Most research on the consumer decision-making process has been conducted on literate adults. More that 20% of the adult population in South Africa is classified as being functionally illiterate, lacking the numeric and language skills required to perform basic retail tasks. Research examining the challenges faced by functionally illiterate consumers is practically nonexistent. With the lack of research on the shopping behaviour of such consumers in grocery stores, retail marketing decisions are likely to be based on implicit assumptions about literate consumers. Furthermore, this leads to a lack of understanding of how functionally illiterate consumers can be empowered in the grocery store environment. The main purpose of this study was to examine how functionally illiterate consumers in South Africa make decisions to accomplish marketplace activities and also to investigate the coping mechanisms they used in the marketplace. The study specifically examined these issues in the context of grocery shopping. This study therefore aims to assist consumer behaviour researchers to compare the traditional consumer decision-making process with that of functionally illiterate consumers. At the same time, this study attempts to enlighten marketers about the characteristics of a significant proportion of the South African consumer market. A qualitative inquiry, specifically semi-structured interviews, was used to gather data amongst twelve adult literacy learners. The study reveals that functionally illiterate consumers are faced with difficulties in grocery stores. These difficulties are either related to the actual store environment or product choice. Functionally illiterate consumers make purchase decisions differently from commonly held perspectives. The major difference is the fact that functionally illiterate consumers make purchase decisions based on a single product attribute, disregarding other attributes. Functionally illiterate consumers employ coping mechanisms to complement their deficient literacy skills. In this study, a total of 18 coping mechanisms were identified. A number of these mechanisms are behavioural strategies that aid these consumers to solve the problems of satisfying their needs in the marketplace. The coping mechanisms reveal that these consumers have varying levels of literacy. In other words, functionally illiterate consumers are not a single homogeneous group of individuals. This further substantiates the notion that literacy is not static whereby an individual is either literate or not. Literacy implies a range of skills that demand competency in specific contexts. Some of these participants are ready to fight the shame of illiteracy by empowering themselves; this includes asking for help which improves their subsequent shopping experience. The participants that are free to talk to other people seem to have reasonably gained confidence. However, there are still some participants who prefer to hide their limited literacy skills and who tend to experience the same recurring problems. An implication for consumer behaviour research is that existing consumer decision models do not adequately reflect the decisions of functionally illiterate consumers.
Dissertation (MCom)--University of Pretoria, 2011.