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Older consumers may be too tolerant for their own good

20 August 2012

Older consumers may be too tolerant for their own good

A study into consumer reactions to faulty products has shown older people are more tolerant than young when things go wrong.

Dr Daniel Laufer, Associate Professor of Marketing at Victoria University, was part of a team that investigated how different age groups reacted to newspaper reports of product failures.

“Understanding the behaviour of older consumers will be increasingly important as their numbers grow,” says Dr Laufer. In New Zealand, 14 percent of the population is over 65 with that figure expected to rise to 26 percent by 2061.

Dr Laufer says most people form their opinion about faulty or dangerous products through media reports, even though—in the early stages when publicity is greatest—the cause is often unknown or unclear.

Those taking part in the first study were given an article about people getting electric shocks from television sets they had bought, while participants in a second experiment read about coffee drinkers becoming ill after consuming a leading brand.

The young people in the study were aged between 20 and 28 while older participants ranged in age from 49 to 89.

The results, recently published in the Journal of Consumer Marketing, indicated that older consumers saw product failures as less threatening, placed less blame on the companies responsible and were more likely to continue buying the products and recommending them to others.

Dr Laufer says that while society views older people as more vulnerable, that’s at odds with how older people see themselves.

He says the findings also have important implications for companies. “Putting out a media release, which is a very common way of informing the community about a product crisis, may not be enough when it comes to older consumers.

“Companies need to make more effort to reach older consumers and our article also suggested it could be time to introduce new standards around communicating information in a product harm crisis.”

The research, which was carried out in the United States, builds on earlier product harm crises studies by Dr Laufer, including a 2004 study that showed women react more strongly than men to announcements about faulty products and are more likely to blame the company.


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