The Advent of Western-Style Shopping Centres and Changes in Saudi Women's Purchasing Behaviour

The Advent of Western-Style Shopping Centres and Changes in Saudi Women's Purchasing Behaviour

Haya Alsubaie, Fredy-Roberto Valenzuela, Sujana Adapa
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6272-8.ch002
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This chapter sets out to investigate: (a) the extent to which Western-style shopping centres affected women's culture and (b) the reasons for family members to imitate relatives and subsequently purchase unaffordable apparel in Riyadh. In order to address these research questions, in-depth interviews were conducted with Saudi women shoppers at Western-style shopping centres. Results show that the main reasons for visiting Western-style shopping centres were the expensive brand images, improving social position within the society, liberalisation of women's culture, and to portray themselves as open-minded individuals. Moreover, the study also shows that Saudi women are highly influenced by the new Western-style shopping environment as evidenced by their desire to imitate relatives who shop at Western-style shopping centres and their desire to improve their perceived social position. Notably, they also depict a “must have” attitude toward current fashion and keeping on top of the latest fashion trends.
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In Saudi Arabia, a country with one of the world’s most authoritarian societies and where traditional demands observance of strict social mores (Rice, 2004), the new Western-style shopping environment in the capital city Riyadh seems something of a contradiction to the casual observer. Since the proliferation of Western-style shopping centres and the relatively easy availability of Western goods, the traditional expectations of Saudi customers have changed to a great extent. Consequently, modern women also started demanding the dynamic and entertaining shopping experience that is provided by an attractive, contemporary and Western retail environment (Bhuian, 1997). With no shortage of choice Saudi women congregate in the shopping centres to embrace consumerism and spend whatever it costs to satisfy their desire for prestige and luxury products (Assad, 2007). Assad (2007) also indicated that consumer lifestyle and the consumerist attitude are spreading rapidly in Saudi Arabia. The spread of consumerism in the country is a consequence of a combination of global and local factors such as commercial advertisements, phenomenal uptake of the Internet, attractive marketing strategies and urbanisation processes. This mixture of global and local factors has changed Saudi Arabian culture at a phenomenal pace and characterises modern-day Riyadh.

Hofstede’s work on culture in the 1980s categorised Saudi society at a high level of conservationist culture. However, Hofstede’s work has been cited and criticized by many (Jones, 2007). It has been discredited in part or whole as many researchers find culture to be a dynamic, continually changing concept, coupled with forces such as globalisation and westernisation, which change the way we trade, communicate and act. As such, it is expected that the advent of the Western-style shopping centres in Saudi Arabia has resulted in Saudi women spending more via extended credit limits that was not a characteristic of shopping in traditional shopping centres. It was also evident that family or even extended family significantly influences Saudi women’s consumption behaviour thereby creating a ‘must have’ attitude towards material goods in order to maintain social prestige. Hence there is a need for a study that investigates how the purchasing pattern behaviour of Saudi women has changed in time and the different factors that have influenced the shift in the purchasing behaviour, such as, the role of Western-style shopping centres in relation to the traditional ones.

Given the traditional and the prevalence of the conservationist type of culture in Riyadh the proliferation of Western-style shopping centres posit a new research context for researchers. This context also provides important implications for the regulatory and legal system transformations in Saudi Arabia. The awareness, emergence and acceptance of Western-style shopping centres by Saudi consumers put forwards a call for researchers to investigate the perceptions of the female consumers towards global brands in comparison to local brands. This research is of high relevance due to various factors such as globalisation, privatisation, deregulation and digitization that are radically transforming several economies. Similarly the patterns of changes exhibited by consumers in shifting their purchasing attitudes from local brands to global brands is worth investigating due to growing nature of consumerism.

Therefore, the purpose of this study is to investigate the phenomenal acceptance of the Western-style shopping centres by women in Saudi Arabia. This study therefore sets out to explore the impact of the Western-style shopping centres on the consumption behaviour of female shoppers in Saudi Arabia. Female shoppers views will be gathered and analysed in order to investigate the possible reasons behind the aggressive marketing of these Western-style shopping centres, the proliferation of high-priced prestigious/luxury goods and the impact of ‘easy credit’ purchasing arrangements. The possible repercussions, if any, on lower socioeconomic sectors of women, who cannot afford but want to imitate those women who can purchase high-priced luxury goods, will also be studied in detail. Personal beliefs held by women towards these Western-style shopping centres and its impact of Saudi Arabian culture is also investigated. Considering all this, the following two research questions were established in this investigation:

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