The objective with this research project was to contribute to existing theory on product related consumer socialization, more specifically concerning young upcoming consumers in a third world country like the Republic of South Africa. Problems that are experienced by inexperienced consumers were discussed within the context of changing socio political conditions in recent years, which have resulted in the adoption of different lifestyles and spending patterns of previously disadvantaged consumers. During the past decade the living conditions of especially black consumers have improved considerably. Better jobs and higher incomes have resulted in access to home ownership and consequently also the acquisition of expensive, durable commodities such as household appliances to support and reflect their new lifestyles. Unfortunately limited product related exposure and experience might contribute to specific problems that need to be addressed by professionals in Consumer Science in order to contribute to informed, responsible buyer decisions in the market place. The intention was to suggest strategies through which inexperienced consumers could be assisted to cope in a very competitive and materialistic world. The research was positivistic in nature and was conducted within a quantitative paradigm although qualitative methods were included to verify the content and structure of the questionnaire. The geographic area in which the study was conducted, was conveniently located near the University of Pretoria. Unfortunately difficult access to potential participants because of security issues made it difficult to recruit participants. Most of the contacts were made during the evenings. Financial constraints were experienced: participants were unwilling to participate without an incentive and the researcher had to make provision for small gifts as a token of appreciation. Time was another limiting factor: data collection had to be done within a limited period because this study formed part of a larger research project that involved other students and different samples. Field workers were trained to assist with the data collection. The system’s theory was used to direct the content and discussions of the study: product related consumer socialization (i.e. appliance ownership and product experience) was thus considered as an input that affected consumers’ product knowledge and their consequent ability to transform product cues in terms of product decisions which would reflect informed, responsible buyer decisions, or the contrary (outcome). Findings confirmed participants’ limited product related consumer socialization. Limited experience with appliances was evident from limited ownership of most of the appliances over time, except for refrigerators and stoves. Participants’ impression of the usefulness of appliances in households was confirmed by their apparent enthusiasm to acquire almost all of the major appliances that were listed in the future. The product knowledge test confirmed participants’ limited ability to conclude informed buyer decisions and explicated their unrealistic expectations of the service life of appliances as well as their apparent reliance on surrogate indicators to judge the quality of appliances. When participants were confronted with a product complaint scenario, most of the complaints could be ascribed to incorrect use of appliances and/or ignorance, which supported the notion that these consumers would not be able to conclude responsible buyer decisions. A concerted effort by retail to provide augmented customer service in the retail environment so that consumers could be facilitated at point of purchase is recommended. It is also proposed that consumers’ limited product knowledge and the problems that they have indicated concerning the use of appliances should be addressed to enhance informed and responsible buyer and user behaviour.
Dissertation (M (Consumer Science))--University of Pretoria, 2007.