This section of the dissertation will focus on the area of the research design, the methodology conducted and it will also relate to the sample used, methods choice and the methodology criticism. The research which focuses on an online Levi’s community will use qualitative work to examine how Levi’s brand personalities influence young Chinese consumers, how this online Levi’s community affects people who communicated with each other and may strengthen their brand loyalty.
For this dissertation, there are increasingly young Chinese consumers wearing Levi’s jeans on whom I might conduct and exploratory study to generate possible explanations. Because this research is an exploratory research, the major emphasis is on the discovery of the ideas and insights of consumers. Churchill and Iacobucci (2005: p77) described the purposes of exploratory research and suggested it should include, “formulating a problem for more precise investigation or for developing hypotheses and gating information about the practical problems of carrying out relevant research.”
It is widely acknowledged that while quantitative approach emphasize on theory testing which means using existing theory tested and measured a specific research context (Carson et al. 2001); in long-standing tradition, qualitative research are considered to be exploratory in nature because studies are characterized by flexibility with respect to the research used (Churchill and Iacobucci, 2005). Gordon and Langmaid (1988) demonstrated the differences between qualitative research and quantitative research. Qualitative research concerned with understanding things rather than with measuring them using quantitative research; and “qualitative research emphasis is on in-depth understanding of how, why and in what context certain phenomena occur; and what impacts upon or influences such phenomena….conversely, quantitative research is more relevant where the research emphasis is on comparison.” (Carson et al. 2001: p66) According to the differences, by using a qualitative approach, more in-depth study in the research process could provide information and insights with much more detailed and thorough level than quantitative analysis approach (Weischedel et al. 2005). For this dissertation, the intention of the research is to seek human views at the root of empirical experience on Levi’s jeans. So the qualitative research approach is more suitable for this dissertation. Because qualitative research approach focus on things really happen as researchers and people experience them.
Besides, some characteristics of qualitative research were mentioned by Gordon and Langmaid (1988) which includes small samples of consumers which may not represent large populations; a wide different of techniques to collect data, not just a structured “question-and-answer” format; and access to the ways in which consumers express themselves. For this dissertation, the samples will be chosen from the online Levi’s community and a semi-structured interview questionnaire will be conducted during the research. Meanwhile, qualitative research is often carried out to examine consumers’ attitudes and behaviour in relation with a product category, usually with the specific aim of understanding consumers’ relationships with a specific brand (Proctor 2005, Gordon and Langmaid 1988). Kozinets (2002) also believed qualitative methods are mostly useful for illustrating the rich symbolic world that cause people’s needs, desires, meanings, and choices. Due to the research objectives of this dissertation are exploring the attitudes of Chinese consumers who like to wear Levi’s jeans and show loyalty to this brand as well as perspectives towards one Levi’s online community, While quantitative research might be used to find differences between Levi’s normal consumers and Levi’s fans, qualitative research could be used to examine the attitudes, feeling and motivations of the Levi’s fans. Although, qualitative research has some limitations and disadvantages, such as small sample size (Gordon and Langmaid, 1988) and free-flowing discussion can result qualitative research projects with many different thought (McDaniel and Gates 2006). There are still some main advantages for qualitative research: first, it is usually much cheaper than quantitative research; second, there is no better way to understand the in-depth motivations and feelings of consumers (Proctor, 2005). According to these main advantages, the qualitative research will be developed during the research process.
It is very important to understand market and brand background before doing research. So secondary data plays a crucial role in understanding this such as the market assessment of Levi’s in China as well as supports the research analysis. There are two types of secondary data. The first one is called internal database which means the company itself (Levi’s Company) and the second one is called external database which means other organizations or persons (McDaniel and Gates, 2006). In the dissertation, secondary data such as Levi’s annual report and GMID will be used to study the situation of Levi’s in China. Because Levi’s Company has a significant business performance in the world, some public media such as website, newspaper even textbook will be consulted to gain contextual information on this brand. The second data information we are looking for in this topic will also be conducted in the dissertation to strengthen the reality and accuracy of the market orientation.
Sampling means using information which was obtained from a subset (a sample) to estimate about various characteristics of the total population (McDaniel and Gates, 2006). This research aims to seek the reason of young Chinese people like to wearing Levi’s jeans; therefore non-probability is appropriate to represent this purpose in small sample units. Because the respondence in non-probability samples is more rational representative if collected in a careful process. (McDaniel and Gates, 2006; Proctor, 2005) But the main problem of non-probability is the accuracy and the range of sample units (Forrest, 2003). Meanwhile, the results of using non-probability samples may not be projected to the total population (Proctor, 2005).
Meanwhile the samples of this dissertation will be chosen from an online Levi’s community. McDaniel and Gates (2006) demonstrated the advantages of the Internet Sampling which included “target respondents can complete the survey at their convenience; the interview can be administered under software control; data collection is inexpensive.” (p315) However Chen and Hinton (1999) argued, online interviewing may include some sampling biases that should be thought by researchers considering the method; research methods are limited in their ability to survey members of the researcher’s target population because the motivation of potential interviewees to agree to being studied using the proposed method; and the ability of the method to include selected interviewees. In this project, interviewees will be obtained from their different levels in the online Levi’s community. The “level” in this Levi’s online community means the favorite level they like Levi’s jeans through their contributions such as Levi’s jeans photos they uploaded in this online community; Levi’s products introduction they wrote in this community, their own feelings about Levi’s products shared in this online community. The higher level they obtained means the more experience they had on Levi’s. The reason for choosing different level people is trying to investigate different voices and feedbacks as well as support the research objective to give further suggestions.
In-depth Online Interview
Qualitative researchers who use interviews as data collection tools believe that they can, “investigate elements of the social by asking people to talk and to gather or construct knowledge by listening to and interpreting what they say and to how they say it” (Mason, 2002: 225). For this project, by using interview method, it could examine interviewees’ feeling about Levi’s brand. Several researchers have found the usefulness of the internet to design and conduct qualitative research projects and online data collection methods are increasingly used (Gruber et. al. 2008). In this dissertation, I will focus on an online Levi’s Community and the netnography method which is used will be text-based online individual depth interviews with open ended questions.
Interviewing is an important qualitative approach, because it is a highly personal process which means creating through personal communication. In-depth interviewing is defined by Neuman (1994: p246) as “…a social relationship … a short-term, secondary social interaction between two strangers with the explicit purpose of one person obtaining specific information from the other.” The use of in-depth interviews was seen as a suitable methodology which could obtain rich data through a detailed and open discussion with consumers and decision makers (O’Connor and Madge, 2004). In many fields, online in-depth interview and face-to-face in-depth interview are similar processes for the researcher and both can be considered “… conversations with a purpose” (Burgess, 1984: p102). However, there are still some differences between online interview and face-to-face interview. O’Connor and Madge (2003) stated, comparing with face-to-face interview which would be impractical, costly and time consuming; online interview is conducted on the Internet, so that it has lower cost and is a convenient way to carry out. For this dissertation, because all the interviewees are young Chinese people, they are familiar with online environment; they are good at using chatting software such as MSN Messenger and QQ. Meanwhile, online interview method could avoid geographical problems. Gruber et al. (2008: p257) also mentioned, “Online interviews are cheaper to conduct than traditional interviews as there are no travel, venue renting and accommodation expenses. Researchers do not have to tape and transcribe online interviews as the online chat programmes that are used to conduct interviews automatically generate interview transcripts, which allow a quicker analysis of data; further, the whole interviewing process may be less stressful and more convenient for respondents as they can be interviewed at home or at work in a familiar and non-threatening environment.” Another advantage by conducting online interview for this project is the interviewees are the members of Levi’s online community. Qualitative on-line research, such as on-line in-depth interview, is particularly useful when the target population is small, very specialized in its skills, and difficult to find and recruit (Miller & Dickson, 2001).
On the other side, online interview also exist in some limitations and disadvantages. O’Connor and Madge (2002) argued, although online interview could obtain rich and valuable to the researchers, there are many problems of online research so that online research should not be exaggerated and researchers should be aware of these problems. Firstly, Chen and Hinton (1999) concerned about limited samples and limited data during the online research process. They believed this sample limited problems could lead to non-specialized interviewing, such as the general assessment of a group which did not be defined because their access to the Internet. For this dissertation, the sample will be chosen in one online Levi’s community and the interviewees are members of this community. The second disadvantage is that online interview may receive less attention of interviewees and may not make interviewers to create rapport which is important to create a relationship with interviewees who are then willing to share information. (Chen and Hinton 1999; Gruber et al. 2008; O’Connor and Madge 2003). The online interview is difference between face-to-face interview because online interview happened when both interviewer and interviewee fact to computer screen. “It may be that distractions result in respondents not being fully engaged with the interview whilst dealing with interruptions of which the interviewer may not be aware. In the face-to-face setting the interviewer can respond immediately to external factors, perhaps by suspending the interview, whereas the virtual interviewer, unable to see what is happening, may carry on regardless, not aware that s/he does not have the full attention of the respondent ” (O’Connor and Madge, 2003: p137) Gruber et al. (2008) demonstrated, during the online interview, because both of interviewer and interviewee face to computer screen, they cannot receive each other’s respondence such as body language, head nodding and facial expressions, as a result, researchers developing online interviewers can not able to observe if interviewees are losing interest in the chat or if they are annoyed or unclear about a particular question. As a result, there is no rapport was created. For this project, because the MSN messenger softer ware will be used as interview tool, this problem will also happen during this online interview process.
By summary, this research will focus on solely qualitative methodology. Secondary data will be used for an early stage of understood of the background of Levi’s in China. Online in-depth interview will be conducted in the exploration the reason of different consumers in one online Levi’s community like wearing Levi’s jeans. The limitations and disadvantages of online interview and sampling were also discussed in this chapter.