pick the foam as opposed to the gel.

These fond memories appear to create a sense of nostalgia with a certain brand or product type and this can reflect favourably on any brands associated with that particular memory. These nostalgic references appeared numerous times in the study and can be assumed to be a reason for brand preference.

Caroline: em I suppose washing powder and softener would come to mind but just because it smells like home.

Certain low involvement groceries also appear frequently when comparing a person's shopping patterns with that of their parents. Once again a fond memory or a respondents liking of the products tend to mean it reflects positively.

Lisa: Well sometimes for certain meals and stuff like if there's a certain dinner that you like and you know your mum uses.

Ronan: Knorr pepper sauce!

Lisa: yeah and you go yeah ill get that, or like for spaghetti bolognese you'd use a certain type of tomato sauce then you go buy that sauce.

There were also instances where the influence that came from the parents was negative towards a product and this has subsequently resulted in a bad perception of the product from the young adults. Memories of being forced to eat something they didn't like created a bad perception of the brand and made interviewee's highly unlikely to purchase such products themselves:

Michael: Eh, I wouldn't, if I was sick I would not buy Lemsip, eh, because when I was a kid and I was really sick I used to have to drink them and I hated it so I wouldn't buy them for the fact that bad memories and I can't stand the taste.

Influence to Parents

When growing up, interviewee's recalled trying to influence their parents in their purchase behaviour. Many times this was in order to get some sort of treat for themselves. This memory of attempting to persuade their parents proves to be interesting as some of the interviewee's still buy the products they wanted their parents to buy for them as children:

Michael: Well if, I suppose until they did take them out I would have, if I saw two cereals that I was in debate over and one had a toy, I would buy the one with the toy, even now like.

From the study, it appeared that when the interviewee's attempted to influence their parents it had a positive affect on some. What also was shown in the research is that attempting to influence their parents to buy a certain product had no negative affect on current buying behaviour. Wanting something as a child may lead to young adults having a preference for it now, but it appears it will not affect these products negatively in any way.

High Involvement Goods

With regards to influence over high involvement goods, many young adults will dismiss their parents view on such matters. Where purchases which require a lot some thought and are generally more expensive, young adults will trust their own experiences ahead parental influences in most cases:

Lisa: My parents wouldn't have a clue! So I wouldn't take their advice on anything like that.

Ronan: I reckon id know more than my parents would in that kind of purchasing.

Interviewee's feel they know more about certain products than their parents but in some cases they will feel that their parents are more knowledgeable. It came to light that when purchasing a car, the father's view or opinion was sought by some interviewee's. The father is seen as person who can be trusted in this situation and whose opinion carries a great deal of value. Both males and females mentioned the father as an influence when deciding on buying a car:

Michael: Eh, just I suppose influenced by him and the way he went about it in the research, eh, and trying to find all the relative information on the car so I suppose that's kind of a template when I was searching for my own car, I did the exact same.

This shows that while many people will prioritise their own experiences ahead of their parents influence when buying high involvement goods, the parent's opinion is still important in certain areas. A point summed up well below:

Lisa: I might ask my dad if I was buying a car…em yeah I probably would ask his advice then. But I think for most appliances in the household I think id be…..well I don't have a house or appliances but I think id still be more up to date with what's out there and……and, I really want a Dyson!

Low Involvement Goods

With low involvement goods, the findings are in contrast to that of high involvement goods. It has been found that parents hold a relatively large influence over these products with only a small mention of interviewee's own experience shaping their purchase patterns. The interviewee's, many without realising it, were purchasing the same products that they have grown up with, and as a result of their parents buying these products, they too now buy these products. Many of these products were groceries and points to a pattern of interviewee's accepting these products as the norm and thinking of a specific brand in a product category as an automatic purchase.

Michael: Actually yeah, I suppose Fairy liquid was always at home on the counter for washing dishes so, I suppose I would buy that even though its more expensive than say Tesco brand just to have in the house. And toothpaste, I suppose I would always buy the same toothpaste that I've grown up with, I'd make a conscious decision to go with the same brand.

This appears to create brand loyalty with specific product categories, especially if the products have a tie to the parental home or a childhood memory. It can even become the topic of a debate over which product or brand is superior, and the combatant's bias is based only on the product or brand that the person has grown up accepting as the norm. The argument regarding ketchup is an example of this where the argument over the superior ketchup, Chef of Heinz, has been the topic of many social debates. A similar debate was present in the focus group:

Interviewer: and what would you buy that your mom would buy?

Caroline: emm…..

Interviewer: Like tea or……

Caroline: mm tea bags

Interviewer: ok Lyons ….or Barrys or…

Caroline: Barrys

Interviewer: ok so if you saw Barrys there but you saw Lyons or Tetley there for cheaper

Caroline: no Barrys!

Interviewer: Barrys all the way?

Caroline: yep

Lisa: oh that's one thing actually, teabags!

Caroline: or like Heinz ketchup

Gerard: Sausages!

There was also an instance noted where an interviewee often drew from his own experience rather than that of his parents when purchasing low involvement goods. When the interviewee acknowledged that he had little or no influence in the shopping process as a child, he then noted that due to this, he often ignores his parents purchase patterns and chooses products independently of any influence from his parents:

Michael: Em, well not particularly, again maybe the Avonmore milk really, like I said when I was a kid, I was much too young to have influence on large buying things so I'm buying my own stuff now.


The research shows a clear link between young adults purchasing patterns and that of their parents. We can also see how memories of childhood experiences with certain products can create a nostalgic effect that reflects well on the product in the eye of the young adult. It can create a conscious or unconscious loyalty with certain products, this loyalty based solely on intergenerational influence. It is for this reason that Moore, Wilkie and Lutz (2002) feel that intergenerational influence as a source of brand loyalty is being overlooked; this appears to be the case. Solomon (2007: 436) states that parents 'deliberately try to instil their own values about consumption in their children'. While this has a necessity in the child's development, it can have a negative affect as these children can grow up to have negative perceptions of the brands that were forced on them as a kid.

This study has shown the level of influence that a parent can have over their children, and this level of influence can change depending on the product or brand in question. Many low involvement goods/brands that young adults have grown up with appear to have an almost automatic role in their purchasing behaviour. Certain brands are almost the 'only brand' as it is the brand that they have become the most used to. The role of parents in high involvement goods diminishes somewhat as young adults tend to trust themselves more. Perhaps this is due to most high involvement goods having a technological side or a style-factor which young adults may feel they have more knowledge on.


The purpose of this research was to find if, and to what level, parents influence the consumption preferences of young independents. This paper has concluded that parents have an extensive influence over what products their children buy once they are old enough to choose for themselves. The level of influence however does change with the type of product and also the level of influence the child had in the shopping process. The findings are in line with other studies on this subject; the consensus is that parents are a key influencer on their children's consumption patterns as they reach the young adult stage. Also, as the products become more high involvement, the level of parental influence shrinks, but does not disappear altogether.

The results appear to show little difference in terms of gender as influence carries through gender barriers. What must be noted is that while parents have the ability to pass down positive perceptions of a brand, it also possible that they hand down negative perceptions too which can also stay with a child throughout their lifetime.

Limitations of this study are that the sample used is small and cannot be considered as a representation or the full population. It is recommended that further study on this are be undertaken, expanding the sample used. A study on the passing down of brand loyalty from generation to generation is also recommended as this is an area that appears to be currently overlooked.

Recommendation 300

This study has shown a large passing of brand awareness and brand loyalty from parents to children. And it appears that a positive perception of a brand as child can lead to that positive perception staying with the child right into adulthood. While it can be unethical at times to target children with your advertising, it must be remembered that children are the audience of tomorrow and by making ordinary household brands appealing to children, a marketer can instil a positive perception early in a child's consuming lifetime and one that will potentially last with them in their progression into adulthood. Solomon (2007: 435) noted that Kodak have already tried this approach by encouraging children to become photographers early in the hope of keeping them as loyal customers throughout their lifetime.

It is also recommended that marketers no longer overlook the idea of intergenerational influence on brand loyalty and begin to see the potential to lock up generation after generation of loyal customers by encouraging the passing down of brand preferences from parents to children. This may be through awareness campaigns or simply by promoting the benefits of your product offering not only to the buyer, but also to the family of the buyer. It is also possible to win back consumers through use of nostalgic advertising. This study highlighted numerous times that nostalgia was a big part of what made young adults buy the products their parents bought. So by heightening this sense of nostalgia, it may be possible to grow market share through reminding young adults of memories that may have, up until now, been forgotten.


Bourdieu, P. (1996) 'On the Family as a Realized Category', Theory, Culture & Society 13(3): 19-26

Bravo, R, Fraj, E and Montaner, T. (2008) 'Family influence on young adult's brand evaluation. An empirical analysis focused on parent-children influence in three consumer packaged goods', The International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research 18(3): 255-68

Cameron, J. (2005) 'Focussing on the Focus Group', in Iain Hay (ed.), Qualitative Research Methods in Human Geography, 2nd ed. Melbourne: Oxford University Press

Morgan, David. (1996) 'Focus groups', Annual Review of Sociology 22: 129-52

Moore, E, Wilkie, W and Lutz, R. (2002) 'Passing the Torch: Intergenerational influences as a Source of Brand Equity', Journal of Marketing 66: 17-37

Solomon, M. (2007) Consumer Behaviour: Buying, Having, and Being, 7th ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Stroh, M. (2000) 'Qualitative Interviewing', in D. Burton (ed) Research Training for Social Scientists, pp196-214. London: Sage Publications

Wilmot, Amanda. (No Year) 'Designing sampling strategies for qualitative social research: with particular reference to the Office for National Statistics' Qualitative Respondent Register'. URL (accessed 2 March 2010):