, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 87-110

Shopping with companions: Images, influences and interpersonal dilemmas

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Abstract

Although much neglected in discussions of consumer behavior, a good deal of people's shopping activity is conducted in groups. Derived from a larger study of consumer behavior which uses open-ended interviews with ninety-five shoppers as the primary base, this paper considers the ways in which people view and deal with shopping companions. While consumers are typically envisioned to be skeptical of the vendors they encounter in their shopping ventures, many are also wary of the abilities of their companions to influence their purchasing decisions and shape their spending practices. Thus, shopping companions may be appreciated in several respects, but they generate a number of interactional dilemmas for consumers. In addition to balancing the usual ambiguities the marketplace represents, shoppers find themselves juggling additional definitions (encouragements, discouragements, distractions) of products, money, and users, as well as their concerns with the identities and ensuing relationships implied by the presence of their companions. Consequently, given the generally higher levels of trust attributed to them by shoppers, companions may represent no less significant forces with which to contend than the normally (somewhat distrusted) salespeople shoppers encounter. Shoppers' concerns about maintaining self direction are especially prominent in the analysis, but this thrust is qualified by task vs. recreational approaches to shopping as well as shoppers' perceptions of companion assistance and influence. Shedding light on people's concerns with avoiding, assessing, and neutralizing companions, this paper adds to our more general understanding of dyadic and triadic relations.