How Good a Shopper Am I? Conceptualizing Teenage Girls' Perceived Shopping Competence

Article excerpt

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Introduction

Teenage girls represent the most highly sought after market segment in the U.S. because of their keen interest in shopping and their significant spending power. Teenage girls spend more time than teenage boys in shopping environments and outspend boys in every category except videogames. So, teenage girls clearly love to shop--but do they perceive themselves as good shoppers or is this a group who feels out of control when it comes to spending wisely and making considered decisions regarding purchases? If they lack the expertise and self-control to perform shopping tasks successfully, then there are numerous financial and psychological implications, including accumulating debt and exhibiting compulsive shopping behaviors that continue into adulthood. In order to examine teenage girls in the role of shoppers, this study uses a grounded theory approach to explore teenage girls' perceptions of shopping competence and their own felt competencies as shoppers in the context of a shopping mall environment, which despite the growth in internet shopping, is still the most popular shopping environment for teenage girls (Mediamark Research Inc 2004). The themes uncovered in the data are used in conjunction with definitions of competence from psychology and consumer expertise from marketing in order to conceptualize shopping competence as perceived by teenage girls. Through a better understanding of how teenage girls perceive themselves as shoppers, we may be better able to understand how to combat some of the shopping-related issues that are associated with teenage shoppers such as impulsive/compulsive shopping, difficulty managing money resulting in debt, making purchases that result in post purchase regret, relying on decision heuristics that may not always lead to the best or most appropriate decision, e.g., "if my friends like it I buy it." The importance of these issues and our ability to better understand them has compelled us to examine the nature of teenage girls' perceptions of themselves as competent shoppers.

Competence and Consumer Expertise

Psychologists define competence as an achievement of personally or socially desired outcomes determined by an individual's ability to use two types of resources, those that are unique to the environment and those that are unique to the individual. In addition, competent individuals have a sense of self-confidence in their abilities to obtain valued outcomes and exercise self-control and self-regulation. Without both a sense of self-confidence and self-control, an individual may be much less likely to attempt to master the challenges of a situation.

Consumer expertise is defined as the ability to perform product-related tasks successfully. These tasks include information search, interactions with salespeople, choice and decisionmaking and the various tasks involved in actually making a purchase, e.g., handling money, dealing with credit terms, and understanding warranty and return policies. We propose that a competent consumer uses both individual resources and environmental resources to achieve positive desired outcomes related to specific shopping tasks.

Method

In order to explore teenage girls' perceptions of shopping competence, we interviewed 31 teenage girls (13-14 years old) in-depth using a semi-structured interview. The informants were asked to report on a recent shopping experience at a shopping mall, after which probing questions were asked with respect to their perceptions of what constitutes a good shopper and their own abilities (or lack thereof) with respect to being a good shopper. A grounded theory approach was used in the data collection and analysis process; a constant comparative process throughout the interview process resulted in new questions being added to the interview process as new themes emerged. Several different categories and sub-categories of data emerged during the open coding process, and axial coding linked these categories and sub-categories to dimensions of competence and consumer expertise as defined in the literature. …