Understanding Consumer Vulnerability – a new Special Issue

When we first considered a special issue on consumer vulnerability we wanted to ensure critical engagement with the notion rather than the labelling of people and contexts. In presenting this special issue we feel we have met this aim. In some senses all of life can be found within its pages; the papers engage with childhood, old age, poverty, illness, injury and disability. Critical consideration of the notion of vulnerability comes in several forms, in both conceptual and empirical papers – from outlining coping strategies and resilience, to considering the role of place and space.

The authors in this issue present perspectives, insights and conclusions that enrich the field of marketing study but also marketing practice. Some might question whether marketers should be concerned with vulnerability. Indeed, while it might not be a concern for most marketers, it is a concern for most consumers at some point in their lives. Vulnerability and life challenges are non-discriminatory as the papers focussing on aging, illness and disability would attest. In our call for papers we discussed moving beyond “mainstream marketing” but in many ways vulnerability is a mainstream experience and one to which marketers should be increasingly fixing their attention.

In this work contexts are not merely sites of investigation but are core to understanding the lives of consumers. From these understandings implications are drawn for both consumers and organisations, sensitising service providers to the realities of users’ experiences. As Luca Visconti’s commentary demonstrates, experiences of vulnerability are embedded in stories. Unusually, our special issue features a poetic work. We are pleased to present Hilary Downey’s poem as an alternative way to engage with stories of vulnerability. In the reading of her poem emotion flows from the participant, through the researcher to the reader. Tim Stone and Stephen Gould’s commentary explores a similarly emotive topic, using media coverage to consider the vulnerability and power in the decision to end one’s own life. As Ron Hill puts it in his commentary, getting “proximal” is central to developing understanding and empathy for consumer vulnerability.

The papers and works in this issue offer the reader the opportunity to get proximal and see into the challenges and triumphs in so-called vulnerable consumers’ lives.

We would like to thank Paul, Mark, Fiona, Anne and the rest of the JMM team for the opportunity to present this work.

Special Issue: Consumer Vulnerability
Journal of Marketing Management, Volume 32, 2016, Issue 3-4

Editorial: Consumer vulnerability: introduction to the special issue
Susan Dunnett, Kathy Hamilton & Maria Piacentini

Children as vulnerable consumers: a first conceptualisation
Fiona Spotswood & Agnes Nairn
“Understandings of consumer vulnerability remain contentious and despite recent developments, models remain unsuitable when applied to children. Taxonomic models, and those favouring a ‘state’- or ‘class’-based approach have been replaced by those attempting to tackle both individual and structural antecedents. However, these are still overly individualistic and fail to progress from an artificial view that these dimensions work separately and independently …” Read more >
Read the blog Children as vulnerable consumers>

Exploring spatial vulnerability: inequality and agency formulations in social space
Bige Saatcioglu & Canan Corus
“The authors derive from critical urban geography and consumer research on vulnerability to investigate the ways in which vulnerability within social space is shaped and negotiated. Multiple power dynamics and ideological tension around the production and consumption of social space are explored through diverse examples within the contexts of spaces of consumption, public space as shared good and digital space …” Read more >

Neither passive nor powerless: reframing economic vulnerability via resilient pathways
Martina Hutton
“Resilience, as an emerging construct within the contemporary field of consumer vulnerability, has received limited empirical attention within the context of economic adversity. This paper examines how low-income women strive to reframe their relationship to the market via resilient pathways …” Read more >
Read the blog: Reframing economic vulnerability via resilient pathways >

Exploring the impact of packaging interactions on quality of life among older consumers
Nicholas Ford, Paul Trott & Christopher Simms
“This paper explores the concept of consumer vulnerability in the context of older consumers’ packaging interactions. Consumer vulnerability is viewed as a situational state of powerlessness where marketplace imbalances or harm may occur from consuming marketing messages and/or products …” Read more >
Read the blog Wrap rage: a source of frustration or vulnerability? >

Understanding the vulnerability of blind consumers: adaptation in the marketplace, personal traits and coping strategies
Claudia Falchetti, Mateus Canniatti Ponchio & Nara Lúcia Poli Botelho
“The purpose of this article is to examine the vulnerability perceived by blind consumers in the marketplace. By analysing the narratives of 16 people that have acquired blindness, we develop an understanding of the internal and external factors that affect their degree of vulnerability and identify their coping strategies …” Read more >
Read the blog:  What if I were blind?>

Unpacking the interplay between organisational factors and the economic environment in the creation of consumer vulnerability
Ana Isabel Canhoto & Sally Dibb
“Access to credit is a key enabler of modern life. Yet many consumers face factors beyond their control which sometimes render them unable to borrow from mainstream lenders. This paper documents how firm-related factors determine lending thresholds and shape who is, or is not, a creditworthy customer …” Read more >

Poetic inquiry, consumer vulnerability: realities of quadriplegia
Hilary Downey
“Alternative forms of research interpretation have been utilised within the social sciences. Poetic inquiry, an area of growing interest influences readership affectively as well as intelligently. Incorporating interview data as a poetic submission, this article intends to reflexively capture emotional intensity, hopelessness, liminality, voicelessness and self-transformative realities attendant to those experiencing vulnerability …” Read more > 

Commentary: Poverty as we never knew it: THE source of vulnerability for most of humankind
Ronald Paul Hill

Commentary: A conversational approach to consumer vulnerability: performativity, representations, and storytelling
Luca M. Visconti

Commentary: Vulnerable consumers in the ‘fourth age’: theoretical reflections upon the case of Sandra Bem
Tim Stone & Stephen J. Gould

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Susan Dunnett

Susan Dunnett

Dr Susan Dunnett is Lecturer in Marketing at University of Edinburgh Business School. Her research is focussed on consumer vulnerability and coping, consumer identity, collective practices, and interpretivist research methods. She has a longstanding interest in the experience of illness and the consumption of healthcare and her current work explores healthcare consumerism. She was Principle-Investigator for an ESRC Seminar Series focusing on Vulnerable Consumers, with Dr Kathy Hamilton, University of Strathclyde and Dr Maria Piacentini, University of Lancaster, 2012-2015.

Kathy Hamilton

Kathy Hamilton

Dr Kathy Hamilton is reader in the Department of Marketing at University of Strathclyde where she is Director of UG and Honours Marketing Programmes. Her research interests concern consumer culture and in particular, key projects have focused on consumer vulnerability, poverty and the role of community in contemporary society. She recently co-hosted an ESRC seminar series on the theme of consumer vulnerability with Dr Susan Dunnett (University of Edinburgh) and Professor Maria Piacentini (Lancaster University).

Maria G. Piacentini

Maria Piacentini

Maria Piacentini is Professor of Consumer Research at Lancaster University Management School, and Director of the Lancaster Centre for Consumption Insights. Her research is aimed at developing understanding about consumer behaviour theory and concepts in relation to social and policy-oriented problems, and has been funded by the ESRC, the British Academic and the European Foundation for Alcohol Research. She has published in a wide range of journals including the Journal of Marketing Management, Marketing Theory, Journal of Business Research, and Sociology of Health and Illness. She is co-author of the OUP book Consumer Behaviour (2e, April 2018).

Disclaimer: Any views expressed in this posting are the views of the Author(s), and are not necessarily the views of the JMM Editors, Westburn Publishers Ltd. or Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.