Consumerism : management challenge of consumer protection in national enterprises
Until recently, consumer policy researchers have concentrated almost exclusively on the competitive market, with little attention to the market failure scenario. This study investigates consumer protection behaviour of national enterprises. It does this by exploring the factors which determine or influence consumer policy decisions when the competitive market mechanism is hindered, and the dilemma facing management in such bounded marketing environments. Fundamentally, two basic approaches to structuring consumer protection have been identified. These relate to, (a) private enforcement, ic. market processes, and (b) public enforcement, ic. political processes. These perspectives were systematically collapsed into Hirschman's Exit/Voice theory and explored using qualitative methodology. Our findings did not broadly uphold the basic configuration of the Exit/Voice paradigm. It is intellectually flawed to insist that decisions about improving enterprises' performance on consumer protection should be impelled by strategies based on those dichotomous perspectives. Strengthening means for consumer advocacy or introducing and protecting competition in the hope that they will concomitantly protect consumers can not, in themselves, assure genuine consumer protection. Consumer protection came through as a discretionary agenda item. It is neither exclusively located in the political process nor in the market mechanism. It is a dependent variable whose behaviour is shaped by variations in management practices. At the enterprise-consumer interface, consumer protection becomes an explicit challenge of management. In terms of institutional arrangements for consumer protection, we did not observe any optimal structure. However, we did observe that the differing approaches that management can adopt can be classified and appraised in relation to four variables. These variables are, (i) Sensitivity (pro-active/reactive), (ii) Definition (consumer/company centered), (iii) Measurement (formal/informal) and, (iv) Implementation (tasks/responsibilities). These variables arc not independent. Their interrelationships lead to a method for evaluating the different approaches in terms of management response to the challenge of consumer protection.