To fully understand what negative consumer behavior is and what makes a bad customer, we first have to understand what “consumer behavior” is. In their book, “Consumer Behavior: Concepts and Strategies,” Berkman and Gilson (1981) say that the American Cultural System, which is made of values and artifacts, strongly influences consumer activity in the United States. “In the twentieth century, American Culture reflected a distinct consumption ethic based upon affluence and gratification of desires through material acquisition” (Berkman and Gilson, 1981). Consumer Behavior is defined as “the activities of people engaged in actual or potential use of market items-whether products, services, retail environments, or ideas” (Berkman and Gilson, 1981).
Thus, there are unlimited types of behaviors that the consumers can exhibit making it difficult to distinguish between good and bad consumer behavior. Sometimes, a consumer behavior that maybe considered negative in one market place can be considered positive in another. Shoplifting for example. “Some 800,000 times a day, this tableau of temptation, fear and exhilaration plays out in the humdrum aisles of department stores and supermarkets” (Adler, 2002).
Shoplifting without a doubt is a type of negative consumer behavior since this behavior costs department stores and supermarket thousands of dollars every day. Yet in the February 25, 2002 “Newsweek” article written by Jerry Adler, Brandy Samson, the manager of a jewelry and accessories store in the Sherman Oaks California Fashion Square, sees shoplifting in a positive way by using it to understand what it is that the consumers want. She continued to say “We know what’s hot among teens by seeing what they steal” (Adler, 2002).
Though shoplifting has negative effects for one type of market it is a positive consumer behavior in another like the security and protection market. The rise in shoplifting incidents will lead storeowners to increase their spending on security devices like cameras and sensor tags for clothing. Kelly Barron, the author of the article “Your money or your life? Crime rates are down. Are Americans overspending for security?” says that even though crime rates have been decreasing over the past years, revenues in the security business are on the rise. “Americans keep buying more and more protection. Revenues for the security industry have risen 46% over the past five years, to an estimated $57 billion” (Barron, 1997).
The vast increase of credit card use has given birth to yet another type of this complex consumer behavior that can be categorized as the compulsive buyers. In their study, James A. Roberts and Eli Jones, say that “the consumer culture is defined as a culture in which the majority of consumers avidly desire, pursue, consume, and display goods and services that are valued for non-utilitarian reasons, such as status (power), envy provocation, and pleasure seeking” (2001). Such behavior has both positive and negative outcomes. In one hand, the rise of consumer spending increases revenues for certain goods and services. In the other hand, the same behavior increases debt. “For the first three month of 1999, consumer spending increased at an annualized rate of 6.7 percent. Purchases of durable goods, non-durable goods, and services all registered healthy gains. During the same period, savings reached an all-time low of -0.5 percent” (Roberts and Jones, 2001).
Roberts and Jones noted in their study that past research shows that credit cards facilitate spending and that college students were found to spend more at a given store if the store accepted credit cards as a mode of payment. It was also noted that such compulsive buying activities was a significant reason for the large number of credit card debt and personal bankruptcy filings. Roberts and Jones acknowledge that earlier studies have found that students with high debt earn lower grades, and have higher probabilities of dropping out of school. You would think that educational organizations would limit the access of credit card vendors into a college campus. However, what is happening is exactly the opposite. “Four of five universities allow on-campus solicitations for credit cards and charge credit card vendors between $175 to $400 per day to rent tables during freshman orientation. Schools also receive a percentage of all student charges when they authorize the issuance of an affinity card” (Roberts and Jones, 2001). So is compulsive buying behavior negative or positive?
There are however some consumer behaviors that are easy to distinguish from being negative or positive. The abusive customer for example, is a type of consumer that is never satisfied that induces high amounts of stress on the employees. Those who have worked in retail and customer service have probably dealt with such consumers. Working in a clothing store has given me the opportunity to experience the stress created by dealing with the so-called “abusive customers.” This negative behavior creates a conflict between customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction.
“The consumer satisfaction category has the main position in marketing theory and is based on the premise that the profit is made through the process of satisfaction of consumers’ demands…researchers continually confirm a significant correlation between satisfaction and repeated buying, greater brand loyalty, and spreading a positive opinion of the product” (Dubrovski, 2001). Customer is indeed important to the success of a business, but so is employee satisfaction. See the problem when it comes to dealing with abusive customers? The face-to-face interactions with abusive customers cause employees to increase their “emotional labor” which is also known as emotional dissonance. “Emotional dissonance occurs when expressed emotions conform with organizational norms but clash with true feelings” (Rafaeli and Sutton, 1987). In her study on emotional dissonance, Rebecca Abraham establishes that emotional dissonance provokes unhappiness at a job, which motivates the intentions to quit.
At my former job, a clothing store, I was able to observe high employee turnover rates due to job dissatisfaction. Not a day passed by without a single interaction with an abusive customer. I wouldn’t doubt that the high volume of such interactions lead to the high employee turnover. This particular store did nothing to decrease the high employee turnover, probably costing them hundreds of dollars. When does employee satisfaction become more important than customer satisfaction? Abusive customers, no matter what they spend and no matter how high their lifetime value is, are expressing negative consumer behavior. This particular clothing store that I used as an example should evaluate or re-examine their values because in the end nobody will want to work for them.
Exhibiting negative consumer behavior in one type of market may result in a positive outcome in another market. Some types of consumer behaviors are so complex that it is extremely difficult to distinguish it from being a positive or negative behavior. It depends on what side of the market the specific business is. In this paper I illustrated for the most part a few of these complex consumer behaviors.
However, there are some consumer behaviors that a business owner might be better off with. In the retail business there are some customers that take a great deal of time in deciding what it is that they want to purchase. If you are a storeowner, you might want to have your employees spend less time pleasing these types of customers. After all time is money. The welfare and satisfaction of employees should also be a great concern for the employers. I believe that the more satisfied an employee is with their job, the better they will perform at it.
Thus, it is important to protect employees from abusive customers. I can recall a time when a customer became extremely angry when we did not have a specific item in the size he was looking for. There was nothing that I could do but to deal with the costumer’s mistreatment. The types of negative consumer behavior are immense that some are hard to even conceptualize. Such behaviors range from lack of spending, usually expressed by the elderly, to theft and overspending. Future research should examine these activities.
Abraham, Rebecca. The impact of emotional dissonance on organizational commitment
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Adler, Jerry. The “Thrill” of Theft: it’s not just the movie stars. Why, each year,
ordinary people shoplift $13 billion of lipsticks, batteries and bikinis from stores.
Newsweek (Feb. 25, 2002): 52.
Barron, Kelly. Your money or your life? Crime rates are down. Are Americans
overspending for security? Forbes v160 (November 17, 1997): 66.
Berkman, Harold W; Gilson, Christopher. Consumer Behavior: concepts and strategies.
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Roberts, James A; Jones, Eli. Money attitudes, credit card use, and compulsive buying
among American college students. Journal of Consumer Affairs, Winter 2001,
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