College Students' Consumer Competence: Identifying the Socialization Sources

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Although young people seem to show many deficiencies in terms of consumer competence, we know very little about what sources will help to develop their competence in this area. This exploratory study was undertaken with a convenience sample of college students who completed a questionnaire during class time. The overall results suggest that older college students who are more influenced by their parents and school, and less influenced by their peers (normative dimension) and media such as television, Internet, and magazines, are more likely to be competent consumers than their counterparts. The results are discussed in the light of consumer education.

Introduction

Consumption activities not only encompass the economic capacity to buy goods and services but also involve skills, attitudes and knowledge associated with a rational approach to consumption. A competent consumer is expected to be informed, alert, responsive and responsible (President's Committee on Consumer Interests 1970). Based on the criteria used by many authors (e.g., Gronhoj 2004; Lachance and Choquette-Bernier 2004; Moschis 1987), we could define consumer competence as a multi-dimensional concept composed of cognitive, affective and behavioral aspects related to well-advised, prudent and responsible consumer activities.

Youth is a time for many new and important consumer experiences (buying furniture or a car, using credit cards, etc.), and for learning consumer preferences, attitudes and behaviors, many of which will persist during the rest of their adult life. However, according to many researchers, young people seem to show many deficiencies in terms of consumer competence and we know very little about which sources could help to develop this competence.

Consumer socialization is defined as the process by which individuals acquire from their environment those skills, knowledge and attitudes that are relevant to their consumer role (Ward 1974). This perspective requires the review of the learning or socialization agents (persons or institutions) involved, through their interactions, in the development of the consumer characteristics (knowledge, attitudes and behaviors). Thus, the main objective of the research was to assess the relative importance of the main socialization influences on young people's consumer competence. We studied the influences of parents, peers, media and school.

Method

A questionnaire comprised of 183 items was administrated to students from 10 colleges in two major urban areas in Quebec (Canada). The 751 respondents came from a variety of socioeconomic status levels and their mean age was 18.4. Of the group, 58.5% were females and 41.5% were males. A majority was studying full time and 85% lived with their parents.

Based on previous research about consumer competence, our measures took into account knowledge (labeling, personal finances, advertising and commercial practices); attitudes (towards consumption, credit, advertising and compulsive buying); and practices (preventive or prudent behaviors; defensive practices or propensity to take action when a facing a problem). Socialization influences were measured with items about peers' normative influence (consumption as a way to belong to or be accepted by a group); peers' informational influence (propensity to seek information from peers); parents' influence (perception of parental verbal influence and of parents as consumer models); school influence (perception of whether or not school helped to acquire consumer competence); and media influence (perception of influence from television, Internet, newspapers, and magazines). The questionnaire also included items about socioeconomic variables.

Findings and Discussion

Despite some limitations, the overall results of this research suggest that older college students who are more influenced by their parents and school, and less influenced by their peers (normative dimension) and media such as television, magazines and Internet, are more likely than their counterparts to be competent consumers. …

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