Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Beyond Door-to-Door: The Implications of Invited In-Home Selling

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Beyond Door-to-Door: The Implications of Invited In-Home Selling

Article excerpt

Over the past 20 years, consumer groups and policymakers have expressed concerns about the high-pressure selling techniques used during in-home selling, often highlighting the distinction between typical door-to-door selling, and the type of selling that occurs when a salesperson is "invited" through a previous interaction to undertake a sales process in the consumer's home. This article explores these high-pressure selling techniques in the context of the invited in-home selling (IIHS) of educational software and the consequences in terms of consumer vulnerability and consumer protection policy. We conclude by drawing upon earlier discourse in this field to argue that policymakers, consumer advocates and businesses consider a holistic, multidimensional contextualization of consumer vulnerability as a means to consider consumer protection in this, and other contexts.

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"Large deceptions are built up from smaller deceptions. Real-world marketplace deception is an orchestrated process, not an isolated single act." (Boush, Friestad, and Wright 2009, 41)

This article explores the phenomenon of "invited in-home selling" (IIHS), focusing on the psychological and contextual factors in consumers' decision-making associated with the purchase of goods and services (and credit to assist with purchasing) from an in-home seller. Products sold in this way can include educational software, home security systems, encyclopedias, and vacuum cleaners. IIHS is distinguishable from other personal selling (also known as door-to-door selling or doorstep selling) in the home due to its reliance on an invitation being sought from the consumer, in a context removed from the home, prior to the actual sales presentation.

Door-to-door sales have been reported to have several benefits to both consumers and sellers. A review of the Australian door-to-door sales industry (which includes IIHS) described how this type of selling allows low-involvement products to be shown to consumers at their convenience, enables personal demonstrations or tailored service, is low investment with limited set-up costs, and is regarded by traders as good for raising brand awareness (Frost and Sullivan). Additionally, door-to-door sales frequently involve products or services that are relevant to most households, making it a cost effective means of selling (Frost and Sullivan). The nature of door-to-door sales also means that consumers living in particular regions can be targeted (Frost and Sullivan).

In addition, the particular nature of the in-home selling situation privileges the domestic and familiar environment of the home as the main setting, and may affect the context of the sale and the attitude of the consumers. Although there is potential for consumer vulnerability to be influenced once the salesman is in the home, it is also true that the home provides a familiar environment where consumers feel more confident and comfortable, can preserve their privacy and anonymity, and perceive less risk (Gillett 1976; McCorkle, Planchon, and William 1987).

Many of these benefits of the general door-to-door sales channel are also true of IIHS. Targeting of particular consumer groups can be further facilitated using IIHS by giving particular consumers (e.g., families with children) the opportunity to invite them to their home. For example, one Australian education sales organization describes its IIHS sale model as advantageous because it involves, "A qualified consultant (demonstrating) ... the power of the program in the comfort of your own home" (CAMI Worldwide).

In contrast to the aforementioned positive aspects, the United Kingdom Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has placed particular emphasis on warning consumers about high-pressure tactics where the consumer has invited the doorstep trader into the home (United Kingdom Office of Fair Trading 2012). A renewed OFT doorstep selling awareness campaign comes after a large number of calls to UK consumer help lines in 2012 about doorstep salespeople. …

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