Marketplace Estrangement and Consumer Theft

Anthony D. Cox, Indiana University
Dena Cox, Indiana University
[ to cite ]:
Anthony D. Cox and Dena Cox (1992) ,"Marketplace Estrangement and Consumer Theft", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, eds. John F. Sherry, Jr. and Brian Sternthal, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 554.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, 1992      Page 554


Anthony D. Cox, Indiana University

Dena Cox, Indiana University

In 1954, sociologist Gregory Stone showed that not all consumers' store patronage behavior was determined by utilitarian motives like price and convenience. Instead, he found that many consumers felt a sense of allegiance or kinship with stores owned by people from their own community and would patronize these stores out of ethical or social motives. In the 35 years since Stone's study, however, large corporate chains have increasingly displaced or acquired local family-owned stores: first in major cities, and more recently in small communities. Further, almost all of these mammoth retailers have eschewed the traditional personal contact between buyer and seller in favor of high volume, self-service operation.

During the same span of time, another change has occurred. The incidence of consumer theft and fraud from retailers has grown tremendously. Shoplifting alone has grown at twice the rate of consumer purchases and now results in retail losses of $12 billion per year. Fully 60% of consumers now report that they have shoplifted.

This paper explores the possibility that these two trends are connected. We argue that the epidemic of consumer theft is not solely a security issue, but may reflect fundamental changes in the way consumers view the marketplace. We will examine sociological research showing a widespread tolerance toward crime against "socially distant" or abstract victims, particularly large corporations. We will also explore the relationship between some traditional marketing constructs (such as store "personality" and "loyalty") and consumer theft. Finally, the paper discusses how retailers might stem the tide of consumer theft - not by bolting down the merchandise, but by re-examining the way in which they interact with consumers and communities.


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