Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 87–110 | Cite as

Shopping with companions: Images, influences and interpersonal dilemmas

  • Robert Prus


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.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Belk, Russell W. 1988 “Possessions and the Extended Self.” Journal of Consumer Research 15: 139–168.Google Scholar
  2. Blumer, Herbert 1969 Symbolic Interactionism. Berkeley, Cal.: University of California Press (1987).Google Scholar
  3. Burman, Patrick 1988 Killing Time, Losing Ground: Experiences of Unemployment. Toronto: Wall and Thompson.Google Scholar
  4. Goffman, Erving 1959 Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York, N.Y.: Anchor. 1963 Stigma. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. 1967 “Embarrassment and Social Organization.” Pp. 97–112 in Interaction Ritual. New York: Anchor.Google Scholar
  5. Gross, Edward and Gregory P. Stone 1964 “Embarrassment and the Analysis of Role Requirements. American Journal of Sociology 70: 1–15.Google Scholar
  6. Hertz, Rosanna 1992 “Financial Affairs: Money and Authority in Dual-Earner Marriage” Pp 128–150 in Dual-Earner Families: International Perspectives, edited by Suzan Lewis, Dafna N. Izraeli, Helen Hootsmans. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  7. Klapp, Orrin 1969 The Collective Search for Identity. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.Google Scholar
  8. Matza, David 1964 Delinquency and Drift. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  9. Mead, George H. 1934 Mind, Self and Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  10. Prus, Robert 1987 “Generic Social Processes: Maximizing Conceptual Development in Ethnographic Research.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 16: 250–293. 1989a Making Sales: Influence as Interpersonal Accomplishment. Newbury Park, Ca.: Sage. 1989b. Pursuing Customers: An Ethnography of Marketing Activities. Newbury Park, Ca.: Sage.Google Scholar
  11. Prus, Robert and Lorne Dawson 1991 “Shop til You Drop: Shopping as Recreational and Laborious Activity.” Canadian Journal of Sociology 16: 145–164.Google Scholar
  12. Prus, Robert and Wendy Frisby 1990 “Persuasion as Practical Accomplishment: Tactical Maneuverings at Home (Party Plan) Shows.” Pp 133–162 in Current Research on Occupations and Professions, Volume 5, edited by Helena Znaniecki Lopata. Greenwich, Conn.: Jai Press.Google Scholar
  13. Simmel, Georg 1900 The Philosophy of Money (Translated by Tom Bottomore and David Frisby). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul (1978). 1950 The Sociology of George Simmel (Kurt Wolff, ed.). New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  14. Stone, Gregory 1954 “City Shoppers and Urban Identification: Observations of the Social Psychology of City Life.” American Journal of Sociology 60: 36–45.Google Scholar
  15. Wiseman, Jacqueline 1979 “Close Encounters of the Quasi-Primary Kind: Sociability in Urban Second-Hand Clothing Stores.” Urban Life 8:23–51.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press, Inc. 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert Prus
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of Waterloo, University Ave.WaterlooCanada

Personalised recommendations