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Net generation: a conceptual framework of the consumer socialization process.


Consumers are intuitively social creatures and as such they engage in environmental learning (Har & Rahman, 2008). Brim and Wheeler define this type of learning as the process of socialization by which a person acquires knowledge and skills that enables them to become members of society. Research in consumer socialization is typically based on one of two theoretical models: a) the cognitive developmental model, and b) the social learning model. The cognitive developmental model focuses on learning as a cognitive-psychological process of acclimation to one's environment, emphasizing personal and environmental factors. The social learning model focuses on learning as a process of modeling and social interaction, emphasizing sources of influence known as "social agents" (Har & Rahman, 2008; Moschis & Churchill, 1978). According to Moschis and Churchill, social agents are defined as entities that "transmit norms, attitudes, motivation and behaviors to the learner; socialization is assumed to be taking place during the course of the person's interaction with these agents in various social settings" (1978, p.600).

The theoretical concepts of socialization are used to adapt the general conceptual model originally presented by Moschis and Churchill, (1978). The three main elements of socialization theory are socialization agents, social structural variables, and outcomes. This paper looks at the Net Generation, individuals born between 1979 and 1997, and their internet usage as it relates to consumer purchase intentions and the formation of social consciousness. According to Tapscott, this is the first generation to be born into the digital age; they grew up with the internet, it has always been a constant in their lives. This generation prefers to be engaged, collaborate and share ideas (2006). Members of the Net Generation spend approximately 4 hours a day engaged in digital media either on their computers or accessing the internet through their phones or other media devices (Park & Lee, 2005). This paper proposes an adapted model that includes social ties and attitudes of others as socialization agents, internet usage as a social structure variable and the ensuing behavioral outcomes of increased social consciousness and consumer purchase intentions.


The key constructs of the consumer socialization process include cognition, attitudes, and value formation towards consumption (Har & Rahman, 2008). Knowledge is acquired by direct experience and related information from various sources (Schiffman et al., 2005). This paper proposes that the ubiquity of the internet in the lives of adolescent consumers provides them with knowledge that is acquired either by directly reading and processing information about a product or a social cause or acquired through the membership of on-line communities and peer to peer on-line communication. It is also proposes that the content and attitude of others that the Net Generation is exposed to affect their social consciousness and purchase intentions. People learn what beliefs are important through the association to a particular group and the more that they participate in a group the greater the chance that they will adopt these beliefs for themselves. Higher levels of involvement motivate consumers to act accordingly (Berkowitz & Lutterman, 1968). According to Dunfee (1998):
   Communities, particularly those with deeply embedded norms, may, in
   turn, affect the preferences of individual members who are
   influenced to adopt core community norms... Individuals should
   understand that they reflect their preferences in most of their
   daily activities. When they buy stock, make any sort of purchase as
   a consumer, join clubs or organizations, choose jobs and so on,
   they reflect their preferences. (p.143)


The research stream of ethics equates consumer ethics with consumer responsibility and consumer social consciousness (Brinkman, 2004). Webster defines a socially conscious consumer as "a consumer who takes into account the public consequences of his or her private consumption or who attempts to use his or her purchasing power to bring about social change" (1975, p.188). A common denominator between ethics literature and consumer behavior is the focus on decision making process models. First the consumer must recognize that there is a problem, so he must be informed. Second the consumer must beware of an opportunity to respond to the problem through purchase intentions and finally, he must feel that his actions as a consumer will make a difference (Webster, 1975). In ethics literature there is ideally a choice to be made between moral and immoral alternatives. This choice between alternatives leads to ethical shopping initiatives, which encourage consumers to consider how their purchases affect other people, animals and the environment. These types of groups usually share common goals to create awareness of consumers' social responsibilities, exploit potential political power by organizing activities, such as consumer boycotts, and increase companies' willingness to listen to consumer criticism (Brinkman, 2004). The proliferation of the internet has made it much easier for these types of groups to organize. Juris states that digital networks provide the technical infrastructure for the emergence of contemporary network-based social movements... social networks are profoundly transforming the nature of communities, sociality and interpersonal relations (2005).


Building on the theoretical concepts of socialization and the general conceptual model originally presented by Moschis and Churchill, this research explores the role of internet use by the Net Generation and its effect on their social consciousness and purchase intensions (1978). Some propositions, to guide research into the consumer socialization process, can be offered based on the preceding discussion. The following propositions are offered:

P1: Internet use as a vehicle and through its contents, influences adolescents in their acquisition of knowledge through direct experience.

P2: Internet use as a vehicle and through its content, aides the formation of adolescents' attitudes towards consumption through the development of their consumption knowledge and skills.

P3: Internet use as a vehicle of social media influences adolescents through vicarious learning process through attitudes of others

P4: Internet use as a vehicle of social media influences adolescents' consumption behavior intentions by influencing their beliefs.

P5: Internet use as a vehicle of social media influences adolescents' consumer socialization processes by developing values through comparison with peers and on-line communities.


It is the premise of this paper that the age and internet usage will act as antecedents ultimately influencing consumers purchase intentions and social consciousness. It is proposed that consumers of the Net Generation will be affected by their internet usage to a greater degree than older consumers. According to Park and Lee, members of the Net Generation spend approximately one quarter of their day engaged in digital media usage (2005).

On-line communities provide access to social ties. It is proposed that these social ties will increase Net Generation consumers' exposure to different people and situations. It is also proposed that the on-line social interaction will engage consumers and increase their participation within groups. Higher levels of participation in a group increase the likelihood that consumers' values will reflect those of the groups' values. Moreover, values influence consumers' attitudes, and attitudes in turn influence consumer behavior (McCarty & Shrum, 1993). This increase in exposure and participation will affect the social consciousness of the consumer as well as their purchase intentions. Finally, it is proposed that attitude of others will influence the social consciousness of the consumer as well as their purchase intentions. Consumers' behavior and attitudes are influenced through group membership and peer to peer communications that they are involved with; higher levels of involvement motivate consumers to act accordingly (Berkowitz & Lutterman, 1968).


This paper provides a conceptual model that can serve as a basis for future empirical exploration of how internet usage of the Net Generations acts as an antecedent of consumer socialization agents and affects their social consciousness and purchase intensions. The Net Generation represents a newly emerging and powerful buying group. This generation's growing sensitivity to societal and environmental problems represents a shift in consumers' views and companies need to respond to this change. Cause related marketing may prove to be a useful strategy to engage these consumers. Future research will provide data and statistical testing of the overall conceptual model and the specific research propositions presented. Additionally, future research will differentiate between types of internet activities i.e., reading news blogs, keeping connected with organizations, social chatting, entertainment, and on-line communities.


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Cheryl Luczak, Saint Xavier University

Neil Younkin, Saint Xavier University
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Author:Luczak, Cheryl; Younkin, Neil
Publication:Academy of Marketing Studies Journal
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 18, 2012
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