Roots of Consumerism

The word consumerism has many connotations depending on who is using the term. Business, government, consumer groups and academic researchers have each developed their own definition of the term. These definitions span the gamut from challenging society’s goals for material goods to reflecting people’s desire for better values. One succinct definition is that Consumerism is a social movement of citizens and government to enhance the rights and powers of buyers in relation to sellers. Other authors have broadened this definition stating that consumerism encompasses the evolving set of activities of government business and independent organizations that are designed to protect the rights of consumers. Consumerism is concerned with protecting consumers from all organizations where there is an exchange of relationships. There are consumer problems associated with hospitals, libraries, schools, police forces and various government agencies as well as with business firms.

This broader definition will be used to reflect the many facets of the concept. Many organizations – business, government, consumer groups and nonprofit groups are concerned with ensuring consumer’s fair treatment in the exchange process.

There are numerous underlying roots of consumerism in the United States. The enduring problems which underlie the movement have been summarized as follows:

Disillusionment with the systems:

All of our institutions have been subjected to increasing public scrutiny, skepticism and loss of esteem. Many consumers think they get a worse deal in the marketplace than they used to. Thus, there is dissatisfaction with their bargaining position. Recent surveys have shown that a majority of Americans now hate politics, distrust businesses and feel pessimistic about their place in society.

The performance gap:

Many consumers express broad dissatisfaction with the goods they buy. Their expectation of product performance and reliability has been (largely because of advertising touting the new improvements). Yet the increased product complexity brings about new possibilities for malfunction and a perception by consumers that the promise performance gap is widening.

The consumers’ information gap:

Amateur buyers lacking the time, interest or capacity to process information adequately in order to make optimal marketplace decisions face literally thousands of complex products requiring evaluations along many dimensions relating to performance convenience or even societal concerns.

Antagonism toward advertising:

Large segments of the populations are very skeptical of the usefulness and truthfulness of advertising information. In addition it is criticized for its intrusiveness and clutter irritation factor stereotyped role portrayals and promotion of unrealistic or unsupportable expectations. Telemarketing calls are a related annoyance. Whether there is a human or computerized voice at the other end, two thirds, to 70 percent of people in a recent survey ranked this as a major irritation of modern life.

Impersonal and unresponsive marketing institutions:

Such marketing factors as the rise of self service retailing reduced knowledge of sales employees computerized impersonalness and bureaucratic structures are contributors to a feeling that no marketer is listening.

Intrusions of privacy:

Development of the many consumer information data bases made possible under our increasingly computerized society has caused concern over the access to and use of such data and has led to attempts to protect the consumer’s privacy.

Declining living standards:

Recent reduction in consumer’s real discretionary incomes has led to pessimism and disenchantment with the economic system and attempts to deal with the situation.

Special problems of the disadvantaged:

The young, the old, and the poor are even more vulnerable than most other groups in society and face variety of problems that restrict their ability to function as ordinary consumers. Not only is there general economic distress but they face hygiene problems and interpersonal problems yet they attempt to overcome these obstacles through non traditional employment activities (such as recycling cans and bottles), scavenging and communal sharing of possessions. They are mentally ill and physically disabled homeless faces particularly difficult to consumers’ survival problems.

Different views of the marketplace:

Business people and their critics have radically different perceptions of the nature of the marketplace.
Source: Consumer Behavior