The Economics of Consumption

By Charles S. Wyand | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 12
PRIVATE AGENCIES AFFECTING CHOICE

Lacking both technical training and dependable buying standards, the modern consumer has the option of purchasing blindly or of seeking advice concerning the relative value of available products. If he seeks help, his choice is frequently determined by the recommendations of one of a variety of private agencies which purport to offer either unbiased information concerning goods or general aid in the intelligent use of income. Such groups differ from strictly commercial sources of help in that they have little or no apparent monetary interest in the sale of the product under consideration, and conventionally assume a consumer-oriented point of view. Moreover, many of the private agencies permit the attachment of their seal of approval to recommended goods. These seals have become widely accepted as hallmarks of quality and now influence an undetermined but undoubtedly large percentage of retail sales.

Confronted with a variety of household furnishings, and lacking a knowledge of, and experience in buying such goods, Mrs. Consumer conventionally selects those pieces bearing the seal of approval of one of these private groups. Her kitchen is furnished with equipment approved by Good Housekeeping Institute. Her cosmetics may bear the same seal or they may be recommended in the beauty column of her favorite newspaper or magazine. Her toothpaste carries the seal of the American Dental Association, and canned foods for her larder have been "accepted" by the American Medical Association. In buying electrical appliances, she may select only those approved by the National Board of Fire Underwriters, and in choosing furniture for her home she follows the advice of the "specialists" on the staff of some one of the "women's magazines." Although she knows nothing of the tests that precede approval, she reposes confidence in such recommendations because they are made with conviction and because there is no other available source of help."1

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1
The A, B, C ratings of Consumers Research, Inc., exert a profound influence on choice but will not be considered here as C.R. is essentially a coöperative organization. Cf. ch. 13.

-315-

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