Acquiring Goods And Services In Lower Income Populations: An Evaluation Of Consumer Behaviour

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Acquiring goods and services in lower income populations: an evaluation of consumer behaviour and preferences
Colin C. Williams and Jan Windebank

A popular prejudice is that there is a natural and inevitable shift towards the formalisation of goods and services provision as societies become more ``advanced''. Indeed, the recent rise in consumer service and retail employment (Marshall and Wood, 1995; Townsend et al., 1996; Williams, 1997) might be seen as an indicator of this ``formalisation thesis'' whereby goods and services are increasingly provided through formal firms. Although there is little doubt that, during the post-war period, households have increasingly relied on formal firms to acquire their goods and services (see Harding and Jenkins, 1989), this does not mean that other ways of receiving goods and providing services have ceased to exist. One has only to consider the prevalence of the car-boot sale (e.g. Crewe and Gregson, 1998; Gregson and Crewe, 1994, 1997a, 1997b, 1998; Gregson et al., 1997) and the wealth of informal provision in services such as child rearing (e.g. Windebank, 1996) and elder care (e.g. OPCS, 1992) to recognise that a sizeable proportion of economic activity in the advanced economies has not been formalised. Up until now, however, there has been little attempt to evaluate either the extent to which consumers use non-formal sources to receive goods and services or to understand their preferences regarding the way goods and services are acquired. To what extent, for example, do consumers still receive some of their goods and services through sources other than retail outlets and consumer service firms? And why do they use these alternative sources of goods and services? What are their implications for formal retailing and consumer service firms? For instance, what are the barriers to the growth of formal consumer services and how can they be
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has supported this project as part of its programme of research and innovative development projects, which it hopes will be of value to policy makers and practitioners. The facts presented and views expressed in this paper, however, are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation. Gratitude is expressed by the authors to both the Joseph Rowntree Foundation for funding this project and to Stephen Hughes for providing the research assistance to bring it to fruition. They would also like to thank the anonymous referees for their useful comments.

The authors Colin C. Williams is Senior Lecturer in Economic Geography in the Department of Geography, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK. Jan Windebank is Senior Lecturer and Associate Fellow at the Political Economy Research Centre, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK. Keywords Retailing, Consumer behaviour, Consumer marketing, Services marketing, Second-hand markets, Social class Abstract Aims to explore the behaviour and preferences of lower income populations when acquiring goods and services. Drawing on empirical evidence from several UK cities, this paper finds that, in the realm of goods acquisition, these consumers want new goods from formal retail outlets but, due to economic necessity, their first option but second choice is often to acquire them informally or second-hand. In the sphere of consumer services, however, informal modes of provision are frequently preferred by these populations and actively chosen over formal consumer services. The paper concludes by discussing some policy implications of these findings. Electronic access The research register for this journal is available at The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at

International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management Volume 29 . Number 1 . 2001 . pp. 16±24 # MCB University Press . ISSN 0959-0552


Acquiring goods and services in lower income