A number of researches have been done on the effect of the county of origin (COO) on the acceptance of a product. There has been close related studies examining attitudes within a country towards imported goods based on the evaluation of their country of origin. Although most of the studies have focused on consumer from the developed country, it has been shown that even consumers in the developing nations have developed certain attitudes on products based on their country of origin.
There are some countries which are associated with high quality products while there are others which are associated with low quality products. The attitude of the consumers about a product based on their country of origin affect the marketing strategy of the commodity since the marketing strategy will concentrate on creating a positive attitude on the products in the markets where customers have a negative attitude. Compared to other marketing influences, country-of-origin has a lesser effect on the process of consumer decision making but it affects the overall acceptance of the products depending on the level of influence in the market. (Daser 1997, p.53)
The concept of Country-of-origin
Country of origin is an important factor that affects the consumer purchasing decision making and industry purchases. The country of origin in combination with other marketing characteristics has great influences on the perception of the product in the market. This is based on the concept o superiority or inferiority.
Most of the studies conducted on the issue assert there are few stereotypical images that are consisted across a number of nations. For example the image of robustness of Gernamn products, the luxurious products from France, the cheap products from Korea, the substandard products from china, and many others. There are also positive stereotypical images that have also been upheld. For example the Iranian pistachios and rugs, vegetable from Poland, Oranges from Israel, Coffee form Columbia, French perfume, Silk from china, Leather from Italy, electronics from Japan, and Rum from Jamaica. (Cattin 1992, p. 244)
These stereotypes have not been based on emptiness. They have either been based on hearsay, experience or just a myth. At the same time is has been shown that customers will react different from country of origin cues. For example, Japanese goods are highly rated by consumers all over the world., in china western products which retail at more than three times the domestic products are in relatively high demand, in Russia the country of origin of the product is more important than then the brand name of the product which pus product from Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand and others still suspicious in the country, Australian like French perfume but thy will not buy French cameras of French wine, and others
Most of the studies conducted on the evaluation of the Japanese and American consumers have shown that Japanese products are considered to be of high quality and therefore they are preferred by the consumer to product from other countries. This same effect has also been found in studies conducted in several other areas on the world. Studies conducted in other areas in the world like Saudi Arabia and Bahaarian, Nova Sotia, Finland, South East Asia, Peoples Republic of China, Hong Kong, and other have all rated Japanese products as superior to other product in the world as far as it relates to service, promotion, and delivery.
With the increasing presence of foreign products in the domestic markets, there have been increase studies in the last one decade about the perception of these productions the market and the preference of consumers when purchasing them. The country of origin cue has become an important factor in the market as consumer tend to evaluate imported goods differently than the way they evaluate domestic produced goods.
Most of the studies have been carried out in American and have shown that American consumes have a preference to certain products from some countries. They tend to purchase products from some countries as compared to others. This has shown a national stereotyping phenomena which is not limited to the US only but has been observed in other countries. The same findings have been found in England, Finland, Canada, New Zealand, France, and Singapore. (Howard 1994, p. 92)
Consumer attitudes and perception of important from various countries usually vary from one country to another. What the consumers of country A will perceive product from country X is not the same way consumer in Country B will view the same products. Although it has been shown that the relationship between the two countries is an important factor, the overall reputation of the production the market is a major factor affecting the consumer perception.
It has also been found out that even consumers writing the same country may have different views of the same product with show individual variance within the same country. Consumers’ attitude about the product from a particular country can also vary with time as the rate of development and pace of industrialization changes. Change in market development in the culture and lifestyle in that particular country can also affect the perception of the product. (Akaah 2003, p. 78)
A country at its initial pace of development may accept cheap product from a country while this may change rapidly as the country develops its own industries. This varies with the levels of disposable income which signify the rise of a middle class in any country. As a middle class emerge in a country, it may have an influence in the perception of a product from country which may influence market trends.
Early studies on consumer attitudes and preference of domestic and imported produces tend to focus on just one cue instead of a number of cues that could show the market influences. However the trend have chanced in the last three decades with most studies focusing on multiple cues which have been designed to use tangible products rather that description of the products.
According to these early studies, the effects of Country of origin were shown to have a direct effect on the existing beliefs of eh consumers. The past experience on the product is also an import factors that influence the attitude that a consumer may have on the product from a certain country. Other studies have shown that it may necessarily be the same product that the consumer may have had an earlier experience with but it may be another product which will affect the construction about the product from that particular country. (Loureiro and Umberger 2002, p. 59)
To create a certain perception about products from a certain country, consumer use evaluation based inference to reason about the image of that product. This means that it will evaluate factor of quality value, styling, and others and correlate them with the country of origin. This is known as the halo effect where a belief about a trait of a certain products which in this case is the country of origin of the product produces a certain belief structure on traits that are not known to the customer but which are congruent with the traits that have already been experienced by the consumer.
The willingness of any consumer to purchase a product is based on the characteristics of the country of origin of the product and its people. The perception about the country of origin may also be affected by the comparison that the consumer makes about the similarities and differences between their country and the country of origin of the product. This comparison may be made in terms of the economic development, political status, the social culture climate, and other factors which may crate differences and similarities between the two nations. (Dougla and Nonaka 1995, p. 350)
Therefore it shows the country of origin is one factor that embraces so many other factors inside it. There are other market considerations that are made about the country of origin that ultimately determine consumer perception of the products. In this case there are several factors that we can identify that influence the overall consumer perception of the country and the products. Some of these factors include the following:
• Features of the product
• Brand recognition
• Perception of value
• Advertising images
• Perception of retailers and distribution
These are some of the factors that may affect consumer perceptions of the products based on the country of origin. There are many other factors that a customer takes into considerations but these are the main ones. Let us look closely at each of these factors.
(i) Perception of quality
The quality of the product is important to the consumer as it is used to develop descriptive and inferential beliefs about the product and service. The actual consumer choice of a product can be as a direct function based on these medicating beliefs. This shows the quality evaluation is important factor in the overall decision making process of the consumers. If the consumer develops a positive quality attitude towards the product, they are likely to increase their confidence on the product evaluation before giving their final choice. There are several studies that have documented that quality is second to price in the consumer choice of product from foreign countries.
(ii) Technology sophistication perception
Sophisticated technology can be defined as technology which involves a high level of operation using complex material and equipment. It is also as production process that uses high level of skills to formulate and develop products. In this case we can take the examples we had given earlier bout Japan. It ahs been argued that products from Japan have been receiving a high rating and increased preference in different parts of the world owing to the high level of technology that is used to produce them. It has also been shown that American consumers have shown increased preference to German made products owing the capability of German to produce high technology products. Contrary to this a study carried out in Austria showed that they preferred products from Euro pan compared to other products outside Europe due to the high level of technology used to produce goods in Europe. (Crodel 2003, p. 53)
(iii) Features of a product as suited to the market
The features of a product compared to other in the market are an important factor that determines the overall product perception and choice preference. Simple features like colour of the product, has been shown to be an import factor in the purchase of product like bread as compared to price and nutritional aspect of the bread. Yellow coloured bread which appears to have been prepared with a lot of eggs is mostly preferred compared to white bread by consumers in the market. A study carried out in New Zealand showed the colour of the automobiles was important in the overall effect of purchase of automobiles.
(iv) Recognition of the brand
Consumers have shown increased preference of well known brands compared to unknown brands owing to its prestige. It has also been shown that preference of favourite brands is a way of reducing risk in the purchase decision. Brand recognition is an important factor that helps the consumer confidence in the purchase of branded products. A country with a portfolio of well known brands will create a positive attitude towards the consumers and they are likely to purchase other products from the same country event without preference to quality of the product. In this case country branding is very important in influences the overall consumer perception of products from that country.
If we take a contemporary example of Japan and China, we will find the both of them are emerging markets in the world. While Japan is reputed for its quality in and durable products, china on the other hand is known for cheap low quality products. Apparently china accounts for more than 70% of all the counterfeited products in the world. Therefore it would be difficult to convince a consumer from a country that china which is reputed with cheap low quality products can actually produce high quality products. It has also been found out that consumer have an increased preference toward branded produces rather than unbranded products. A study carried out in Britain showed the American and French brands were preferred by British retail managers as they were more recognized compared to the domestic brands. (Bannister and Saundrsm 1998, p. 60)
(v) Perception of values
The perception of values involves the overall consumer assessment of the use of a product based on the consumer will give in monetary values and what they expect to receive in terms of quality. This is a kind of a balance equation that the consumer makes regarding the products that they wish to purchase. The past research that have been carried out on the perception of values have shown that compared to all countries in the world, Japanese products were low priced while at the same time they were considered to be of high values and therefore the consumes preferred to buy them because they got an acceptable product values for the amount of monetary sacrifice they made for that particular product. A recent study has also shown that Japanese products are likely to be preferred to the US products even without so much concession on the price of the products.
(vi) Advertising image
The adverting strategies that are used in the market can improve the image of the products and therefore increase the consumer preference of the product. There has been a reported relationship between advertising influence, that attitude toward a brand, and consumer preference in the marketing of the product. In the early emergence of the Japanese products, they were shown to receive a low key in the market because they were not well advertised and their low prices created a negative consumer perception. After some years, Japanese product recorded increased sales in Canada, US, Britain, Hungary, and others where they had recorded low sales after an aggressive and competent advertising that changes consumer perception.
(vii) Distribution and retailing perception
The realties influence the consumer preference and decision to purchase a product through their promotional efforts. Retailers makes particular efforts to promote the products to in the market through merchandise offering, merchandise display, reliable dissemination of information, and through many other efforts. The retailer can also influence the consumers by presenting a higher credibility for a product and an apparent warranty and guarantees which increase consumer confidence in that particular product. Consumer perception of a products has partly been linked to various level of activities carried out by the retailers in creating their awareness about that product in the market. Weak promotion activities have a negative effect on the consumer perception of quality and preferences to purchase that particular product. (Cheung and Dention 1995, p. 55)
There are the main factors that influence the perception of a product from a country. This shows that country of origin is influenced by the above factors. Consumer perception is not a condition that is created at once but it is an after thought which comes after interplay of the above factors. Country of origin perception is not a condition that is crated overnight and does not evaporate overnight but it is a perception that may last for some time and may be difficult to deconstruct.