Consumer literacy

How low-literate individuals adapt to the marketplace

With more than one fifth of American consumers considered functionally illiterate, the assumption that consumer research and the related marketing techniques should be focused solely on literate consumers may be inaccurate. According to a study in the June 2005 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, low-literate consumers who find a way to adapt to a marketplace where literacy is expected can not only challenge the status quo but can also be successful.

“Almost half of all consumers read below a sixth grade level, yet we know little about how these consumers get their needs met in the marketplace. The goal of this qualitative study was to examine the intersection of literacy skills and consumption activities and identify the coping strategies that low literate consumers employ. Those informants who could challenge the stigma of low literacy and employ a range of coping skills were better able to get their needs met,” write the authors, Natalie Ross Adkins (Creighton University) and Julie Ozanne (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University).

The study’s findings indicate that consumerism is more than a simple act. Instead, it is an identify-defining extension of a self. “The findings support a vision of buying behavior as a social practice of identity maintenance and management. Even in routine behaviors, such as ordering at a restaurant, buying is guided by a desire to preserve self-esteem and dignity,” conclude Ross Adkins and Ozanne. “Our findings suggest that consumer education must expand beyond disseminating information to include developing consumers’ confidence and abilities to engage socially when their needs are being denied, thwarted, or opposed.”

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Carrie Olivia Adams EurekAlert!

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