Meaning and the Scope of Consumerism

Consumers or customers are regarded as the pillar of any business activity. Their presence in any business activity improves the economic activities and standard of living of the people.

Sometimes, instead of improving their well-being with the goods and services offered in the markets by businessmen, they are rather dissatisfied with such goods and services.

It should be noted that the essence of marketing is to satisfy consumers’ needs and wants while making profits in the end. If consumers are not satisfied, then the profit objectives of the business will be defeated.

Therefore, there must be a forum through which these dissatisfactions are made known to appropriate authorities. Thus, there is an agency saddled with this responsibility. This unit examines consumers’ rights and duties, concerning goods and services consumed.


Consumerism is a social movement seeking to argue the rights and powers of buyers over sellers. Consumerism became a significant social movement in the late 1960s. Stanton (1983) defines consumerism as “the actions of individuals and organizations (consumers, government, and business) responding to consumer dissatisfactions in exchange relationships”. Therefore, consumerism is both:

A protest against the perceived injustices and
Effects to remedy those injustices.
In exchange relationships between buyers and sellers, consumers feel that the balance of power lies with sellers. Consumerism is an expression of this opinion and an attempt to achieve a more equal balance of power between buyers and sellers.

Having defined the term consumerism, let’s pause and briefly explain who is a customer. A customer is a person or group of persons or an organization that purchases goods and services offered in the market to satisfy his/her needs.

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The consumerism/consumer movement is often said to have begun with the publication of Ralph Nader’s criticism of ‘General Motors’ unsafe speed.

However, Kotler (1997) opines that consumerism is indeed a beneficial movement and that it promises to deliver real gains- in the long run, both to business and the consumer.

The movement tends to force businesses to re-examine their role in society, challenging business people to scrutinize problems that are easily ignored, and challenging managers to look at ends and as well as the means.

The Scope of Consumerism

Consumers have reacted in a wide/variety of ways to vent their frustrations and correct what they considered to be injustices. Reactions have ranged from:

  • Refusing to buy a product or shop at a certain store
  • Burning and looting business establishments.

Consumerism, today, includes three broad areas of consumer dissatisfaction and remedial efforts. The major focus of consumerism involves discontent with direct buyers-sellers exchange relationships between consumers and business firms.

Marketing is the main target of consumer discontent with business. This is because marketing is the most visible part of a company’s total program and the easiest for consumers to reach.

The several areas of consumer discontent extend beyond business. Consumerism extends to all organizations with which there is an exchange relationship. Therefore, consumerism involves such diverse organizations as hospitals, schools, and government agencies.

As consumerism grew, its scope expanded, even further to involve environmental matters affecting the quality of life in our various homes and houses. That is the indirect impact that involves an exchange relationship between two social units (a business, a person, etc).

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For example, this is the cry of the Niger Delta community in Nigeria for instance.

Exploration activities of oil companies in that environment have left the area devastated over a long period. It thus implies that an exchange relationship between two people or groups creates problems for a third person/group.

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