Consumerism and Business

by Robert Estes



Recent talks on consumerism have concentrated on the genuine need for business to recognize that a dramatically new environment has developed which imposes more demanding responsibilities on those entrusted with the economic and human resources constituting contemporary business institutions. In any discussion of consumerism and business, a businessman-even a nonparanoid type-tends to come on somewhat like a latter-day Harry Houdini: wrapped in chains, handcuffed, nailed in a coffin, under thirty feet of water. There are some interesting parallels, he has only himself to blame; he did it to himself in the process of trying to make a living; he is supremely confident he can get out of the mess by himself. Despite this confidence, a certain amount of suspense is generated among the onlookers. The consumer and the businessman are not natural enemies: to the contrary, business was under the impression it got ahead by seeking out and filling people's needs, and tended to be rather proud of how well the job was done. However, at least two developments intervened to put the businessman into a Harry Houdini syndrome: There was a sudden and dramatic shift in values-but not by everybody, not all in the same direction, and not all at the same pace. Priorities became infinitely more complex as needs changed. Consumer segments split off and became sharply polarized to the point where to serve one was automatically to antagonize others.

California Management Review

Berkeley-Haas's Premier Management Journal

Published at Berkeley Haas for more than sixty years, California Management Review seeks to share knowledge that challenges convention and shows a better way of doing business.

Learn more
Follow Us