Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Consumer-to-Consumer Relationships: Satisfaction with Other Consumers' Public Behavior

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Consumer-to-Consumer Relationships: Satisfaction with Other Consumers' Public Behavior

Article excerpt

This national study of 554 adults investigated consumers' satisfaction with 32 behaviors in which other consumers may engage when in public business environments. Respondents were most pleased when other consumers demonstrated "gregarious" behaviors, but generally were displeased with "violent" or "grungy" behaviors. Satisfaction ratings also were found to vary somewhat by situational context (i.e., restaurant versus bowling center) and respondent characteristics (i.e., demographics, religion, smoking behavior, and alcohol consumption). Implications for consumers and businesses are discussed.

Relationships between human beings are omnipresent, inescapable, and highly interdependent. As Johnson and Johnson observed,

From the moment we are born to the moment we die, relationships are the

core of our existence. We are conceived within relationships, are born into

relationships, live our lives within relationships.... Our relationships

with others form the context for all other aspects of our lives. (1989, 107)

Likewise, commercial relationships are omnipresent, inescapable, and highly interdependent, with ties between businesses and consumers vital to the interests of both parties. Consumers benefit in terms of enhanced value, higher product/service quality, and greater satisfaction with their purchases (Baldrige 1994; File and Prince 1993), while businesses benefit from increased sales volume, greater operating efficiencies, positive word-of-mouth publicity, and decreased marketing expenses (Reichheld and Sasser 1990; Vavra 1992).

Although many of the linkages that solidify consumer-business relationships are already well recognized, one important linkage--the focus of this article--has been insufficiently studied: The relationship between consumers and other consumers in business environments. In other words, relationships between a business and its consumer customers are enhanced when the business' customers interact with one another in a satisfying (or at least tolerable) manner.(1) More specifically, this article attempts to explicate the nature of these consumer-to-consumer relationships by (1) describing their relevance; (2) couching them in the context of a broader model of business relationships; (3) summarizing related literature from sociology, social psychology, consumer behavior, and marketing; (4) presenting a study of consumers' perceptions of other consumers' public behavior; and (5) discussing the consumer and business implications of the study's findings.

BACKGROUND

In recent years, an increasing number of businesses have recognized the benefits of establishing and nurturing ongoing relationships with their customers. Many have begun to shift their emphasis from discrete transactions toward forging longer term, mutually beneficial exchange relationships. Often referred to as "relationship marketing," the underpinning of this rapidly emerging business philosophy is the belief that strengthening ties with existing customers heightens customer satisfaction and business' ability to serve customers--thereby avoiding the high costs both parties may otherwise experience in the search for new, acceptable exchange partners. Thus, one-shot purchase transactions with limited profitability are transformed into continuous strings of repeat purchases with potential for greater long-term profitability (Arndt 1979; Dwyer, Schurr, and Oh 1987; Jackson 1985; Levitt 1986; Reichheld and Sasser 1990; Sheth and Parvatiyar 1994; Vavra 1992).

As illustrated in Figure 1, most of the relevant literature has focused on four broad types of relational linkages. These include ties between consumers (or customers) and (1) the faceless business entity (Berry 1983; Levitt 1986; Rosenberg and Czepiel 1984), (2) the business' personnel/employees (Bitner, Booms, and Tetreault 1990; Coppett and Staples 1990; Crosby, Evans, and Cowles 1990; Czepiel 1990; File and Prince 1993; Martin 1990; Spekman and Johnston 1986), (3) the business' products and services (Baldrige 1994; Bloch and Richins 1983; Martin 1986), and (4) to the extent that the quality of relationships between personnel and consumers (Linkage 2) mirrors internal relationships, the business and its employees or "internal customers" (Berry 1981; Bowers, Martin, and Luker 1990; Gronroos 1981, 1990; Heskett 1986). …

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