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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Guest editorial From: Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal, Volume 16, Issue 3
About the Guest Editors Micael-Lee Johnstone holds a PhD from the University of Otago. She is a lecturer in the School of Marketing and International Business at Victoria University, and teaches both undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Her research interests lie in the field of consumer behaviour, specifically motherhood and consumption, green consumerism, and retail marketing. Micael-Lee’s publications have appeared in the Journal of Marketing Management, Journal of Consumer Behaviour, Advances in Consumer Research and Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal.
Kim-Shyan Fam is Professor of Marketing and Head of School of Marketing and International Business at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. He is an Editorial Review Board member of the European Journal of Marketing and International Journal of Advertising. Dr Fam’s research focuses on advertising, Asian culture and corporate social responsibility, marketing of education, and small business/entrepreneurship promotion strategy. His current research projects look at sales promotion, brand equity, and corporate social responsibility in collectivist China; student-teacher relationship, and business legitimacy. Amongst others, his publications have appeared in the Journal of Marketing, European Journal of Marketing, Journal of Business Research, Industrial Marketing Management, Journal of Advertising Research and Journal of Business Ethics. In September 2012, Dr Fam received an honorary doctorate (honoris causa) from Szechenyi Istvan University, Gyor, Hungary.
Special issue: the female consumer in the twenty-first century
The purpose of this special issue is to provide a deeper understanding of what it means to be a female consumer in the twenty-first century. The issue contains an eclectic range of topics that demonstrate how diverse and complex female consumers are. Whilst characteristics of modern consumption in the twentieth century include the commercialisation of leisure; the growing number of consumption sites (e.g. malls); consumer behavioural problems (e.g. compulsive consumption); credit card use; the increasing diversity of shopping practices; and the growing importance of image (Lury, 1996), it could be suggested that in the twenty-first century, social media is changing how and why we shop, and how we negotiate our identities in this mediated landscape.
A recent report by Nielsen (2011) revealed that women are more engaged than men online, and use their mobile devices for social reasons more than men, thus providing marketers and advertisers with increased opportunities to connect with female consumers. With the proliferation of web sites worldwide, it is becoming widely accepted that consumers are shifting their daily activities from offline to online environments (Toder-Alon et al., 2005). Consumers are not only using web sites for information gathering, entertainment, communication and online shopping but they are also using the internet to share ideas, make friends, and build communities (Kozinets, 2002). Consequently, the constant interaction between online users and web sites makes the internet a solid part of consumers’ daily lives (Maulana and Eckhardt, 2007, p. 228). As Healy (1996) asserts, the internet presents a kind of “middle landscape” for consumers because individuals can satisfy their needs for both separation and connectedness.
It is also widely accepted that the media plays a significant role in defining gender identity, in addition to promoting ideal images and standards of beauty for women to aspire to (Goffman, 1979; Fowles, 1996; Eisend and Moller, 2007; Dittmar, 2009). As Dyer (1982) observes, gender is often portrayed according to existing cultural stereotypes. However, even though women today are depicted in a much wider range of settings than previously found, some would argue that women in advertising are still portrayed in domestic scenes and in decorative roles, and continue to be objectified (Lindner, 2004; Mager and Helgeson, 2011).
In contemporary society, social media sites have added a further dimension to how women are presented in the public domain. Consumers are actively posting images of themselves online, creating a virtual persona which is often in contrast to the authentic self. Indeed it is through symbolic consumption that we communicate who we are, and how we would like to be perceived by others. Shopping, as Clammer (1992, p. 195) states, “is not merely the acquisition of things: it is the buying of identity”. What one wears, drinks, drives in, eats, their choice of pet, choice of holiday, and so forth, all convey information about who we are. As Belk (1988, p. 160) states, “we are what we have”. For that reason alone, consumption should not be understood “as consumption of use-values, a material utility, but primarily as the consumption of signs” (Featherstone, 1987, p. 57). As such, consumer culture is essentially about the negotiation of status and identity which is defined in relation to consumption practices (Slater, 1997, p. 30).
Just as symbolic consumption can convey meaning about a person (or group), ritual actions can also communicate meaning about people and places. Driver (1991, p. 132) raises a pertinent issue when he maintains that “the reinforcement, if not the actual creation of social order is perhaps the most obvious of ritual’s functions”. Not only do rituals enable people to move from one group or community to the next, it is also through one’s shared consumption with others that these relationships are formed (Gainer, 1995, p. 257). More importantly, rituals can manage relationships even in the absence of face-to-face communication because common participation can still be shared through consumption rituals (Gainer, 1995, p. 253). Therefore, by understanding consumption activities that take place during the performance of rituals, one may also have a better understanding of those cultural values that are most important in society (Houston, 1999, p. 542). This is particularly relevant because rituals often serve to include or exclude individuals from community membership and groups (Bocock, 1974; Rook, 1985).
Not to be overlooked are traditional sites of consumption such as retail stores. From their inception, the emergence of the department store in the mid-nineteenth century not only contributed to “the formation of an image-producing culture” (Leach, 1984, p. 329), but also allowed women to feel a sense of freedom and independence from the confines of the home (Wolff, 1985). In today’s fast-paced environment, it is becoming increasingly important to also view retail sites as “community spaces” because the need for social connectedness may be more important for some consumers than the actual products available (Johnstone, 2012).
With reference to the authors’ papers, the following five papers explore some of the issues discussed above.
The first paper in this issue, by Satinover Nichols and Flint, provides insights into consumer competition, more specifically women who engage in competitive retail shopping events. As they state at the start of their paper, competition is a prevalent aspect of everyday life, which also extends to shopping. Evidence from Boxing Day sales in Britain and Canada, Black Friday sales in the USA, and new product launches provide recent examples of when consumers have competed with one another to acquire a coveted item. In the past, competitions have often been viewed as destructive to the people involved. However, as this study demonstrates, this is not necessarily the case because competition can provide a platform for experiential value. Employing a discovery-oriented grounded theory approach, Santinover Nichols and Flint exposes the manner in which women shoppers shifted from a competitive mindset with other women shoppers to a cooperative mindset. The findings should be of considerable interest to retailers wishing to execute competitively natured events and promotions. As this study suggests, women value competitive shopping events not only for the acquisition of products but also for the social experience the competitive shopping event provides.
Gurrieri and Cherrier’s paper, entitled “Queering beauty: Fatshionistas in the fatosphere”, examines the construction of beauty in a world where marketing and advertising actively contributes to the normalisation of idealised beauty forms and sizes, to the extent where deviations from this are considered abnormal or “queer”. As defined by Gurrieri and Cherrier, the term “queer” is not only restricted to “gays and lesbians but can be taken up by anyone occupying a marginalised position that sits at odds with the normative or “straight” (Halperin, 1995)”. The significance of this paper is that Gurrieri and Cherrier analyse the representations and experiences of beauty amongst larger women “to understand how females located outside of the normative ideal, consume, express, challenge, and resist ‘straight’ beauty”. Adopting a netnographic approach they analysed 922 blog posts written by five female “fatshionistas” who play a significant role in the fat activism movement in Australia. The findings show how female consumers negotiate and enact beauty in ways that enable them to contest the grounding of the thin ideal. Thus, as this paper alludes to there is a need for practitioners to make visible, multiple bodily representations which reflect diversity, in contrast to unhelpful constructions of what is considered to be “real”.
The third paper explores young female consumers’ alcohol consumption. As Siemieniako and Kubacki discuss, heavy alcohol consumption among young people remains one of the most important social problems in most developed countries. In Poland, where this study was conducted, binge drinking among university students is on the rise and female students have been identified as a much higher-risk group, compared to non-students in the same age group, when it comes to alcohol use. Utilising visual and ethnographic methodologies, this paper extends our understanding of young female consumers’ heavy alcohol use, and the areas of convergence between male and female alcohol consumption. Interestingly, the findings indicate that the female informants’ perceptions of their drinking were coloured by their understanding of the “male drinking culture”. Siemieniako and Kubacki’s study examines the motivations behind these convergence processes, and highlights areas in which differences between genders are still strong. As the authors state:
[…] a better understanding of female students’ drinking culture will help to develop more targeted and effective policies and social marketing programmes to prevent further rise in alcohol consumption among female students.
Ruane and Wallace’s paper looks at the role of social networks among Generation Y women. The paper highlights “the criticality of the social network as a source of information and reassurance when making brand choices”. A narrative research approach is employed which allows the researchers to probe consumers’ online brand consumption. As Generation Y comprise over a quarter of the population in Ireland, and spend two-thirds of their money on clothing, they present a significant segment in the Irish market. And yet, despite their value as consumers, Generation Y women have been neglected in the literature, particularly with regards to online shopping; a deficiency which Ruane and Wallace have endeavoured to address. Findings from this study show how the internet influences Generation Y women when shopping for fashion brands online, and it broadens our understanding of fashion brand relationships, and online shopping motivations. For example, social media practices such as “tagging” can drive brand consumption among female consumers because of their need to maintain their ideal self-image online. Ruane and Wallace’s paper should be of interest to retailers who are seeking to augment consumers shopping experiences.
Freeman and Bell’s paper is the final paper in this special issue. The authors suggest that whilst women’s magazines remain an important vehicle for the transmission of social values, they are not necessarily adapting to social change. Freeman and Bell focus on the editorial content of monthly women’s magazines and consider their role in facilitating Christmas food rituals. As the cash register rings and shoppers race to participate in gift giving and other family-oriented rituals, Freeman and Bell question whether women’s magazines and their readers are in seasonal harmony. Of particular interest, is the extent to which the special food features have adapted to support the changes in women’s lifestyles over the last 20 years. Freeman and Bell conducted a longitudinal social semiotic analysis of Christmas food features in women’s magazines in Australia and the UK. The analysis reveals a recurring conflict between the magazine content and the lifestyles of their readers. A further interesting finding to emerge from the study is the role of celebrity chefs in maintaining and shaping domestic rituals. Indeed, rather than acting as an agent of change, the presence of male chefs seems to have reinforced the traditional role of women.
To conclude, this special issue has endeavoured to advance our knowledge of how female consumers negotiate their consumption practices in an ever changing consumer environment. The guest editors would like to thank the reviewers for their dedication and commitment to the reviewing process, and the authors who submitted papers to this special issue. We would also like to thank Professor Len Tiu Wright for giving us the opportunity to publish in this journal.
Micael-Lee Johnstone, Kim-Shyan FamGuest Editors
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