2006 volume 38(1) pages 47 – 67
doi:10.1068/a37208

Cite as:
Jackson P, del Aguila R P, Clarke I, Hallsworth A, de Kervenoael R, Kirkup M, 2006, "Retail restructuring and consumer choice 2. Understanding consumer choice at the household level" Environment and Planning A 38(1) 47 – 67

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Retail restructuring and consumer choice 2. Understanding consumer choice at the household level

Peter Jackson, Rossana Perez del Aguila, Ian Clarke, Alan Hallsworth, Ronan de Kervenoael, Malcolm Kirkup

Received 29 June 2004; in revised form 22 November 2004

Abstract. This paper complements the preceding one by Clarke et al, which looked at the long-term impact of retail restructuring on consumer choice at the local level. Whereas the previous paper was based on quantitative evidence from survey research, this paper draws on the qualitative phases of the same three-year study, and in it we aim to understand how the changing forms of retail provision are experienced at the neighbourhood and household level. The empirical material is drawn from focus groups, accompanied shopping trips, diaries, interviews, and kitchen visits with eight households in two contrasting neighbourhoods in the Portsmouth area. The data demonstrate that consumer choice involves judgments of taste, quality, and value as well as more ‘objective’ questions of convenience, price, and accessibility. These judgments are related to households’ differential levels of cultural capital and involve ethical and moral considerations as well as more mundane considerations of practical utility. Our evidence suggests that many of the terms that are conventionally advanced as explanations of consumer choice (such as ‘convenience’, ‘value’, and ‘habit’) have very different meanings according to different household circumstances. To understand these meanings requires us to relate consumers’ at-store behaviour to the domestic context in which their consumption choices are embedded. Bringing theories of practice to bear on the nature of consumer choice, our research demonstrates that consumer choice between stores can be understood in terms of accessibility and convenience, whereas choice within stores involves notions of value, price, and quality. We also demonstrate that choice between and within stores is strongly mediated by consumers’ household contexts, reflecting the extent to which shopping practices are embedded within consumers’ domestic routines and complex everyday lives. The paper concludes with a summary of the overall findings of the project, and with a discussion of the practical and theoretical implications of the study.

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