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Sample Research Proposal on Coffee Brands and Factors in Buying Behavior of University Students

1.      Introduction

Consumers could be considered as the fuel of any business venture. They are the ones who purchase the products and/or services of the firm Furthermore, consumers may choose particular products (brands) not only because these products provide the functional or performance benefits expected, but also because products can be used to express consumers' personality, social status or affiliation (symbolic purposes) or to fulfill their internal psychological needs, such as the need for change or newness (emotional purposes) (Kim et al, 2002). With the changing consumer culture and practices, every competing firm necessitates appropriate knowledge on the factors that affect consumer buying behavior.  

There is an assortment of subjects that caters to consumer research for the past years like linking factors that affect consumer buying behavior with customer service and customer satisfaction, or the efficacy and persuasiveness of advertisement, and related subjects of marketing. In a particular industry, these subjects also take place, obviously because the variables that makes the process of buying and selling creates the opportunity for such instances to be possible. The rapid competition in the international business environment allows businesses to maximize all available resources in order to stay on top of the chosen industry. In this case, particular coffee shop brands are taken into empirical investigation.

Hong Kong, as a cosmopolitan city is no longer foreign with global coffee brands like Starbucks, Pacific Coffee, and others. The convergence of various nationalities that flock their way to the region is tantamount to the presence of popular global brands that they use to purchase. Coffee shops both local and international in nature are thriving drivers of the food and beverage industry. In Hong Kong, a coffee experience is considered to be culturally related. Eastern traditions indicate tea drinking as part of familial gathering or just mere socialization. In Hong Kong, coffee shops are always occupied by people of various races for the purpose of drinking or conversing over a cup of coffee. Today, the traditional coffee experience expanded its potentialities as well as target market. University students are now very much inclined to a coffee experience in their most favorite coffee shop. Due to this emerging marketing trend, the need to study this particular market segment is a big leap in consumer and marketing research inquiries. Also, this will serve as an innovative source of marketing information that may change the usual coffee business setting.


2.      Research Problem and Objectives

The requirement of competing firms on the knowledge about factors that affect consumer buying behavior is necessary. With so many consumer-related research studies in the past as well as the changing consumer culture, it is essential to focus research topics on particular areas that deemed to be lack of up-to-date research to indicate what the precise needs of this segment with respect to coffee shop brands and businesses. The purpose of this research is mainly to fill the gaps and contribute to the existing knowledge related to the subject of the study.

Primarily, this study aims to compare two international coffee brands – Starbucks and Pacific Coffee – in relation to the factors that effect consumer buying behavior of university student. The main problem is to find out what the most important factors consumers have in mind when buying coffee i.e. brand name, taste, price, location, convenient, atmosphere, and others. Specifically, the research objectives include the following:

2.1.  Identify the common factors that affect consumers in buying coffee

2.2.  Compare and contrast the common factors using two coffee brands – Starbuck and Pacific Coffee

2.3.  Find out the patters in consumer buying behaviors of university students

2.4.  Examine the overall coffee experience provided by Starbucks and Pacific Coffee


3.      Literature Review

3.1.  Consumer Behavior

Consumer behavior and consumer decision-making have become prominent research topics in the various fields of consumer science in recent years (Schiffman & Kanuk, 2000). Generally, consumer behavior is defined as: "The activities that people engage in when selecting, purchasing, and using products and services so as to satisfy needs and desires. Such activities involve mental and emotional processes, in addition to physical actions" (Wilkie, 1990). Virtually, all decisions involved in developing an effective marketing mix for a product or service rely on thorough knowledge of the consumers who comprise the target market (Johnson & Mullen, 1990). Understanding the behavior of the consumer can help marketers anticipate reactions to changes in the marketing mix, or determine whether new products are likely to be adopted.

Understanding buyer behavior is one of the more perplexing tasks confronting every business owner. The difficulty arises from the heterogeneity of buyers, from their being groups of individuals who differ from one another. But differences notwithstanding, consumers do share attitudes, opinions, reactions, and desires at various times. Business experience, marketing research, theoretical constructs and models, and trial-and-error methods help to find some of the common denominators. This study aims to identify a pattern of behavior among its chosen respondents.


3.2.  Factors Affecting Consumer Buying Behavior

The consumers' perception of a product highly affects its decision on what product to buy. The decision process is influenced by the information available to the consumer and the way in which the consumer processes that information. The decision process is also influenced by the consumer's beliefs, attitudes, and intentions as well as many other individual characteristics. Two stages in the decision process are particularly relevant to this study: search – is whether the consumer seeks label information when selecting products and alternative evaluation – whether or not the consumer uses label information in considering product alternatives.

Whether consumers will search for and use label information will be influenced by both characteristics of the product and of the buyer. Product characteristics include the extent to which the product's probable performance can be assessed by visual inspection and its complexity, that is, the number of decisions the consumer is required to make about it. Consumer characteristics include experience with purchasing the product, and the kinds of criteria the consumer uses in judging the product. The evaluative criteria are shaped by the consumer's beliefs, attitudes, and perception of risk in the purchase.

Research on sensation and perception, attention, categorization, inference making, information search, memory, attitude and behavior, attitude formation and formation, conditioning and satisfaction have been undertaken to understand consumer behavior (Jacobs, Latham & Lee, 1998). As stated by Cobanoglu, Ekinci and Park (2003), attitudes towards purchase behavior are believed to be shaped by many factors such as direct experience with the product, information acquired from others, exposure to mass media, etc. there are other factors that affect consumer buying behavior regardless of the nature of business, the product itself, customer service, and satisfaction. This study aims to identify the presence of such factors using the case of coffee brand and experience of Starbucks and Pacific Coffee.


3.3.  Coffee Brands and Experience in Hong Kong

Aside from the local coffee shops and restaurants that offer traditional coffee experience among people, international coffee brands are present among business streets in Hong Kong. The popularity of brands is seen to be the most compelling factor that contributes to the emergence of contemporary coffee experience.

Starbucks, according to its business website "made its debut in Hong Kong in May 2000 with the first store launched at Central's Exchange Square, followed by Hysan Avenue in Causeway Bay. By the end of 2000, there were nine Starbucks coffee houses and the store count reached 24 by the end of 2001 and 60 by end of 2005. Starbucks now has opened near to 65 stores in Hong Kong. Starbucks coffee shops are now located at commercial, shopping & entertainment and residential areas across Hong Kong". The brand is a joint venture between Starbucks Coffee Company International and Maxim's Caterers Ltd., a premier catering conglomerate in the region.

Similarly, Pacific Coffee's mission "to provide the perfect cup, anywhere, anytime" is proudly Hong Kong. This is said to be the answer to the Starbucks challenge with almost 40 outlets in the city. The first outlet opened in 1992 and was located in the Bank of America Tower in Central, Hong Kong. The group is owned by Chevaleir Pacific. With its inviting environment with comfortable seating, wireless internet access, enjoyable music, a broad array of food, and coffee beverages, it was awarded the Best Coffee in Hong Kong.

The culture of coffee brands and experience is an interesting area of empirical exploration. Thus, this research case study hopes to explore deeper on the coffee buying behavior among university students. As stated, its main goal is to identify the most important factors consumers have in mind when buying coffee (i.e. brand name, taste, price, location, convenient, atmosphere, and others) in either of the mentioned brands.


4.      Research Methodology

4.1.  Population and Sample Size

The population of this research constitutes a total of 300 respondents. Such respondents are randomly selected but must be categorically attending higher education programmes (i.e. higher diploma, undergraduate, and postgraduate) in a Hong Kong college or university.

4.2.  Survey Instrument

A structured attitude questionnaire using Likert scale (Barnett, 1991) is applied in the research. Informal interviews are also facilitated, if possible.

4.3.  Data Collection

Data are gathered through survey method. This will serve as the primary source of data collection. Meanwhile, secondary data include related literature about the subject of the research. Since this is a combination of quantitative and qualitative research approaches, the researcher opted to access all potential sources and means of data collection so as to have variety and extensiveness.

4.4.  Questionnaire Design

The initial questionnaire will be pilot tested among 20 university students who are spotted in either of the two coffee shops. This is to ensure the maximum clarity of questions. Aside from demographic data, there are six (6) identified factors that affect consumer buying behavior and under them are (5) attitude statements in which they will indicate degree of agreement or disagreement.

4.5.  Data Analysis

The researcher will use inferential statistics (through SPSS) in order to draw a concrete conclusion.  Inferential statistics is use to be able to know a population's attribution through a direct observation of the chosen population or simply the sample. This is because it is easier to observe a portion or a part than observe the whole population.  However using a sample has also its own disadvantages; hence, there is a need to choose the most suitable sample from any population. Result of the study will be put in tables and graphs for easy understanding of the findings of the research.

5.      Conclusion

The main objective of this research is to identify the common factor that affects consumer buying behavior of university students when it comes to coffee brand and experience. Due to the increasing competition of Starbucks and Pacific Coffee in Hong Kong, the conveyance of this timely case study will serve as imperative evaluation on the coffee shop business in the region as well as emerging and specific consumer culture among the chosen respondents.


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