Consumption is a main activity of being a part of the society (Ekstrom, Hjort, 2009, p.698). Every day consumers interact within the marketplace. In this context it is important to think about the consumer's well-being. Mick et al. (2011, p.6) describe well-being as a state that is influenced by health, happiness and prosperity. This well-being is fundamental in every marketing context but comes along with various challenges (Mick et al., 2011, p.6). In fact, it is critical to identify the responsible parties. Some people might say that the government or the companies are responsible for the consumer's well-being, because they can ensure a fair allocation of consumption opportunities or resources (Mick et al., 2011, p.7). However, this essay focuses on the increasingly important role of the consumers for their own well-being, as certain consumer behaviors tend to assist and increase their own well-being (Mick, 2006, pp.1-4). The essay will discuss to what extent the consumers should be responsible for their own well-being in the context of family, debt and food. After that it will consider consumer vulnerability and its implications for the consumer's responsibility. The research is based on secondary data from books, newspapers, journals and websites.
The family is central for the consumer's well-being. Every family tends to identify other factors that characterize them and their consumption choices (Epp, Prince, 2008, p.50). The main constraints influencing the family well-being tend to be time and poverty. Family members can describe time as a pressure cooker, a map, a mirror, a river or a feast and depending on what metaphor is used in a situation the consumption choices and the responsibility varies (Epp, Prince, 2011, p.600-615). Further, Hamilton (2011, pp.74-75) states that poverty may lead to exclusion and stigmatization and that families cope with these situations to increase their well-being.
As a result, the consumers should be responsible for optimizing and maximizing the family-time, for enforcing the family-relationship and for coping with poverty. To maximize family- time consumers need to integrate work with family time (Epp, Prince, 2011, p.608-618). Therefore, they may bring home work but set aside enough time for the family (Epp, Prince, 2011, pp.603-605). This can be seen in the record high of people working from home in the UK in 2014 (Sedghi, 2014). Additionally, several activities (e.g. cleaning) can be outsourced to gain more time (Epp, Prince, 2011, p.605). Further, Carrigan and Szmigin (2006, p.1136) found that mothers in the UK deal with the challenges of family-time with convenience consumption.
To enforce the family relationship consumers should engage in family activities and several communication forms, such as rituals or intergenerational transfers (Epp, Prince, 2008, pp.53-55). Thus, family dinners, holidays, seating arrangements, game nights, etc. tend to be important. Additionally, the consumers should try to close the gap between their actual family-image and the idealized one (Epp, Prince, 2011, p.617). Furthermore, spending the time in the same place even though everybody is involved in his own activity may avoid the threat of disconnection and thus increase the family well-being (Epp, Prince, 2011, p.610-613).
To cope with poverty consumers should engage in emotional or problem-focused coping approaches (Hamilton, 2011, p.76). Emotional coping strategies, such as distancing or fantasizing, are used to cope with unchangeable situations (e.g. homelessness) whereas problem-focused coping strategies (e.g. maximizing income, financial help) are used to cope with changeable situations, such as temporary unemployment (Hamilton, 2011, p.76).
However, the consumer's responsibility in this context is limited. Companies and the government should also be responsible for ensuring a high level of family well-being, especially when there are factors that cannot be influenced from the consumers themselves. For example companies could provide flexible working plans to give the consumers more flexibility and time. Further, factors, such as the vacation planning and the idealized family-image, partly depend on the companies. The government could increase the well-being through policy initiatives, such as parental leave or flexible working initiatives.
As a result, the consumers should be partly responsible for their own family well-being. They should maximize the family-time, enforce family relationships and cope with poverty. Consumption may assist the consumers in these points. However, companies and governments may influence the settings of the consumer's environment and should be seen as responsible too.
Moreover, debt tends to play an important role in the consumption context. Penaloza and Barnhart (2011, p.743) found an increase in indebtedness in the US due to a general normalization of debt. Consumers tend to be under social pressure to fulfill social expectations and they tend to rely on debt to afford the related costs (Penaloza, Barnhart, 2011, pp.745-751). Generally, there are two types of debt: good debt that has the potential to generate benefits in the future (e.g. student loans) and bad debt which refers to immediate consumption items (Penaloza, Barnhart, 2011, p.749). Although, debt may assist the consumers in reaching independence and social integration it can result in poverty and financial problems (Penaloza, Barnhart, 2011, pp.749-759).
Here, consumers should be considered as responsible for their own well-being in many forms. At first, consumers need to understand the issue and threat of debt to make the right decisions (Penaloza, Barnhart, 2011, p.759). Thus, they have to be aware of the risk and their spending and critically think whether a certain transaction is justified and affordable (Soman, Cheema, Chan, 2011, pp.427+438). Additionally, credit trainings or education programs may have a positive influence on the consumers consumption decisions (Penaloza, Barnhart, 2011, p.747+759). Furthermore, Loewenstein et al. (2011, p. 418) argue that the use of budgeting tools may decrease indebtedness. Finally, consumers could critically discuss the topic of debt with friends and family to lower social pressures and take feedback from financial institutions into account (Penaloza, Barnhart, 2011, p.747+759-760).
Further, the concept of self-control is critical, which means that an individual should prefer long-term over short-term benefits (The Conversation, 2015). Consumers that take their time between an emotional moment and the consumption decision tend to consume less and reduce their debt (Soman, Cheema, Chan, 2011, p.439). Moreover, self-imposed rules to limit their own spending and the use of the credit card only for emergencies may result in less debt (Soman, Cheema, Chan, 2011, pp.425-426+439).
However, the responsibility for the consumer's well-being in this context does not solely lie by the consumers. Financial corporations could provide a good environment for the consumers. Thus, they may give the consumers feedback about their financial situation, evaluate financial risks, advise them with budgeting tools and solutions and provide them with reasonable credit limits (Penaloza, Barnhart, 2011, p.760; Loewenstein et al., 2011, pp.417-418). Further, companies should not try to profit from the social pressure of consumers like for example 'BrightHouse' does (Gentleman, 2013). The government could also help to increase the consumer's well-being. Education programs and financial literacy programs, such as the '2010 Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act (CARD)', provide the consumers with useful information to make the right decision (Penaloza, Barnhart, 2011, p.759). In fact, indebtedness often tends to be an outcome of structural barriers which the government needs to remove (The Conversation, 2015).
As a result, the consumers should be responsible for their own well-being in this context, but only to a certain extent. The concept of self-control is an important part of this responsibility. However, factors that cannot be changed from the consumers (e.g. structural barriers) are outside of their responsibility and need to be considered from institutions or the government.
Recent research has considered food as an important part of the consumer's well-being resulting in the concept of food well-being (FWB) (Block et al., 2011, pp.5-6). Consumers try to reach several goals through FWB, for example health, social relationships and experiences of eating (Bubiltz et al., 2013, p.1212). The FWB pinwheel identifies five domains that influence the FWB: food socialization, literacy, marketing, availability and policy (Bock et al., 2011, p.6).
The consumer should be responsible in the areas of food socialization and literacy. Food socialization is the process through which consumers identify the role and importance of food (Block et al., 2011, p.7). Thus, consumers need to understand why healthy food is so important and how this adds to their overall well-being. Initiatives, such as the 'Change4Life', can assist the consumers in understanding this (Frost-Sharratt, no date). Further, Grier and Moore (2011, p.310) find a positive relationship between healthy eating and informed families which confirms the importance of relevant information and the role of families in this context. To increase healthy consumption the family provides the consumer with information, explicit training and pressure towards healthy food (Block et al., 2011, p.7). Thus, consumers learn about their own responsibility and are able to make informed consumption decisions.
In the literacy context the consumer needs to acquire knowledge about the food, as this knowledge tends to improve the quality of food decisions (Block et al., 2011, p.7). This can be reached through reading of newspapers, family interactions or food blogs. Further, the consumer needs to apply this knowledge in his consumption decision which presupposes the ability, opportunity and motivation to do so (Block et al., 2011, p.7).
However, companies and the government are also responsible for the consumer's FWB. They influence the environment (e.g. political) and thus the consumer's FWB (Bublitz et al., 2013, p.1213). Actually, companies tend to promote unhealthy food through product descriptions, packages sizes and product images, rather than to promote healthy food choices (Block et al., 2011, p.8). Further, they need to reduce food deserts and establish an environment with access to healthy food in supermarkets, restaurants, etc. (Grier, Moore, 2011, p.318). The resulting accessibility and availability of food, as well as low prices for healthy food choices could increase the consumer's FWB. Additionally, the government could provide possibilities to inform consumers about unhealthy food habits, such as community opportunities or blogs (Block et al., 2011, p.9). Further, policy rules, such as nutrition labeling, may increase the consumer's FWB (Grunert, Bolton, Raats, 2011, p.333).
Summarizing this, the consumer should be responsible in this context. He needs to understand the issue of FWB and acquire and apply relevant information for his consumption choices. However, the government and the companies influence the setting of the food environment and are thus also responsible for the consumer's well-being.
Although, consumption may increase the consumer's well-being it also comes along with risks and potential vulnerabilities (Baker, S., Mason, M., 2011, p.543). In fact, the concept of consumer vulnerability explains why it is not always straight-forward that consumers should be responsible for their own well-being. Baker, Gentry and Rittenburg (2005, p.134) describe consumer vulnerability as "a state of powerlessness that arises from an imbalance in marketplace interactions". There are multiple factors that result in an experience of vulnerability: individual characteristics, individual states and external conditions (Baker, Gentry, Rittenburg, 2005, p. 128-131). This means consumer vulnerability is based on factors that cannot be changed from the consumers themselves. However, they tend to actively engage in coping strategies to deal with vulnerability (Baker, Gentry, Rittenburg, 2005, p.132). Cognitive and emotional (e.g. disattaching) as well as behavioral coping strategies (e.g. seeking support) demonstrate the adaption of the consumer which influences future experiences of vulnerability (Baker, Gentry, Rittenburg., 2005, pp.132-135).
As a result, vulnerability tends to move away the responsibility from the consumers at the first place. However, they actively response and adapt to vulnerabilities. This means they reduce the chance of future negative experiences and thus increases their own well-being. This actually undermines that consumers should be responsible for their own well-being, at least to a certain extent. Companies and the government on the other hand need to remove imbalances in the marketplace and are thus also responsible for the consumer's well-being.
Summarizing this, the consumers should be highly responsible for their own well-being in the contexts above. They need to maximize family-time, enforce relationships and cope with poverty in the family context. Referring of debt, consumers should be responsible for understanding the risks and exercising self-control where it is needed. Finally, to increase their FWB consumers need to acquire and apply relevant knowledge. However, consumers should only be responsible to a certain extent, because companies and governments may also influence the consumer's well-being. In the family context they may provide consumers with flexibility and more time. Referring to debt, they can assist the consumers in several ways. To increase FWB they can influence the structural settings of the food environment, such as the availability and accessibility of healthy food. As a result, the responsibility of the consumer for his own well-being depends on the context. There are several factors the consumer might influence and thus increase his own well-being. However, to say that only the consumer should be responsible is to narrow a view. Especially companies and governments may influence the consumer's well-being through factors that cannot be changed from the consumers themselves resulting in responsibility for them.