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Shopping for gold! A Ritual Experience Huma Tariq, Donelda S. McKechnie, Jim Grant, Janice Phillips American University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates Abstract Possessing gold is firmly embedded in Indian customs and traditions although little academic attention has been paid to its significance within the consumer culture. This paper relates the gold-buying (shopping) activities described by seven expatriate Indian women in semi-structured interviews. They describe when, why and how they undertake the activities surrounding gold shopping. The findings position gold as an artifact and characterize gold-buying activities as a ritual. This research is set in the City of Gold, Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Quantitative data collection followed this qualitative phase in part two of the study. Introduction Possessing gold is firmly embedded in Indian customs and traditions (Dempster, 2006) although little academic attention has been paid to its significance within the consumer culture. Initial interest in this study developed from observing gold-buying activities in the Dubai Gold Souk after being introduced to the intricacies of supplying, manufacturing and retailing gold to Indian consumers (Siroya et al, 2005). Thus, the research began with questions whether Indians have distinctive consumer [culture] actions when buying gold. The study narrowed to the question „have gold-buying activities become ritualized in the Indian consumer culture?‟ Three propositions frame the project: (1) when Indian women purchase gold, (2) why they buy and (3) how – described by actions and behaviours - they buy. This paper reports on the qualitative phase which involved in-depth interviews with seven women. Quantitative data was collected in part two of the study. The Research Setting The India demand for gold jewelry is 22% of the global market according to research conducted by the World Gold Council (Dempster, 2006). Additionally, India represents 35% of the net retail investment, including gold coins and gold bars. „India is the world‟s largest consumer of gold in tonnage terms‟ (Ibid, p 1). Gold is a formidable part of showcasing the Indian customs and traditions. The culture celebrates many religious festivals and occasions such as weddings when gold is worn as part of the colourful and lavish outfits. Giving gold as gifts is also very common. An important consumer segment in the Dubai gold market are expatriate Indian people who live in the United Arab Emirates as well as others from India who are visiting (Siroya et al, 2005). „Souks‟ and markets dedicated to gold products – jewelry, bars, coins, biscuits - have been set up for wholesalers and retailers to conduct business and to attract customers. Dubai, often called „The City of Gold‟ takes advantage of the demand for gold by enforcing Federal Law No. 9 (1998) that sets rigourous hallmarking standards for controlling quality and karat (Dubai Municipality, Gems and Precious Metals Laboratory Services). Failure to abide by the regulations can mean offenders are penalized by fine or prison sentence (Farook, 2005). Of the world gold supply, one in eight tonne is destined for Dubai (Mannan, 2006b) where at any one time, as much as twenty-five tonne of gold is on display in various shops (Mannan, 2006a) Shopping for gold typically requires that some degree of bargaining or haggling over price takes place. When the customer asks „how much‟, the gold is usually weighed and the cost calculated according to the world market price which changes daily. It is the fixing, or making, part of the price which is negotiable and subject to discounting as the salesperson and the customer move toward a mutually acceptable amount that will conclude the sale. Literature Review Early seminal research about Indian consumer culture is the Mehta and Belk (1991) study which focused on respondents using favourite possessions to maintain their Indian identity. Two respondent groups provided the data – one group who had emigrated to the United States and one group who still lived in India. Results found that expatriate Indians use artifacts and rituals to sustain their culture or at least to give the appearance that they have not lost their heritage. In the Mehta and Belk (1999) study, the expatriates‟ favoured possessions were traditional artifacts, whether authentic or reproduction. The items were valued for the link that connected them to the cultural community they had left behind. Gold, although not specifically mentioned as an artifact, is also a valued possession according to its significant role in Indian culture (Dempster, 2006). Gold is an artifact because the status it holds in the Indian culture designates membership to that culture (Craig and Douglas, 2006). Gold is unique, however, because it is not necessarily a „cherished‟ possession. Cherished possessions carry reminiscences about life and „… create a personal and durable sense of identity‟ (Price, Arnould and Curasi, 2000, p 187). When gold is purchased with the intention that it will be passed to children, daughters in particular, at some future date, the „attachment‟ is never solidified because arguably, it is never fully acknowledged as one‟s own. Gold possession could be said, then, to constitute culture and the role that gold plays in rituals sustains the culture. Rituals include consumer behaviours as well as occasions such as religious holidays, festivals, and marriage (Craig and Douglas, 2006). It is the meanings that underlie the activities and embed the norms into behaviours that bind people into a culture. Alternately, giving artifact status to gold in cultures other than the Indian may not be accurate. Within other cultures, gold does not typically hold as much value nor is its possession as inculcated into tradition and cross-generational relationships. Thus, generalization to other cultures and consumer societies is limited without depth and accuracy of comparison across contexts and situations (Craig and Douglas, 2006). The relationship of gold within the culture and the behaviour of the consumers as they go about their purchasing activities suggest that gold-buying is ritualistic. It is a social action that engages people with consumption. In turn, cultural values are reinforced through the meanings that gold brings to the society. Its significance is not diminished by issues such as price because the purpose for gold-buying, and thus the ritual, permeates the culture to reinforce identity (Luna and Gupta, 2001). Lastly, rituals from one culture that are performed within the environment of another culture do not necessarily reflect the values of the „host‟ culture (Ibid, 2001). In the situation where expatriate Indians are enacting the gold-buying ritual within the „host‟ Arab culture, the ritual is reinforcing the Indian culture while having little or no effect on the Arab environment. For this reason, gold-buying can be isolated as a ritualistic behaviour that, when explored, furthers understanding about the consumer society while contributing to knowledge about how the society is constituted and sustained. Methodology The initial phase of data collection was qualitative. Its exploratory nature was intended to provide descriptive information that would contribute to the development of the study‟s quantitative part two. The link between consumers and buying behavior is guided by emic methodology which facilitates the understanding about people and culture issues wherein „…the cultural value system includes cultural elements that individuals have in common with the group(s) to which they belong, as well as idiosyncratic values unique to the individual‟ (Luna and Gupta 2001, p 47) Seven expatriate Indian women agreed to talk about buying gold – when they buy, why they buy and how they buy – in semi-structured in-depth interviews. The respondents were reached through snowball sampling. Demographic information is summarized in Table 1. The interviewer is a woman of Pakistani descent. It was felt that the Indian respondents would be more open to someone from a familiar culture. The ladies were telephoned, the reason for the call was stated and then they were asked to participate. Once they consented, the interviewer asked if she could meet with them at their home. Review of the data showed that the interviewer did gain the women‟s confidence which added to the richness of the information collected. Twelve statements, worded in the first person, were used to guide the discussions. They were pre-tested and refined before being taken into the field. During the interviews, each statement was read to the respondents who answered whether it applied to them. The interviewer probed for more in-depth comments by asking „why‟ and encouraging discussion about elements of behaviour that contributed to their answer selection. Each interview was taped and transcribed. All were conducted in English which is commonly spoken in the United Arab Emirates despite the official language being Arabic. The twelve statements were grouped under three propositions within the „when, why and how‟ elements of interest: P1 (when): Indian woman buy gold at specific times - such as ‘event’ happenings (festive occasions) and/or special sales promotion periods (Dubai Shopping Festival) – two statements P2 (why): Indian women have specific intent (reasons) when buying gold – four statements P3 (how): Indian women have specific behaviour when buying gold – six statements Findings P1 (when): Indian woman buy gold at specific times - such as ‘event’ happenings (festive occasions) and/or special sales promotion periods (Dubai Shopping Festival) – two statements The proposition‟s two supporting statements used occasion specific situations for the respondents‟ common reference points. Statement one (S1) considered the Indian culture and the various festive occasions that are celebrated, including weddings, religious events and holidays. Statement two (S2) asked whether buying takes place at special times of the year, such as vacations, or during sales promotions like Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) and Dubai Summer Surprises (DSS). S1 - I buy gold for special occasions (weddings, traditional festivals, etc). S2 - I buy gold at special times of the year (vacations, when there is a sale, during Dubai Shopping Festival, etc). Generally, respondents agreed that it is not a must to buy gold during special occasions. Some said that if they do buy gold, it is only for a wedding occasion. R2 stated, “I agree [to buy gold] for such special occasions like weddings or special festivals like Diwali that we have. We prefer to buy during special festivals, and we need to buy during weddings. It is a must to buy during these occasions”. Buying gold during traditional or customary festivals is not necessarily part of their consumption pattern. This contradicted P1 that women do buy gold during festivals. R1 explained, “Because in India, we already have these big sets [of jewelry], we don‟t have to precisely go and buy when there is an occasion. During weddings, we might make gold sets but usually we don‟t go and buy them since we already have big gold sets. We don‟t keep buying it all the time. We usually buy it once and use them over several occasions.” Two respondents said that their gold purchases depended on the financial budget that they set for the year. In conversation, these women were very casual about their purchase behavior. They said they do not buy gold when it is an occasion-specific event. Rather, they prefer to buy once a year and the time depended on their mood as well as their casual visits to gold shops. The statement, S2, focused on whether the purchase was a function of the yearly sales events that take place during Dubai Shopping Festivals or any specific time of the year such as vacations. Five respondents said sale periods do not effect their purchasing decisions nor do the Dubai Shopping Festival promotion activities. Two did say that they do buy gold before going on summer vacations to visit relatives. R3 stated “I buy gold only during the summer vacations. This is because I am going to India, and thus, I have to buy gold for all my relatives.” P1: The respondents‟ comments indicate that traditional cultural events, celebrated away from home – where „home‟ is defined as where they live – hold significance and that gold is an integral part of customs and traditions. Alternately, the respondents typically do not set out to buy gold at specific times such as during Dubai sale events when promotions are everywhere. Two respondents mentioned buying to give to relatives when traveling „home‟ on vacation. This practice may be expected within their families or it may be part of her regional culture in India. P2 (why): Indian women have specific intent (reasons) when buying gold – four statements. The proposition‟s four supporting statements broadly covered financial (S3), personal (S4), religion (S5) and traditional value (S6) as the reasons for buying gold. S3: I buy gold because of its future investment value. S4: I prefer to buy gold for myself. S5: I buy gold for religious purposes. S6: I buy gold because of the traditional value it holds for me. Four respondents said that their gold purchases are partly made with investment purposes in mind. They typically buy gold biscuits and gold coins when the purchase is financially motivated and occasionally gold jewelry fulfills the same objective. Interestingly, the women who do not have daughters tend not to consider gold as an investment instrument. On the other hand, those with daughters said that they will pass the gold to the daughters for their financial security. The three women who do not buy for investment said they want a more diversified investment portfolio rather than one which is made up entirely of gold. They added that they buy gold for wearing and gift-giving. Personal use was the focus of S4. Direct reference about self-gifting was not made although it would fall within this statement. Three women said that they do purchase for personal use. Additionally, they also buy for daughters or friends. R3 said, “I feel it is a must to buy gold for my friends, relatives and cousins to perform two functions: one it acts as gifts, and the other as presents on weddings in family. So I only buy gold for others to give them on wedding or to give them as gifts.” One respondent said that „personal‟ gold is bought to give in the form of Zakat (donations) by Muslims. Overall, responses indicate that gold-buying is not unilaterally done for personal consumption. Rather, gift-giving is very important regardless of whether it is for weddings or friendship or to acknowledge family relationships. Open discussion about gold-buying for religious reasons was discouraged by the respondents. The statement was included because many of the Hindu festivals are linked to the worshipped Gods. Although the respondents said that their gold-buying was not for religious purposes, they would not elaborate on their answers. R5 did say that religious observance is a personal activity. The limited answers of other respondents suggests that they do buy gold for giving Zakat (Hindu) and Eid (Muslim) gifts or for giving to God to show one‟s appreciation (by Hindus in their temples). It was clearly apparent that buying gold for religious reasons is a very personal activity which the respondents chose to keep private. Five respondents said that buying gold as a traditional consumer activity was not a reason for them to purchase. Instead, they said that tradition considerations are part of the design selection. For example, respondents said that traditional designs are situation-specific such as what is worn for weddings. Alternately, if trendy designs are the preferred style, then they would be purchased for day-to-day or casual wear. R2 and R5, who are the older of the respondents, preferred traditional style jewelry when choosing designs. This suggests that age may be a consideration for style choice. P2: The respondents' answers to each factor suggest that specific intent does underlie gold- buying activities. Gift giving, including to daughters for future investment - though ironically gold was not bought for any traditional value it held for the ladies - or as presents during weddings was an important reason. Another was buying for self-gifts. Buying gold for religious purposes is a private matter. P3 (how): Indian women have specific behaviour when buying gold – six statements The third proposition focused on whether Indian women display specific buying behaviour when purchasing gold. The statements that fit with this proposition sought answers to specific actions. S7: I keep track of the market price of gold. S7 asked about pre-purchase behaviour: „I keep track of the market price of gold‟ had three respondents saying yes, they do, while four said they do not. R6 said that the price does not affect her purchase. Alternately, R1 sets a budget and then watches gold prices before going to buy. Those who do keep track of market price do so mostly through word of mouth from their friends and following the prices published in the daily newspapers. The extent to which this information (knowing about gold prices) drives their purchase (buying when price points are acceptable) is unknown. S8: I prefer to go alone when shopping for gold. S9: I almost always to go one salesperson when buying gold. S10: I almost always to go one salesperson when buying gold. Respondents were asked (a) whether they are typically alone when shopping for gold – S8, (b) whether they frequent one store (or shop around) – S9, and (c) whether they have a preference for dealing with the same salesperson when repeating purchase transactions at a particular store – S10. For the first statement, whether they are typically alone when shopping for gold (S8), most respondents said that they are rarely alone when buying gold. They said that they needed someone to be with them to help them decide. Some even mentioned that buying gold is a shopping weakness for them and they want someone with them to help with the decision making. Most respondents consider buying gold to be a huge purchase that involves serious thinking and scrutiny before making a decision. Their cultural society is one of collectivism, and this may be one of the reasons why group activities are integrated into the purchasing habits which the ladies described. Most respondents prefer to purchase from one shop when buying gold (S9) and they have one favorite shop where they feel comfortable shopping. R3 said “I only go to Damas. I like going to that shop because I know the salespeople really well, and mutually, they know my taste really well.” Respondents also said that their decision to purchase is subject to change if they go to a few more shops and look around. R6 explained, “Because the designs are different in each shop, and so going to one is not compulsory. We do go to 3-4 shops all the time, and my favorite is Meena Jewelers.” Thus, shop loyalty is evident but the loyalty may not be strong enough to hold the respondents to one shop. All respondents except R2 said they prefer to deal with one salesperson when buying gold (S10). Most had one favorite shop that they would always visit. Within that store, they mentioned a specific salesperson that they like to deal with. They said that over time they had developed trust and confidence in that person and he/she would show them gold jewelry that matched their taste. When asked about what characterizes an ideal salesperson, they said it is someone who is fully aware of the type of jewelry that is appropriate to their taste. S11: I usually bargain with the salesperson when buying gold. S12: I make my decision immediately (on impulse) when buying gold. The final two statements under the third proposition focused on consumer actions – bargaining (S11) and impulse buying (S12) - within the service encounter. Four respondents said that they do bargain with the salesperson. They believe that the initial prices given are always set high - especially the making charges amounts that are included in the tag price. Some women said that they feel they have been fooled or cheated a few times so now they bargain during every purchase. Three respondents stated that the extent of their bargaining is very limited rather than taking it to an extreme. They use this tactic as a way of showing the salesperson that they trust what they are being told and expect to be given a fair price without the need for back and forth haggling about cost. Overall, on a personal level, the respondents did indicate that the bargaining process does make a difference to their decision making. Most will bargain to some degree but do not let it dominate the transaction to the point that they are likely to walk away from the purchase. The last statement concerned whether they buy on impulse (S12). Four respondents said that the time it takes for them to make the decision whether to buy is relatively short and quick. This may be because they are familiar with the store, the repeated shopping experiences at that establishment and repeat purchases with one salesperson which reduces time spent in the encounter. The decision time also depends on their attraction to particular jewelry. They indicated that temptation to buy could override price when making a purchase decision. Regarding time, respondents said that purchasing for themselves takes less time than purchasing for others. R7 explained that when buying for relatives or friends, the decision process is prolonged because they take other factors into account such as the other person‟s choice and taste etc. P3: The series of questions for proposition three focused on specific actions that take place when respondents buy gold. Each respondent described her buying behaviour in detail - whether they go to one shop, one salesperson, take someone with them, bargain or buy on impulse. Keeping track of gold prices, or not, may be a function of gold possession being embedded in the culture. The explanation given by each indicates that they have specific consumer actions when engaging in buying activities. Overall, they do respond to situations where they feel they can trust the shop to have designs that they like and the salesperson to give them a good price. Where trust was not present, it was because the respondents felt that they had been cheated in the past. Discussion It is apparent that gold is a valued possession in Indian culture. From the evidence reported herein, it is given artifact status by virtue of its traditional and cross-generational significance. Suggesting that gold-buying is a ritual in the Indian culture is supported by respondents‟ comments to the when, why and how queried through the twelve research statements. Without hesitation, every one of the seven ladies related their gold-buying activities with definitive information (see Appendix Table 1). Quantity and frequency appeared to be influenced by the amount of gold received at marriage. Many respondents referred to the custom of receiving large gold sets at marriage and as a result, they repeat wear these items through cultural and traditional events rather than purchase „new‟. Investment was mentioned as a key reason for purchase. Respondents with daughters said that they buy gold with the intent of passing it to their girls which was a more relevant concern than buying for investment. Values provide the link between artifact and ritual. Values underlie the reasons that gold is purchased and at which times buying is considered to be a „must‟ activity. Values are described in comments about giving gold down the generations as being an age-old custom in the culture. Mother to daughter, woman to woman, very clearly positioned gold as a way that women look after each other. Additionally, the older respondents spoke of „going back to their roots‟ and feeling that gold is essential. Gold-buying activities have each of the four components of the ritual experience described by Rook (1985): (1) ritual artifacts, (2) ritual script, (3) ritual performance role(s) and (4) ritual audience. Gold is the artifact. The Indian women indicated that they have a script. In some cases, the script begins with keeping track of the price of gold. In others, the script is initiated as vacation time nears leading to purchasing for relatives‟ gifts. Performance roles are evident when they are accompanied by friends and/or family and their preference for specific stores and/or salespeople. The ritual audience, according to Rook (1985) may extend to the larger consumer society. Gold possession is significantly valued in the culture indicating that gold- buying constitutes and sustains the consumer society through its reach to the ritual audience. Vitality of the ritual experience is measured by four criteria on a well-defined/vigourous (+), uncertain status (?), poorly defined/weak continuum (-). The four experience components are assessed as: „1. The nature and extensiveness of artifactual consumption, 2. The presence or absence of a well-defined ritual script, 3. The clarity of the participants‟ ritual role perceptions, and 4. The presence or absence of a well-defined target audience beyond the immediate participants‟ (Rook, 1985, p 256) The first criterion, the nature and extensiveness of artifactual consumption (gold-buying) is addressed through the „when‟ and „why‟ propositions. „When‟ identifies weddings or vacations that mean staying with relatives and giving gold as gifts. „Why‟ responses are distinctive for investment, recipient of the gold, and that fact that religion is excluded as a reason. All respondents knew whether it is the traditional or their own taste that influences selection. Arguably, the ritual vitality is well-defined. Criterion two is measured by the presence or absence of a well-defined ritual script. All respondents were clear about the way they shop for gold. Going to one shop and/or one salesperson may have been preferred by some but others explained that they shop around. The older respondents said their gold-buying activities had diminished since they already possess huge gold sets accumulated over the years. The younger ladies said they are keen to try out new designs when shopping for gold. Regardless of age, each had a script and rarely deviated from that script. Again, ritual vitality is well-defined. The clarity of respondents‟ ritual role perceptions, criterion three, is also well-defined. They prefer to shop in the presence of friends or family who would „influence‟ their selections. They maintain the role of buyer which supports the ritual vitality being well-defined. Lastly, criterion four measured the presence or absence of a well-defined target audience beyond the immediate participants. As previously established, gold has artifact status within the Indian culture thereby assuring that ritual vitality is well-defined. Limitations and future research The results reported herein relate to the qualitative part of the research. Only seven respondents were interviewed which leads to the question whether their comments are truly representative of Indian women‟s gold-buying consumer culture. An argument could be made that seven are sufficient given that gold possession is embedded in the Indian culture. What wasn‟t asked was the women‟s source of income for making the purchases. Some of the respondents are homemakers while others have income from employment. A caveat to questioning the need for this information is that previous research has shown women are the dominant decision makers in expatriate Indian households (Ganesh, 1997). Thus, an argument could be made that the issue about income source is not central to the findings. India is a large and diverse country with many subcultures. Variations in cultures across regions were not considered when the respondents were being interviewed and later when the data was being analyzed. Although respondents were asked which region they call „home‟, no assessment about the extent to which gold is valued in their particular community culture was attempted. In a larger study, this may reflect a limitation. A recommendation for future studies would be to undertake a cross cultural comparison, region by region. Such efforts would add to richness of information about consumer culture and the way it is constituted and sustained. Conclusion The conclusion drawn is that gold is an artifact within the Indian consumer society. Social interaction in the community is facilitated through the linking value and the role that gold represents in the culture. Gold possession is embedded in the customs and the traditions that carry significant importance to the people. The finding from the qualitative phase of this study support that gold-buying is a ritual activity in the Indian culture. Gold-buying activities have each of the four components found in a ritual experience. The ritual vitality, when assessed according to the four criteria, is well-defined. Thus, when Indian women engage in gold-buying activities, they are enacting a ritual that is „… constructed of multiple behaviors that occur in a fixed, episodic sequence and that tend to be repeated over time. [Their] Ritual behavior is dramatically scripted and acted out and is performed with formality, seriousness, and inner intensity‟ (Rook, 1985, p 252). Finally, these early results indicate that Indian women are a distinct consumer segment. The product, in this case, is gold primarily in the form of jewelry. However, to some extent the women view gold as an investment vehicle which provides some measure of financial security for themselves and/or their daughters. This suggests opportunities for retail and financial establishments to use nationality when marketing to women customers noting that gems and precious metals have deeper significance beyond jewelry. 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(2005) All that glitters is gold – a behind-the-scenes look at the Dubai-India gold supply chain, unpublished Appendix Table 1: Summary of positive/negative responses to twelve statements Agree Disagree S1: I buy gold for special 2 buy for wedding 5 do not buy for specific occasions (weddings, occasions occasions traditional festivals, etc) S2: I buy gold at special times 1 buys when going on 6 do not buy at specific times of of the year (vacations, when vacation to visit relatives the year there is a sale, during Dubai Shopping Festival, etc) S3: I buy gold because of its 5 buy with some 2 do not buy gold for its future investment value. investment intent behind investment or future value the purchase S4: I prefer to buy gold for 3 buy gold for themselves 4 buy gold for others – relatives, myself. daughters, daughters-in-law S5: I buy gold for religious 7 said they do not buy gold for purposes. religious reasons S6: I buy gold because of the 2 prefer to buy gold that 5 disagree with the concept of traditional value it holds for suits their style and taste – buying „traditional‟ gold me. which may or may not be „traditional‟ S7: I keep track of the market 3 do keep track of the 4 do not keep track on a regular price of gold. market price of gold basis – if they are going to shop, then they watch to familiarize themselves S8: I prefer to go alone 5 always go with someone 2 will sometimes shop alone but when shopping for gold. when buying gold prefer to have someone with them S9: I usually go to one 2 go only to one shop – 5 shop around – typically, shop to purchase gold. where they have been respondents mentioned visiting 3 buying for some time or 4 shops S10: I almost always to go 6 said they do go to only 1 said no – she said she does not one salesperson when buying one salesperson or at least trust the salespeople gold. prefer to go to only one S11: I usually bargain with 4 bargain 2 bargain but keep it to a the salesperson when buying minimum – they don‟t like to gold. bargain; 1 does not bargain S12: I make my decision 4 buy quickly – but not 3 do not buy quickly – 1 of the 3 immediately (on impulse) necessarily on impulse as said that when buying for others when buying gold. the shopping experience she takes the time to buy may be planned something that the gift receiver will like
"The gold buying consumer culture of Indian women qualitative"