Third World, USA: The Hidden State of the Union

While I was thinking about the “State of the Union,” I fell upon this article – “Decision-Making and Coping by Functionally Illiterate Consumers and Some Implications for Marketing Management” by Madhubalan Viswanathan, Jose Antonio Rosa and James Edwin Harris in the Journal of Marketing .
The article says:
Over 20% of the US population consists of functionally illiterate consumers, yet we know very little about their thinking and behavior.”
The article talks about how we need to market to these consumers to sell products more efficiently. Here are a few examples of what marketers can do to make the retail environment more friendly to illiterate customers (and for many others as well):
Clear, obvious presentation. Clear presentation of bottom-line prices for all items in a consistent color would enhance the information environment for low-literate consumers. The final price should be plainly presented, in addition to the original price and the discount. Moreover, the use of dollars and cents off rather than fraction or percentage off can make the final price concrete and obvious. Retail outlets should also consider simple computational aids for their customers, such as devices attached to shopping carts that scan product labels and keep running totals.
Consumer-friendly store layouts. Easy store layouts that minimize clutter and confusion are important for all consumers. But the layout takes on even greater significance for functionally illiterate consumers. Of particular significance are changes to layout that take away from the experience of shopping in a familiar environment. Prominent store signs should be supplemented with visual representations of product categories. Similarly, shelf and other in-store displays can communicate product information and make comparisons easier. Graphical representations of size, ingredients, and other information needed for comparisons would also be very helpful.
Helpful staffing. In light of the life experiences of low-literate consumers and issues of self-esteem and dependence, friendliness and trustworthiness are vital in building customer relationships. Their customer loyalty seems to follow from friendly encounters that engender trust. Like many of us, they want to feel understood and appreciated. Specialized training for employees should sensitize them to the unique characteristics of low-literate customers. Such an investment may well lead to a sustainable competitive advantage stemming from strong customer loyalty.
The solutions marketers devise for illiterate consumers may well coincide with solutions for a variety of other groups such as novice consumers, time-constrained consumers, consumers in developing countries, and consumers shopping in different environments, such as a foreign country.

Welcome to the Third World, US of A. Don’t worry about the poor, let’s just make sure we can sell ’em something!

4 Replies to “Third World, USA: The Hidden State of the Union”

  1. hells, bells. even us half literature consumers need better layouts. many have written convincingly of what easy findability and other helps would do for retail sales. wpd

  2. 182. Ideas for Superstores
    Some of the fizz has gone out of Forbes, with Malcolm gone, and Michaels no longer the editor. But we occasionally see some of the old spark. Talking about home improvement stores, current editor William Baldwin dreams of some very doable tricks that would make shopping a whole lot easier. He thinks these stores need to adopt some of the customer friendly finesse found on Amazon’s Internet site. He dreams of a speech recognition box at the front of the store to which you could shout “nails,” whereupon a computer would bark out the correct aisle to find them. Maybe, too, you could brush a nail gun under a scanner in order to easily learn how to use it or to compare it to other guns to see if you have the one that fits your requirements. And so on. In his column (Forbes, January 30, 2003, p.16), Baldwin clearly grasps by implication that shopping in megastores, whether discounters or Sam’s or Best Buy, is not a customer friendly experience, but that a little imagination could make us a lot happier about our visits there. Is this why we wind up buying half as much as we did 10 years ago in the cavernous stores that have narrowed their merchandise selection, lengthened their checkout lines, and actually cheapened the quality of their product offerings?

  3. Bill- I’m not talking about making it easy to shop. I’m talking about the fact that we are leaving behind 20% of our American population without a second thought.
    Business thinks it has one job – to sell. It has forgotten how it can also create customers and markets. Remember Henry Ford’s “living wage”? He wanted his employees to buy the cars they made!
    Now we’re off rebuilding Iraq. Why can’t we rebuild the good old US of A? Is it because it’s not profitable enough for Halliburton? Or is it because public funds will be scrutinized somewhat more in the US?
    I’m all for selling to the bottom of the pyramid. I just don’t think we should keep expanding the size of the bottom! 🙂

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