Merchandising's Evolving Role in Family and Consumer Sciences

By Sullivan, Pauline; Collier, Billie J. et al. | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview
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Merchandising's Evolving Role in Family and Consumer Sciences

Sullivan, Pauline, Collier, Billie J., Goldsmith, Elizabeth B., Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

Merchandising and consumer economics traditionally have been part of family and consumer sciences (FCS) within the ecosystems framework. The purpose of this article is to examine progress of this sub-system within FCS. Specifically, the authors explore the relevance of the systems approach for merchandising programs and conclude that this model is still appropriate as these programs evolve. However, changes to the educators' professional toolbox are needed to reflect today's global merchandising enterprise and changes in the job market for students. Resourcefulness, the ability to recognize and use resources effectively, has never been more apt.

At the 1902 Lake Placid Conference, home economics - now family and consumer sciences (FCS) or human sciences (HS), or human ecology (HE) - was defined as "the study of the laws, conditions, principles, and ideals which are concerned on the one hand with man's immediate physical environment and on the other hand with his nature as a social being" (Vincenti, 1997, p. 322). These two components - the basic physical necessities and how individuals and families secure and use them - received various emphases and focused on different combinations over the years. An important development was when home economists expanded their roles in the 1920s and 1930s by "communicating between business and the public" (Goldstein, 1997) and thereby engaging both production and consumption of consumer goods. In the 1975 "Home Economics New Directions II," the American Home Economics Association (now American Association of Family & Consumer Sciences (AAFCS)) presented an ecosystems framework for defining the field. The components of managing household food, shelter, clothing, and children remained. These were spelled out by Thompson (1986) who suggested that home economics encompassed "family relations, child development, shelter and home furnishings, food and nutrition, clothing and textiles, and the changing technologies and social institutions associated with their production, acquisition, maintenance, and consumption in households." (p. 282)

Systems theory defines the relationships and integrates the body of knowledge for the profession. In this exploratory essay, we look back to the interface that home economists forged between business and consumers and apply systems theory to understand how product, process, and consumer knowledge drive individual and household consumption and improve the quality of human life.

Merchandising enterprise as understood today is central to FCS. Buttle (1984) defined merchandising as any form of on-store or in-store promotion, with the exception of personal selling, designed to trigger purchase behavior in consumers. Merchandising can occur at the retail or manufacturing level. It is differentiated from other areas of study, such as advertising or public relations, because it influences consumers in the final stages of purchase decisions. This final stage of the purchase decision is where consumers evaluate product/service benefits as they attempt to maximize efficiency for the individual, as well as the environment and the economic system.

"Systems theory emphasizes not only interconnectedness but also interactions among different systems. It focuses on the behavior of feedback and its 'complexity'" (Goldsmith, 2010, p. 43). Merchandising is grounded in this theory because it exists at the interface of the individual consumer and society, linking consumption with quality of life.

Contribution of Retail to the Economy

Consumption is necessary for sustenance of the individual and is important to society in general as it fuels the economy of a country. In the U.S., retail sales were $3.2 trillion in 2008, constituting 22% of gross domestic product (GDP) (Asaeda, 2009). Overall, U.S. consumers' personal consumption expenditures, including goods and services, were $10.1 trillion in 2008, or 71% of GDP. Retail sales, generated by household consumption, circulate dollars in the community and create a multiplier effect.

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Merchandising's Evolving Role in Family and Consumer Sciences


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