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Unhappy customers: Everyone has a right to complain, and does

We've all had that sinking feeling when we got home and a purchase turned out to be damaged, or worse yet, we had no warranty with which to dispute the damage. Are some consumers disadvantaged by income, race, education, or age and therefore less likely to return that product for a refund or an exchange?

Consumer satisfaction surveys and research historically labeled some groups -- poor, less educated, younger, minority consumers -- as "disadvantaged" in that they do not complain to a Better Business Bureau (125 offices nationwide) when they have a bad purchase experience. Although even assessing these trends has been controversial, research from an upcoming issue of the Journal of Consumer Affairs disputes this old stereotype.

The survey analyzed over 24,000 complaints filed within a thirteen year period and matched the complaints to U.S. Census Bureau data detailing characteristics such as income level, race, age, and education. Researcher Dennis Garrett remarks, "We found that a consumer's level of education, age, and minority status were not strongly linked to their complaining behavior. However, consumers with lower incomes were less likely to complain as were consumers in rural areas."

The authors emphasize that any consumer can be vulnerable in the marketplace and must be assertive in seeking remedies from companies, even if they feel disadvantaged by their lack of income. They recommend that support for this consumer action be supported at the public policy level in order to encourage consumer empowerment.

This study is published in the Spring 2010 issue of Journal of Consumer Affairs. Media wishing to receive a PDF of this article may contact

To view the abstract for this article please visit

Dennis E. Garrett, Ph.D. is the Dean of the Marketing department at Marquette University and has served as advisor to numerous public companies in developing new product lines and achieving greater customer satisfaction. He is also the secretary and board member for the Wisconsin Better Business Bureau. Garrett has written extensively and presented on topics of customer satisfaction, branding, and on-profit business practices, and was named in editions of "Who's Who Among America's Teachers." He can be reached for questions at

The Journal of Consumer Affairs features analyses of individual, business, and/or government decisions and actions that can impact the interests of consumers in the marketplace. For more information, please visit here.

About Wiley-Blackwell: Wiley-Blackwell is the international scientific, technical, medical, and scholarly publishing business of John Wiley & Sons, with strengths in every major academic and professional field and partnerships with many of the world's leading societies. Wiley-Blackwell publishes nearly 1,500 peer-reviewed journals and 1,500+ new books annually in print and online, as well as databases, major reference works and laboratory protocols. For more information, please visit or

Bethany Carland-Adams | EurekAlert!
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