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Understanding African-American & Asian Shoppers


ANAHEIM, Calif. — Reflecting the Multicultural Retail 360 Summit’s expanded focus this year were several presenters who focused specifically on the African-American and Asian markets. Topics ranged from cultural values and traditions, to designing advertising campaigns that meld traditions.

Lan Bercu, founder and president of Lead Across Cultures International, compared Asian habits and values to those of other consumers. Asian society — as well as Hispanic society — tends to be a collective culture based on belonging to a group or family. Group needs come before individual needs. Conformity, hierarchies and common values prevail.

In Anglo culture, independent thinking and self-actualization are the norm and people are seen as equals. Anglos strongly embrace humor, leisure and instant gratification. Among Asians, thrift, post-gratification and seriousness trump.

Hence, Anglos are primarily concerned with the attributes and origins of a product, often researching these issues before purchasing. Asians care more about the brand and the trust it brings, with word-of-mouth having a big influence.

“It’s the opposite process,” said Bercu.

Asian values are well embodied in Godiva chocolate’s New Year line, which is aimed at millennial Asians. Beginning last year with the Year of the Horse, red candy gift boxes featured a red horse motif and the red envelopes Asians like to exchange. The dark chocolate candy had a pear filling.

The holiday signifies abundance, prosperity and growth. Historically, Asians exchange gifts of money, fruits, sweets and nuts for the New Year. The pear-filled candy provided a new twist on a traditional theme.

“Asian Millennials want to celebrate the holiday, but they want to do it their way,” said Michelle Chin, vice president, N.A., integrated marketing, communications and loyalty. “Gifting is the core of celebration. Godiva is about sharing and relationships; it’s not just about candy.”

The candy was promoted via TV ads and through online Asian food pairing sites that attracted Asian bloggers. Godiva also held press conferences for Asian media in New York, New Jersey, Los Angeles and San Francisco. These efforts achieved an 85-percent sell-through rate. This year, Godiva is launching a similar initiative to celebrate the Year of the Goat.


Cynthia Perkins-Roberts, founder of and vice president of multicultural marketing, Video Advertising Bureau, outlined some of the cultural, economic and other nuances of black consumers — some subtle, some not. She also discussed how the culture is changing.

At 45 million strong, blacks represent 14.3 percent of the U.S. population, accounting for 17 million households. By 2030, they will represent 19.5 percent of U.S. residents. The non-Hispanic white population, in contrast, is growing by just 0.5 percent annually.

Household income among blacks is broken down as follows:

  • $25,000 or less: 37 percent
  • $25,000 to $50,000: 28 percent
  • $50,000 to $99,000 23 percent
  • $100,000-plus: 12 percent

While the average household income among blacks is lower than it is among other groups, Perkins-Roberts noted that many blacks live alone, which is rarely the case with Asians or Hispanics. Just 28 percent are married, compared to 49 percent of Latinos. Interestingly, there has been an 11-percent increase in the number of black married couples.

Living mostly “in the day,” African-Americans spend 80 percent of their income, which is much more than other groups spend.

In apparel, for example, African-Americans lay out about $56.21 monthly compared to $27.15 among Anglos. They are also more receptive to mobile coupons, enjoy TV commercials and watch more television overall.

At Hallmark, the company incorporates many aspects of African-American culture into its greeting cards. Launched in 1987, its Mahogany line is sold in 17,000 accounts and recognized by 90 percent of blacks.

Words strongly reflect African-American culture, with messages having “a lot more fire,” Tara Frank, Hallmark's vice president of multicultural strategy, told Multicultural Retail 360 Summit attendees.

Another Hallmark card line, “Because Jesus,” reflects the culture’s strong Christian ties. And in June, Hallmark launched a LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) line at a Walgreens store in San Francisco’s Castro district, an area that is 95 percent gay.

By targeting diverse consumer groups, executives are quick to point out that companies should not stretch themselves too thin or stray from their core image.

“Everyone is trying to drive shareholder growth,” Ida Chacon, vice president, client solutions at the Latinum Network, said during the Hallmark session at the Multicultural Retail 360 Summit (formerly known as Hispanic Retail 360). “You need to deliver, but you need to deliver efficiently.”

Godiva's Chin pointed to the importance of a campaign being relative to both the brand and the targeted demographic. “You have to be authentic, but you must stay true to the brand.”

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