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Cross-national comparison of consumer attitudes toward consumerism in four developing countries.

In the last three decades, consumerism has received much attention in business and academic literature. Articles have commented on consumerism's importance, underlying consequences, implications, and future (e.g., Bloom and Greyser 1981; Buskirk and Rothe 1970; Evers 1983; Johnston 1985; Maynes 1990; McIlhenny 1990). However, consumerism has been primarily a concern of more developed countries (MDCs) where consumer protection is quite advanced (Kaynak 1986; Thorelli 1990; Thorelli and Sentell 1982). In less developed countries (LDCs), the situation differs greatly (for consumer and marketplace differences between MDCs and LDCs, see Thorelli 1988, 531). In these countries, the marketplace has been a seller's haven where consumers have little or no protection, education, or information about the market (Kerton 1980; Thorelli 1990). Thus, Thorelli (1988) has suggested that priorities for consumer policy for LDCs, i.e., consumer protection, education, and information, should be exactly the reverse of those in MDCs, i.e., consumer information, education, and protection.

It is important to examine the extent of consumerism and to determine the degree to which consumer protection, education, and information (i.e., consumer emancipation) are available to various consumer groups. Only by assessing current state of development of these consumer issues and desires of consumers with regard to consumerism can these countries begin emancipating their citizens (Thorelli 1990).

The study's purpose is to report on attitudes toward consumerism in four developing countries--Singapore, India, Nigeria, and Kenya. This study also examines and compares underlying dimensionality of consumerism responses in these four countries. These four countries represent two distinct areas (Africa and Asia) adding an interesting dimension to the comparison. Finally, the paper discusses directions for research.


Consumerism has been defined as "a social movement seeking to augment the rights and powers of buyers in relation to sellers" (Kotler 1972, 49). McIlhenny saw it as "a citizens' movement which will make broad-reaching social, ecological and political demands on suppliers of goods and services" (1990, 5). Maynes defined it as "the voicing of consumer discontent and the furtherance of corrective actions" (1990, 6). In a third-world perspective, it has been defined as "the efforts made either by the consumer himself, the government, and/or independent organizations to protect the consumer from the unscrupulous practices of businesses in their quest for profit" (Onah 1979, 126).

A distinction worth noting is, while consumer interest in the LDCs is homogeneous but unarticulated, it is fragmented but well-articulated in MDCs. In addition, the consumer movement in the MDCs includes a diverse set of organizations with diverse concerns (Herrmann 1970, 1980; Herrmann, Walsh, and Warland 1988; Herrmann and Warland 1976; Thorelli 1988).

With few exceptions (e.g., Arndt, Barksdale, and Perreault 1980; Kim 1985; Onah 1979; Perreault, Barksdale, and Rodner 1979; Stanton, Chandran, and Lowenhar 1981; Thorelli and Sentell 1982), consumerism literature has focused on the advanced, free market economies (United States, Germany, Denmark, France, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, and Canada) as well as a few other selected developed countries (Barker 1987; Straver 1977). As a result, most studies have focused on developed rather than less developed countries.

Note that, according to Mayer (1989), consumerism in developing countries differs from that of developed countries in that two broad factors shape the LDC's consumers. The first factor is the indigenous characteristics of markets and consumers. This is reflected by (a) lack of adequate levels of quality control of locally manufactured products, (b) inadequate transportation and storage facilities, and (c) low importance placed on consumer satisfaction by sellers who willingly sell adulterated goods. The second factor is external influences resulting from developed nations exporting goods, consumption standards, and aspirations, as well as conceptions of consumer policy to developing countries (Mayer 1989). As a result, consumerism in most LDCs is more a matter of government policy via legislation and efficient enforcement than a matter of engaged public support (Kaynak 1982).

Consumerism Life Cycle Pattern

Consumerism, like other movements and innovations, follows a life cycle pattern of development (Kaynak 1985; Straver 1977). The consumerism life cycle stages are generally described as the crusading (Phase I), population movement (Phase II), organizational/managerial (Phase III), and bureaucratic (Phase IV) stages (Barker 1987; Straver 1977).

Some suggest that countries can be located on a consumerism life cycle continuum based on the extent of their consumer information and protection legislation, government consumer agencies, and public funding of consumer education programs (Kaynak 1985; Straver 1977). Additionally, consumer attitudes toward consumerism should reflect the role of the consumerism movement in the marketing system. The development of consumerism, in turn, could be traced to changes in the macroeconomic environment (Kotler 1972; Straver 1977). Consequently, opinions about consumerism also should follow a consumerism life cycle pattern. As suggested in Kaynak (1985), the authors expect developing countries to fall mostly in Phase I (crusading) and perhaps in Phase II (population movement).

While some support exists for the consumerism life cycle pattern theory (e.g., French, Barksdale, and Perreault 1982), other studies have found no support for this theory (e.g., Barker 1987; Barksdale et al. 1982). A synopsis of the comparative studies follows.

Thorelli (1990) has suggested that more advanced economies, where educational attainments are higher and consumer expectations are greater, exhibit stronger consumer discontent or dissatisfaction with the product market in the formal sector of the economy. Similarly, in the context of developing countries, where educational attainments and consumer expectations are lower, one expects weaker consumer dissatisfaction. Thus, consumerism should be strongest in the developed rather than the developing countries.

With this reasoning, the authors expected to find marked differences that parallel the standards of living and the educational levels. Kaynak and Wikstrom (1985) noted that increases in income and education cause higher levels of expectation and thus create more anxiety and dissatisfaction among consumers. They also stated that a negative relationship exists between consumer dissatisfaction and the level of consumer education, because a critical mass of educated individuals capable of feeling the effect of deteriorating living conditions must be present. Hendon (1975) also supported this notion. He noted that as affluence increases, needs become more complex and harder to satisfy, thus creating a potential for dissatisfaction.

Thorelli expressed a similar view (1981). He suggested that a strong correlation exists between consumer aspiration levels and degrees of economic development. Most consumers of LDCs have low levels of aspiration (Thorelli and Sentell 1982) or aspiration levels equal to their prevailing living conditions (Kaynak 1985). Thus, one expects the levels of consumerism activity to vary by level of development given that the stages of economic development reflect differences in consumer demand patterns (Kaynak 1986).

Research in developed countries

Most research in developed countries has examined four basic areas: consumerism life cycle pattern, consumer perceptions of consumer exploitation by business firms, consumerism efforts now practiced, and managerial or governmental view of consumerism. Several studies have examined the feasibility of the consumerism life cycle pattern noted above and found some support for its existence. French, Barksdale, and Perreault (1982) found support in their study of U.S. and British consumers in that they identified no meaningful differences. In another study, Perreault, Barksdale, and Rodner (1979) found partial support of this theory. Venezuelan respondents in comparison with U.S. respondents believed businesses were more sensitive to consumer complaints even if consumerism had not changed business practices. Finally, Arndt, Barksdale, and Perreault (1980) reported mixed results among U.S., Norwegian, and Venezuelan consumer respondents concerning consumerism issues and the presence of a consumer life cycle pattern.

However, several studies could not confirm the existence of a consumerism life cycle pattern. Barksdale et al. (1982), in a study of six countries (Israel, United States, Canada, Norway, Australia, and England), found no support for the theory that opinions might follow a consumerism life cycle pattern reflecting the development of national consumer movements. However, the study did find a wide cross-national agreement on consumerism topics. Barker (1987) investigated the consumerism life cycle pattern, suggesting the development of national consumer movements, in five English speaking countries (Australia, Canada, Britain, United States, and New Zealand). The data did not support the existence of such a pattern.

Some studies have examined consumer perceptions of business practices, especially with regard to consumer exploitation. One of the first studies examined U.S. consumer views of exploitation by business firms (Barksdale and Darden 1972). They found that 70 percent of consumers believed that most manufacturers were not satisfactorily handling consumer complaints. Seventy-five percent believed that consumer exploitation by firms deserved more attention. Studies also have been conducted outside the United States. Arndt, Barksdale, and Perreault (1980) found common patterns of concern among respondents in the United States, Venezuela, and Norway. Common problems were high prices, lack of product quality, lack of adequate repair and maintenance services, deceptive advertising, and inadequate handling of complaints. There was a high degree of consumer discontent regardless of the true state of marketing system performance in the three countries. Finally, in a study of U.S. and Swedish consumers, Klein asked questions about various consumerism issues (1982). In this scale development study, Klein identified six factors, in a 20-item scale, common to consumers from these two countries.

Researchers have investigated consumerism practices and efforts in many countries. Barker (1987) compared consumerism efforts and activities in New Zealand to activities in Australia, Canada, Britain, and the United States. Barker found all five countries' responses were critical of existing practices of business and suggested exploitation of consumers deserves more attention.

Finally, several studies have looked at managerial or governmental views about consumerism. Nicouland (1987) examined consumerism issues involving 85 managers from France, Denmark, and the United Kingdom. Among the pressing issues identified by the managers were that marketers needed to improve the quality of products and the quality of information provided to consumers, who increasingly demand value for money and whose interests legislation increasingly protects. Gaedeke and Udo-Aka (1974) interviewed 58 diplomats from all continents to gauge global consumer protection activities and views. Respondents reported that consumers' concerns were about the quality and safety of products. However, government officials did not agree as to who should actually determine quality and safety standards for products in international trade.

Research in developing countries

In the developing countries, consumerism has remained in its infancy or early growth stage. Little analysis and discussion of consumerism in developing countries appear in the literature (Kaynak 1982, 1986). Governments are under increasing pressure from the International Organization of Consumers Unions (IOCU) to protect the interests of consumers (Morello 1983), especially protection from fraudulent claims or unsafe products. Most research in developing countries has examined budding consumer organizations (Clifford 1988; Hinds 1988; Hong 1989) and the growth of consumer movements in specific countries (Kim 1985; Newman 1980; Peterson 1987) or with specific types of consumer problems (Moffett 1988; Onah 1979; Stanley 1987; Thorelli 1981).

A few studies have examined consumers' attitudes toward consumerism in developing countries (see, e.g., Thorelli and Sentell 1982). Several have criticized this neglect and lack of interest in consumerism research in developing countries (Barker 1987; Gaedeke and Udo-Aka 1974; Kaynak 1985; Stanton, Chandran, and Lowenhar 1981; Thorelli 1981). The result is a lack of research-based data concerning consumers' experiences in the marketplaces of the developing countries, in general (Thorelli 1981, 1988), and consumerism, in particular.

This paper addresses the paucity of research by examining consumerism attitudes of 305 consumers in four developing countries. Specifically, this study investigates underlying dimensions of consumerism views and examines differences in responses among consumers in different countries. Finally, the proposition that respondents in more developed economies should have stronger, more skeptical consumerism views, as suggested by the consumerism life cycle pattern, is tested. The following evidence supports this proposition. First, consumer consciousness and aspiration levels in LDCs are low relative to the more developed countries (Thorelli 1988). Second, as aggregate income rises, consumption increasingly has negative side effects and consumer problems become more complex (Scherhorn 1988). Given differences in per capita income, literacy, and media expenditures among the four countries studied, the authors expected differences in consumerism views to follow the consumerism life cycle pattern.


This study examines consumerism in two developing countries in Africa (Kenya and Nigeria) and two in Asia (India and Singapore). Table 1 shows data reflecting selected social, economic, and advertising factors in the four countries. These data give a general idea of the sophistication of consumers--their literacy and income as well as familiarity with different information sources (indicated by advertising expenditures in various media) and advertising in general.

While exact ordering of these countries may be problematic, Singapore is by far the most developed of the four, with three times the per capita income of the other countries. Kenya is a distant second, closely followed by Nigeria and India. If one uses literacy and media expenditures as a basis, an alternative ordering might be Singapore first, Kenya and Nigeria tied for a distant second, followed closely by India. Thus, according to the consumerism life cycle pattern, respondents from Singapore should have the strongest, most skeptical consumerism attitudes. Given the low levels of literacy and media spending in addition to other socioeconomic variables, respondents from India should have the weakest views of consumerism seeing current consumer environment as most positive.

Questionnaire Design and Sampling

Consumer data for Singapore, India, Nigeria, and Kenya were obtained by administering a questionnaire containing a series of TABULAR DATA OMITTED Likert-type statements. The items were adapted from Klein (1982, 134), Barksdale and Darden (1972, 33), Barksdale et al. (1982, 82) as well as Perreault, Barksdale, and Rodner (1979, 393). The questionnaire asked subjects to indicate the degree to which they agreed or disagreed with each statement.

All questionnaires were in English as it is the official language and medium of instruction in the four countries. In addition, because all respondents had at least some university education in English, knowledge of the language was not considered a problem. Finally, using one language for the questionnaire eliminated bias that may have occurred as a result of translation (Douglas and Craig 1983).

The sample consisted of university students in each of the four countries. This is consistent with other research conducted on this topic (Arndt, Crane, and Tallhaug 1977). As this study aims to compare individuals across countries, students comprised a homogeneous population that facilitates comparison and reduces bias. Finally, university educations are not as common as in developed countries. Thus, these responses may provide some idea of the attitudes of future decision makers. Nevertheless, the authors caution the reader to consider the nature of the sample when interpreting the findings.

The total sample consisted of 305 responses, with 57 in Singapore, 74 in Kenya, 86 in Nigeria, and 88 in India. Respondents were students, from all majors, required to complete economics or literature classes for general graduation requirements. The largest concentrations of majors came from business or economics (17 percent), natural science (17 percent), and English or mathematics (11 percent). Respondents were from majors of all units rather than only business as the authors felt these respondents would yield a more representative view of potential managerial attitudes. Participation was voluntary, and sample sizes varied according to class sizes. As a result, conclusions reached from the data have the same limitations as those from any convenience sample.


The first procedure completed was an examination of the means of the consumerism variables. Responses from some countries differed significantly from those of other countries with regard to particular variables. For example, Kenyans more than other respondents disagreed that firms are only responsible so they can sell more products. Respondents from Singapore were more adamant that governments should test products and distribute the results to consumers. Finally, Indians were less likely to agree with government regulation of advertising, sales, and other marketing activities. Nigerians were more likely to believe that firms accept responsibility for their products. Respondents from different countries answered some types of questions positively while answering other types of questions negatively. Therefore, performing factor analysis pointed out dimensions that determined the relationship among the observed values and reduced the nine variables to a smaller, more manageable and interpretable number of factors.

To determine whether or not the data supported the consumerism life cycle pattern in the four countries, the authors conducted factor analysis to eliminate intercorrelations among variables. Analysis of variance was then used to determine whether significant differences existed among groups along the dimensions specified by the factor analysis.

Exploratory factor analysis was employed using SPSSX with a varimax rotation. The Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin measure of sampling adequacy indicated that the data set was appropriate for factor analytic modeling. Using both the roots criterion and the Scree test in examining the factor analysis results, as suggested by Harman (1976) and Cattell (1978), a three-factor solution was extracted. Findings indicated extremely similar dimensions and structures for each of the TABULAR DATA OMITTED four countries. Thus, the factor analysis reported used the entire data set.

As seen in Table 3, variables representing attitudes toward government intervention in business made up the first factor, labeled "government regulation." Variables associated with this factor related to government regulation of advertising, sales, and marketing activities of firms, government testing and distribution of test results, and more government control of business practices. This factor accounted for 20.5 percent of the variance. The second factor contained variables that described negative aspects of business. This factor, labeled "business greed," accounted for 15.4 percent of the variance. The business greed factor consisted of business's major goal is to make the most money possible, firms are socially responsible only to sell more products, and firms try to influence government to their advantage. The last factor, labeled "help from firms," relates to those activities that firms undertake to assist customers. Firms that accept responsibility for their products, ease of getting product problems TABULAR DATA OMITTED corrected, and sincere efforts to help displeased customers loaded on this factor. This last factor accounted for 14.1 percent of the variance.

To examine if factors varied by country, the authors performed analysis of variance. The summated average score of the variables that loaded on each factor was used as the dependent variable in the analysis following the procedure suggested by Pessemier, Bemmaor, and Hanssens (1977). The perception of the various aspects of consumerism differed significantly by county for government regulation (F= 9.31; df 3,301; p |is less than~ .001), business greed (F= 5.20; df 3,301; p = .002), and help from firms (F= 3.32; df 3,301; p = .02).

To determine which countries differed significantly on any one issue, the authors performed paired comparisons using the Student-Newman-Keuls test to determine differences of the mean values of the variables. These comparisons indicated respondents differed significantly by country with respect to their attitudes toward consumerism issues. To see how the countries differed in attitudes toward these issues, it was necessary to examine the mean values from the analysis of variance.

Singapore and India were the most and the least favorable to government intervention, respectively. Respondents from Singapore were significantly more disposed to favor government intervention in TABULAR DATA OMITTED business practices of firms than respondents in the other countries. Indian respondents were less likely to favor government intervention, being significantly different from the others. On the business greed factor, Kenyans had fewer negative predispositions toward business. They differed significantly from the other three groups, while India, Nigeria, and Singapore had virtually the same mean scores on this dimension. Finally, the only significant difference found regarding firms' desire to help their customers was between respondents from Singapore and India. Although both groups disagreed that firms usually act in the best interest of their customers, the Indians, who ranked highest, were significantly less skeptical than respondents from Singapore, who ranked lowest. This may result from the political characteristics of these two markets. Singapore's government tightly controls its markets; India has looser controls.


This study examined views of consumerism in four developing countries. Regardless of the state of the marketing system, at least some degree of consumer discontent appears in the sample. In addition, the study provides at least partial support for the consumerism life cycle pattern theory that predicts more negative attitudes with increasing levels of development.

Results show that Singaporeans were the most skeptical of the four countries regarding greed of businesses ("business greed" factor), lack of concern for customers ("help from firms" factor), and desire for more government control and intervention in the marketplace ("government regulation" factor) to protect consumers. On the other hand, India appears the least skeptical of the four countries when considering "government regulation" and "help from firms" factors. The Kenyans and Nigerians fell in between on these two factors. Surprisingly, Kenyans reported the strongest feelings that businesses are greedy. Thus, using the country's ranking based on media expenditures and literacy, the results support the consumerism life cycle pattern theory for "government regulation" and "help from firms" factors but not for the "business greed" factor.

Kaynak (1986) has noted that consumerism cannot develop until consumers believe problems exist in the marketplace. Because respondents from all countries were skeptical in their views of the marketplace, apparently this precursor to consumerism has been met. The data also show that respondents favored government taking more of a regulatory role with regard to consumer issues. This was surprising as consumerism efforts in developing countries usually arise from legislation rather than public effort (Kaynak 1986), indicating that perhaps consumer protection is much less important than market development, especially for provision of basic needs.

The results point to several conclusions. First, the data indicate that interesting differences and similarities exist among the four countries in this study. If future studies can confirm these findings, the implications to businesses, to individuals, and to consumer researchers may be far reaching.

Second, as more and more countries move into the information age, the world becomes smaller. Consumers in developing nations have become aware of Western products and may develop Western expectations. Thus, while consumerism remains predominantly a "Western" phenomenon, the consumer movement is beginning to take on worldwide dimensions (see, e.g., Kerton (1988) for his observations from nine Asian LDCs). Gaedeke and Udo-Aka (1974) attributed this movement to rising standards of living, electronic media, and increased international travel. As a result, consumer discontent, which instigates consumerism activity, should increase (Thorelli 1981). Businesses and governments have both an opportunity and an obligation to participate in this movement. Consumer protection, education, and information programs help governments emancipate their citizens.

Third, consumerism is an issue increasing in scope and importance. As a result of IOCU pressure, many governments are becoming more aware of the need to protect consumers from misleading or deceptive actions of businesses (Morello 1983). Moreover, actions by consumers in developing as well as developed countries have forced examination of consumerism both in terms of information and the institutional structure or framework in which consumerism operates (Kerton 1980). More recently, consumerism in developing countries has governments becoming more concerned about the appropriateness of certain products and certain types of marketing practices (Blake and Walters 1987; Post 1986).

Finally, as a result of change in the consumerism movement, businesses will feel increasing pressure to change behaviors and to consider consumer and government concerns. This is especially important for multinational corporations, which must meet international marketing standards or codes of conduct, or those firms that would like to have internationally compatible regulations (Ryans, Samiee, and Wills 1985). It is noteworthy that some governments welcome the arrival of international guidelines to address these "common" problems (Harland 1987, 1988). Some Asian LDCs are specifying changes that oblige their governments, producers, and sellers to consider the interests of consumers (Kerton 1988).


This study, like all others, has limitations. The sample consisted of university students rather than the population at large, and thus, likely represents attitudes of the elite rather than the general population. In addition, urban-rural status for individual respondents was not known, which may have impacted individual responses. Although this study cannot be generalized beyond this sample, the limitation does not necessarily lessen the implications of the results. Homogeneous samples are necessary to make comparisons among countries, and student samples are most likely similar to one another. Thus, differences among the groups may reflect differences among the countries. However, to make an unqualified statement about consumerism attitudes, in general, in these countries, the authors recommend additional research using a larger and more representative sample.

While the study offers some insights into consumerism attitudes in developing countries, attempts should be made to attain better understanding of consumer needs and level of satisfaction with marketing activities. This study emphasizes the need for research examining consumerism attitudes of a variety of consumers in several developing countries. Especially lacking are empirical studies of both organizations and individuals (Brobeck 1990). Finally, as consumerism in LDCs continues to be under-researched relative to needs of intelligent policy making, Thorelli (1988) recommended a research agenda made up of 15 priority areas with direct relevance to public and private consumer policy. Research in these areas would benefit all.


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William K. Darley is Assistant Professor, Marketing, University of Toledo, Toledo, OH; and Denise M. Johnson is Assistant Professor, Marketing, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY.

The authors wish to express their appreciation to the editor and three anonymous JCA reviewers for their insightful comments made on an earlier draft.
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Author:Darley, William K.; Johnson, Denise M.
Publication:Journal of Consumer Affairs
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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