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Complaint behavior of Mexican-American consumers to a third-party agency.

Consumer scientists have long recognized the importance of sub-cultural differences in consumer behavior. Since the late 1960s emphasis has been placed primarily on the consumption behavior of African-Americans as the United States' largest minority. The Hispanic market was not a focus of attention for marketers until recently when through resident population growth and immigration, Hispanics challenged African-Americans as the largest U.S. minority group. The realization that the Hispanic population is an important and unique market has activated consumer researchers' interest (Cervantes 1980). Awareness and appreciation for the dynamics of the Hispanic market are reflected by the increased interest in studying Hispanic consumer behavior as related to media habits, brand loyalty, information sources, and price consciousness (e.g., Desphande, Hoyer, and Donthu 1986; Greenberg et al. 1983; O'Guinn, Faber, and Meyer 1985; Saegert, Hoover, and Hilger 1985; Wallendorf and Reilly 1983; Yankelovich, Skelly and White, Inc. 1984).

While efforts to understand Hispanic consumer behavior have increased in recent years, reactions to dissatisfaction among Hispanic consumers have yet to be investigated. In terms of research priorities, this is not surprising because mainstream consumer research has gone through a similar developmental process. Research has emphasized antecedents of consumer satisfaction/dissatisfaction over the consequences of dissatisfaction. Although hundreds of studies have been published on consequences of dissatisfaction such as negative word-of-mouth, brand/store switching, and complaint behavior (Hunt 1983), the preponderance of research has focused on generating consumption behavior rather than understanding it fully.

The study reported in this paper attempts to remedy, in part, lack of knowledge of Hispanic consumer behavior. Sepcifically, Mexican-American consumer complaint behavior is investigated with regard to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) as a third-party complaint handling agency. The major objective of this paper is to draw attention to the issue of ethnic consumer responses to dissatisfaction through the examination of Mexican-American consumer complaint behavior and establish research needs in the area.

Research in consumer complaint behavior has moved from descriptive studies to more theoretically grounded inquiry (e.g., Bearden and Oliver 1985; Singh 1988; Warland, Herrmann, and Moore 1984). However, literature on Hispanic consumers is not at the same stage as that for the larger Anglo population and does not provide viable research hypotheses. In fact, race and sex have been deemed "less salient" demographic characteristics usually not found to be related to complaining behavior (Warland, Herrmann, and Moore 1984). Hence, a descriptive analysis is conducted to investigate some questions derived from the literature and to provide a basis for hypotheses development for future investigations.


Although businesses may still have problems in terms of complaint handling efficiency (see Fornell and Westbrook 1984 for a detailed discussion of the problems), recognition of potential damage caused by a single dissatisfied customer has widespread acceptance (TARP 1979). So important is the single complaint, that it has been argued that in low growth, highly competitive markets, a viable marketing strategy is to "maximize the number of complaints from dissatisfied customers" to achieve the lowest possible level of consumer turnover (Fornell and Wernerfelt 1987, 338). It is clear that complaints are a critical form of communication between consumer and business. Complaints offer a unique opportunity to correct problems, provide constructive ideas, improve products and services, and help modify promotional efforts and product information (Sanders 1981).

One key conclusion of the extensive research on consumer satisfaction/dissatisfaction is that satisfaction is a function of the confirmation or disconfirmation of consumer expectations (Churchill and Suprenant 1982; Oliver 1980; Tse and Wilton 1988; Woodruff, Cadotte, and Jenkins 1983). If a purchase or consumption experience leads to dissatisfaction, the consumer may engage in a number of alternate behaviors, ranging from "doing nothing" to "resorting to the courts." Singh (1988) classifies the broad range of possible responses to dissatisfaction into behavioral and nonbehavioral response categories. Marketers, public policy-makers, and consumer agencies are all interested in understanding both types of responses for managerial purposes as well as for the benefit of society.

Consumer complaint behavior can also be classified as private or public (Day and Landon 1977). Private actions include negative word-of-mouth communication to friends and relatives and switching brands or stores. Public actions include complaining to the seller, taking legal action, and complaining to some third-party agency such as government or a Better Business Bureau. Although there has been no call for research on minority complaining behavior concerning private or public actions, a recent article by Singh (1990) identified the need for research which includes responses to third parties. The focus of the present investigation is on those complaints by Mexican-American consumers expressed publicly to a third-party agency: the Better Business Bureau.

Role of Better Business Bureaus

A major function of the BBBs is to provide a third-party complaint resolution process for consumers and businesses. Procedures of the complaint process are standardized by an operations manual across local BBB offices. The program is offered at no charge to either party. Normally complaints by consumers must be submitted in writing to the local BBB.

The most attractive features of the BBB process are informality of the procedure, cost (that of a stamp to mail the complaint), and speed at which the process works for the majority of complaints. These positive attributes compare favorably with the process involved in seeking legal recourse. Alternatively, the system has been criticized on several grounds. Many people feel that there is a conflict of interest within the BBB structure especially when complaints are against BBB members, because the organization is financed by the membership (Goodman 1981).

Another major criticism of the BBB complaint handling process is based on the way complaint resolutions are classified. The BBB guidelines for determining complaint resolution allow a case to be recorded as settled if the company in question states that it has or will correct the problem, or it disputes the complaint and the BBB agrees with such a response. These guidelines may have led to extremely high rates of satisfactory settlements reported by BBBs (Munns 1978). A key problem with this type of settlement is evident when consumers use complaint reports as prepurchase information. That is, when record of a particular business is requested by a consumer, the BBB gives the number of unsettled cases against that business which may be underestimated because of the classification procedure used.

Despite criticisms, consumer confidence in BBBs appears to be relatively high. A nationwide survey showed that the BBB ranked second after Consumers Union among consumer protection agencies (Kagay 1983). In another study by Ittig (1980) the BBB complaint system was compared with the small claims court system. Findings indicated that consumers preferred the BBB system over small claims court even though they obtained less frequent settlements with the BBB process. Consumers felt that easy access to the BBB and the speed at which the process worked were the positive assets absent in small claims courts.

Until recently, there has not been particular reference to minorities, either by the BBB or other third-party complaint handling agencies. One exception involved a study of winning in small claims courts (Bradley, Sherman, and Bryant 1982). This study found that race did not have an impact on the probability of winning in court. Regarding BBBs, the parent organization, the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) has become concerned with minority complaint behavior and even initiated goals for Mexican-Americans and other minorities. An increased interest in minority complaint behavior is evidenced by a Chicago BBB special program for minorities in 1981 and a CBBB forum on minorities in 1984. Perhaps one reason for the slow development of initiatives for minorities is the fact that minorities use BBB services less frequently than their Anglo counterparts. Ittig (1980) found that five percent of complaints filed were submitted by minorities although minorities represent over 20 percent of the U.S. population (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1981a). The utilization rate of the BBB by Mexican-American consumers has yet to be investigated.


The Mexican-American consumer has been studied along with other Spanish speaking Americans under the rubric of "Hispanic" in most cases. Therefore, the literature is not clear whether conclusions are applicable to Mexican-Americans. While some authors (Wallendorf and Reilly 1983) argue that the Mexican-Americans are unique in their consumption behavior, others (Desphande, Hoyer, and Donthu 1986) contend that within the Mexican-American ethnic group there are distinct subgroups with different market-related behaviors. The review that follows is based primarily on the literature of "Hispanics," except when there is clear indication that Mexican-Americans were studied.

Research shows that Hispanic consumers are concerned with the value they get for their money. About 80 percent of Hispanics indicate that they pay close attention to insure quality for price paid (Yankelovich, Skelly and White, Inc. 1984). Hispanics have also been found to be brand loyal. Hispanics trust the quality of nationally advertised brands more than that of off-brands and store brands. This may be a consequence of the Hispanic respect and belief in tradition and family; longstanding brands tend to be trusted (Guernica 1982). Coupon use by Hispanics continues to be low, presenting a problem to some marketers (Fitch 1986). Hispanics tend to relate coupon use to poverty, low prestige and quality.

According to Yankelovich, Skelly and White, Inc. (1984), Hispanics are more prone to try new products than their Anglo counterparts. However, Hispanics are primarily motivated to look for new products to obtain better value and use their purchasing power wisely. A high level of consumerism among Hispanics and a willingness to speak up when dissatisfied with a product or service are also reported by Yankelovich, Skelly and White, Inc. This observation inherently implies that Hispanic consumers will not hesitate to complain or seek redress. The utilization rate of BBBs among the various redress avenues would provide further insight into Hispanic consumer behavior.

In a study of family decision making, Baker (1978) found that the Mexican-American male makes most of the financial decisions. This finding suggests that the male head-of-household may be more likely to initiate the complaint process. However, Hispanics are more likely than the general population to be in families headed by a single female parent (Davis, Haub, and Willette 1983). Hence, it should be worthwhile to determine the gender composition of Mexican-American consumers who register complaints with the BBB.

A significant difference between Mexican-Americans and their Anglo counterparts is the perception of time. Mexican-American expect the future to be the same as the past and do not worry about the future (Graham 1981). There is little planning for the future, what has to be done today is done, everything else is put off until tomorrow. The important thing is today and "right now." According to Graham (1981) this view explains why Mexican-Americans using food stamps buy the "best today" and do not plan for tomorrow.

This "best today" attitude may imply a stronger complaint tendency when dissatisfied with a product or service. Commenting on the crisis level of consumer dissatisfaction with services, Wortzel (1988) cites high consumer expectations as the real cause of consumer complaints. Although Wortzel comments on the population in general, his perspective suggests that consumers with high expectations, such as those held by Hispanics, will be more inclined to complain.

Mexican-Americans tend not to trust institutions and seek help from their families when a problem occurs (Nontiel 1978). However, studies of Spanish origin attitudes indicate a desire for more government intervention and regulations (Garcia 1982; Portes 1984). On the other hand, the same studies found that there is skepticism about businesses in general. The literature in this area is not conclusive. The somewhat antibusiness attitude leads to the expectation that the Mexican-American consumer will be vocal when dissatisfied. However, it could also be reasoned that antibusiness attitudes could lead to alienation and less complaining to third-party agencies.

Studies have found that complainers tend to be younger, better educated, and have higher incomes (Liefeld, Edgecombe, and Wolfe 1975; Miller 1970; Morganosky and Buckley 1986; Moyer 1985; Pfaff and Blivice 1977). Although findings conflict, literature suggests that this complainer profile is strongest for the more "effort-intensive" complaining, such as to third-party agencies. Conversely the non-complainer is thought to be older, poorer, and less educated. By "absolute" measures of socioeconomic standing, the majority of minorities would be expected to be noncomplainers because on average their income and education levels are lower. However, considering relative positions within the minority community one would expect to find minority complainers to have more education and higher incomes than their peers.

A digression may be helpful to explain the relative income hypothesis which appears useful in placing ethnicity and income in perspective in the context of the consumer profile. Research on differences in consumption behavior between blacks and whites had concluded that differences were a byproduct of socioeconomic factors, not related to ethnic differences (Feldman and Star 1968). Cicarelli (1974) reached an opposing conclusion using the same data under the relative income hypothesis. The basis tenet of the relative income hypothesis is that the fraction of a family's income devoted to consumption depends on the level of its income relative to the income of the peer group with which it identifies and not the absolute level of the family's income. Cicarelli (1974) concluded that "under the relative income hypothesis, the only valid analysis of consumer behavior would be one that compares Blacks and Whites of the same relative incomes whatever their respective absolute incomes may be" (245). An example from a study conducted in a similar time period is examined in order to better understand the importance of the relative income hypothesis to the currently accepted consumer complainant profile.

Morganosky and Buckley (1986) report data on a sample of 702 Illinois women selected through a "self-weighted systematic probability sample" of households in the state (information on race was collected but not reported in the results). They found that "higher income and better educated consumers were significantly more likely than lower income and less educated consumers to agree with statements that indicate that they complain" (224). Their findings indicated significant differences between those reporting incomes of "above $35,000" and those "below $20,000" per year. The study profiles the complainer as having a higher income (i.e., above $35,000). This may or may not be a relevant income range in profiling the Hispanic consumer. Therefore the existing consumer complaint profile based on non-Hispanic data may not reflect the prevalent Hispanic profile in absolute terms but may in relative terms.

Demographically minorities would be expected to be more likely to complain because they are younger than the general U.S. population. Hispanics as a group are younger than both the general U.S. population and African-Americans. In 1980, the median age for the Hispanic population was 23 years, compared to 30 for the United State in general and 25 for the African-American population (Davis, Haub, and Willette 1983). Additionally, previous research did not examine language proficiency as related to consumer complaint behavior. Clearly, consumer complaint profiles for the U.S. population in general hold inconsistent implications for minorities.


The major objective of the study is to examine consumer complaining behavior of Mexican-Americans who file written complaints to a third-party complaint handling agency such as the BBB. The preceding literature on consumer complaint behavior and insights from Mexican-American consumer behavior, in general, provide the impetus for the following research questions.

(1) How does type of complaint filed by the Mexican-American complainant compare with that of the general population?

(2) How does the Mexican-American complainant compare with the complaint profile developed for the general population?

(3) What is the role of gender in the complaint process?

Additionally, some questions on complaint behavior do not have extensive grounds in literature but are valuable to the BBB and other parties. Two questions of importance are

(4) Are there businesses which are more frequently subject to complaints from Mexican-American consumers?, and

(5) What are the determinants of complaint resolution?


Data for this study consisted of all complainants with Spanish surnames who filed written complaints with the BBB of South Plains, Texas, for the six-year period between January 1, 1980 and December 31, 1985. The use of surnames to identify Mexican-American complainants exhibits two potential problems. First, some Mexican-American complainants with non-Spanish surnames may have been excluded. Secondly, some individuals with Spanish surnames who were not Mexican-American may have been included. To improve the procedure, surnames were reviewed by a panel of three Mexican-Americans when there was question of Mexican-American origin. According to census data for the area, only 3.4 percent of the Spanish population are of Spanish descent but not Mexican-Americans (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1981b).

There were 5,890 written complaints filed with the BBB of South Plains during the period studied. Of these, 555 (9.4 percent) were filed by individuals with Spanish surnames. Data were generated from the complaints for four general categories: complaint, consumer, company, and resolution process.

Complaint profile was determined using the CBBB's classification method as follows: unsatisfactory service, delivery/delay/damage, unsatisfactory repair, credit/billing, product quality/performance, guarantee/warranty, failure to provide refund, selling practices, advertising practices, and discontinued business. Economic value of the complaint was measured by the dollar amount being disputed. Additionally, redress sought by the consumer was classified by categories designated by the CBBB as follows: refund, exchange, refund or exchange, repair, delivery of merchandise or service, partial refund, or correction of billing.

For the consumer profile, sex was determined by first name. Respondent's family income and education level were projected by using the consumer's address to determine neighborhood as designated by the area neighborhood census program.

Company profile included the location--zip code, state, and city. The type of business was classified by using an extensive "type of business" code sheet which is part of the BBB standard reporting procedure. The company's membership status with the BBB was recorded as "member" or "nonmember."

The final area of the study included an examination of aspects of the consumer complaint process that could impact final disposition of the complaint. Two areas considered important were the response of the company and satisfaction derived from the process. The response of the company to the BBB's referral of the consumer's complaint letter was recorded as follows: (1) agreeing fully with consumer and providing what is requested, (2) partially agreeing and partial fulfillment of request, (3) disagreeing with consumer, (4) no response, and (5) other, not processed, etc. It should be noted that company responses of action constitute a promise which may or may not actually transpire.

Satisfaction level was recorded from the perspective of the BBB and the consumer. The consumer's satisfaction level was recorded from the CBBB's verification form if submitted by the consumer following the completion of BBB action. If the consumer failed to provide the verification information then the BBB assumed, based on national BBB practice, that the complaint had been resolved satisfactorily.


Some of the findings are readily comparable to the general population and/or findings of other studies which use samples from particular populations. In other instances, no comparisons for the descriptive results are reported. Descriptive information is included for its value in understanding the study endeavors and its potential usefulness to researchers. A comparison of overall complaint statistics for the years 1985, 1984, 1982, and 1981 (1983 statistics were incomplete and could not be used) of the BBB of the South Plains, Inc. to national statistics indicates that the complaint activity of the South Plains area generally parallels the reported by BBBs nationally. For example, in the complaint categories of general mail order and magazines by mail, national statistics were 22.4 percent and 2.9 percent respectively. The South Plains percentages were 18.3 for general mail order and 3.4 for magazines by mail.

Complaints Profile

The great proportion of complaints, 29.7 percent, concerned nondelivery and delays. Unsatisfactory repairs accounted for 16.6 percent of the complaints. The percentage of complaints classified under each category used by the CBBB is shown in Table 1.


The most significant difference between national statistics and the sample of Mexican-American consumers was in the area of unsatisfactory service. In the period from 1980 to 1985, unsatisfactory service was the number one consumer complaint nationwide with 21.8 percent so classified. In contrast only 4.9 percent of the sample of Mexican-American complaints concerned unsatisfactory service. This difference may reflect sociocultural and/or socioeconomic differences already addressed. Additionally, several explanations for this difference are suggested in complaint behavior literature. Andreasen (1977) suggests that it is possible that voiced complaints may be related to consumers' beliefs about responsiveness of sellers in the category.

There were 400 cases in which the complainant disclosed the monetary value of the problem. The mean request was $619 and the median $100. Three types of redress were most frequently requested. More than one-fourth of the complainants (28.8 percent) requested a complete refund, 25.6 percent wanted delivery of the merchandise or service, and 20.9 percent wanted a repair made.

Mexican-American Complaint Profile

Income, education level, and language proficiency were examined for those complainants providing a street address within the area covered by the Neighborhood Statistics Program (NSP) (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1983). There were 312 respondents for which NSP data could be used. The findings are summarized in Table 2.

Unfortunately use of NSP data in analyzing differences in income and education between complainers and noncomplainers cannot confirm or disconfirm any expectations because findings are drawn from neighborhood averages. Neighborhood analysis results do suggest that income operates in the minority Mexican-American population in the same way as in the general U.S. population. That is, complainers tend to come from neighborhoods with higher incomes (Table 2). Statistics on the percentage living below poverty are consistent

TABLE 2 Socioeconomic Comparisons Between Complainant and Noncomplainant Mexican-American Neighborhoods a
 Lubbock Total Complainant
Neighborhood Mexican-American Mexican-American
Characteristics Neighborhoods Neighborhoods
Mean Income $14,796 $15,930
Median Income 12,549 14,616
High School Education (b) 33.2 24.6
Poor English 7.4 8.1
Below Poverty Level 27.2 19.3
 (a) Statistical analysis of income education, and language
ability using NSP data could only be
applied to those complaints filed by consumers with Lubbock
street addresses (39 complainants
were excluded from this analysis because they indicated post
office box mailing
addresses). There were 312 responses in which Lubbock
neighborhood statistics could be used.
 There were 118 neighborhoods for the city of Lubbock. NSP
provides total population and
Hispanic population statistics within each neighborhood
area. From the 118 neighborhoods,
income data for each complainant were compiled and a mean
income for Complainant
Mexican-American Neighborhoods" was computed. For comparison,
incomes for all
Hispanics for all neighborhoods were computed. For comparison,
incomes for all
Hispanics for all neighborhoods were computed. All 118
neighborhods had some Hispanic
residents. Statistics for "Complainant Mexican-American
Neighborhoods" in Table 2 represent
weighted averages.
 (b) To ensure clarity, for "Percent High School Education,"
a lower percentage of high school
education reflects lower levels of education overall because
all neighborhoods exhibited similar
distributions of education levels. This distribution generally
showed half of the residents with
less than 12 years of education, and one-quarter with 12 years
of school. Higher education
levels including 13-15 years and college (16 years) were
proportionately smaller for each neighborhood. Therefore
"Percent High School Education" is a meaningful indicator of
the typical
neighborhood education level.

with the findings on neighborhood incomes. Contrary to expectations, education level may not operate in the same way as is found in the general population. Complainants have less formal education.

An interesting aspect of these findings especially related to income, that could be overlooked by concentrating on the currently accepted complaint profile, is the potentially confounding effects which may result when samples containing minorities are analyzed in aggregate with nonminorities. Returning to the Morganosky and Buckley (1986) study, cited in the complaint behavior literature, high income was positively associated with complaint behavior as found in the current study. An important difference is that those persons profiled as non-complainers in the Morganosky and Buckley study had incomes that are higher than those profiled as complainers in this study. This exemplifies that for those studies which include minorities but do not disaggregate them, results may be clouded by multiple complainer profiles which are not examined and become lost in the majority profile.

Language ability (poor English, Table 2) does not appear to inhibit unsolicited complaint behavior. Many studies have pointed out that solicited complaint behavior may differ from other complaining behaviors. However, literature on complaining behavior makes no predictions concerning relationships of language proficiency of the complainant to complaining behavior. In the current study, age differences could not be examined.

Effects of gender

Of complainant Mexican-American consumers in this study, 48.8 percent (271) were female and 48.3 percent (268) were male. The remaining 2.9 percent (16) were filed jointly by couples either with both individuals signing the complaint or actively involved. There were 199 males and 191 females with complaints that specified monetary values. The remaining ten cases that specified values were filed by couples. Mean values of complaints by males were $884 and $286 for females. In a one-way analysis of variance the primary effect of sex on dollar value of the complaint was significant (F = 12.7, df = 1, p < .05). Although the numbers of complaints submitted to the BBB were similar for males and females, males complained about larger dollar amounts than females.

Company Profile

Retail businesses received the most complaints with 37.3 percent (207) of the 555 total complaints. Table 3 shows the percentage of complaints by general type of business. The retail category represents a wide range of businesses including such diverse enterprises as department stores, photo studios, and florists. Of the more narrowly defined categories, automotive businesses received the most complaints with 18.9 percent (105) of the 555 complaints. This finding is consistent with findings for the general U.S. population as determined by the Office of Secretary of Transportation. Division of Consumer Affairs (1979). The automotive industry is well established as the leading complaint area. This category does not include complaints about auto insurance and financing.

In an additional analysis, it was found that the mail order industry received 17.8 percent of the complaints making it the second largest category after automotive. Data from the Annual Inquirty and Complaint Summary (1980-1985), (CBBB, 1981-1986) on companies generating the most complaints indicate that mail order service complaints accounted for 22.4 percent of all complaints for the period.

Over three-fourths (446) of all complaints were lodged against companies that were not members of BBB. The remaining 109 complaints were against BBB members.

Complaint Process and Resolution

Of 555 complaints filed, 89 percent were accepted for processing by the BBB. Of the 494 cases processed, 55 percent (274) of Mexican-American

TABLE 3 Mexican-American Complaints Classified by Type of Business
Type of Business Percent Number
Retail 37.3 207
Automobile 18.9 105
Financial 15.5 86
Service 10.4 58
Home, Remodeling, Construction, Maintenance 9.5 53
Health and Personal Development 4.9 27
Food 2.2 12
Other 1.3 7
Total 100.00 555

consumers achieved a full or partial settlement. Over 34 percent (170) of complainants received no settlement and 9.3 percent did not receive a response from the business that was the subject of the complaint.

The majority of consumers whose complaints were processed, 6402 percent (317), did not return the BBB verification form. The known satisfaction rate for consumers is based on 177 cases. The number of complainants that were satisfied was 75. The remaining 102 complainants were dissatisfied. As mentioned previously, the BBB's determination of satisfaction differs fromthat of the consumer. From the perspective of the BBB, 334 cases (60.0 percent) were assumed settled and another 108 cases (19.5) were classified as satisfied.


Complaints filed by Mexican-Americans showed that less than five percent of cases involved unsatisfactory service, while nearly one-third of cases involved either delay or nondelivery of goods and services. This result did not coincide with national BBB statistics which ranked unsatisfactory service the number one complaint area followed by delivery and delay. Although inconsistent with the findings of Yankelovich, Skelly and White, Inc. (1984), lower levels of Mexican-American complaints for unsatisfactory service may be due to lower expectations for resolution of service-related problems. Higher complaint levels for delay and nondelivery may be due to communication problems between businesses and Mexican-Americans. An alternative explanation may be related to Mexican-American perceptions of time. Because concepts of "today" and "right now" are important to the Mexican-American consumer (Graham 1981), delay and nondelivery may be more important to Mexican-Americans than to the general population.

Mexican-American complainants in this study were higher in relative income than their neighbors but of a similar or lower education level. This supports previous findings on income and differs from previous findings on education as they relate to complainant profiles. A neighborhood having above average income levels and below average education levels may indicate a neighborhood with older, established, skilled workers with above average paying jobs.

The relative income hypotheses introduced in this paper resulted in two implications for consumer complaint research. First, studies which include a diverse socioeconomic range and want to establish consumer complaint profiles should consider that several relative profiles may exist. Second, researchers who seek to examine minority complaint behavior as it relates to social and cultural differences should look for profiles within that particular minority context as well as against the backdrop of the larger U.S. population.

Nearly equal numbers of men and women sent complaint letters to BBB. However, males tended to complain about higher dollar items such as automobiles while females complained about lower dollar amounts related to consumer goods and coupons. This finding does not support Baker (1978) who finds males to be dominant in decisions that involve the family's monetary resources.

The present research effort has limitations. Mexican-Americans in this study are not necessarily representative of Mexican-Americans in other communities. Although the largest of the Hispanic groups, Mexican-American consumers differ in some ways from other Hispanics. Therefore findings concerning Mexican-American populations should be applied to other Hispanic groups tentatively.

Andreasen (1977) suggests that unsolicited complaint data (such as that of BBBs) do not offer an accurate picture of the numbers of nonprice consumer problems. With consideration of the value placed on personal recommendations by Mexican-Americans, it is suspected that other forms of complaining behavior such as those suggested by Richins (1983) will be even more pronounced in the Mexican-American consumer.

Use of NSP data as the source of information on language proficiency, income, and education level is less than ideal. However, generalized data were deemed preferable to no data. Future studies should attempt to capture detailed demographic data on individuals.

There is a need for research in minority complaint behavior. Results from this study suggest that ethnicity is an important aspect of consumer complaining behavior research. It is hoped that ethnicity will be incorporated in future research designs on complaining and other consumer behaviors.


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T. Bettina Cornwell is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Memphis State University, Memphis, TN, Alan David Bligh is President of the Better Business Bureau South Plains, Lubbock, TX; and Babakus is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Memphis State University, Memphis, TN.
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Author:Cornwell, T. Bettina; Bligh, Alan David; Babakus, Emin
Publication:Journal of Consumer Affairs
Date:Jun 22, 1991
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