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Marketplace engagement by consumers who are homeless: Internet communities as a resource for consumer resilience and coping

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Purpose
This study examines the Internet as a resource to build resilience for persons experiencing consumer vulnerability. Specifically, it attempts to contribute to our understanding of consumer vulnerability through an in-depth analysis of one specific case - a blog that provided advice to persons who were homeless. As a unique forum that spanned several years, an analysis of their shared conversations may help unfold how members adapted, coped, and built consumer survival skills.
Design/methodology/approach
Case study: The "Survival Guide to Homelessness" was chosen as a context for analysis as it memorialises the online conversations of participants (Mobile Homemaker, 2004-2012). Building on the foundational work of Baker, Hunt and Rittenburg's (2005) initial conceptualisation, recent approaches to consumer vulnerability are explored to propose a model of internet community empowerment. This approach uses grounded theory to guide the selection of blog posts, questions, comments, and discussions and the subsequent extraction of themes.
Findings
Applying concepts from spatial vulnerability theory (Saatchioglu & Ozanne, 2013), resilient pathway theory (Hutton, 2016), and conversational discourse (Visconti,2016), the findings indicate that mentors and advice-givers emerged and offered effective marketplace strategies even at the product and brand level. Given the formulation of trust, consistent moderating by the blog creator, and sharing of similar experiences, the online word of mouth was perceived as genuine and authentic. Participant comments provided evidence of increased resilience and confidence when rejoining society as "competent consumers".
Limitations
The manuscript analyses data from one online homelessness blog as a case analysis. Since blog participants were not required to provide demographics such as gender, age, location, education and employment, a traditional sample description cannot be provided. The unit of analysis is the comment or post, rather than the individual person.
Implications
The present manuscript extends our understanding of consumer vulnerability in three ways: (1) consumer vulnerability can transcend time or space: members of local support groups can build communities of individuals who share similar vulnerabilities; (2) consumer vulnerability empowerment is dynamic: online platforms in digital space can effectively share collective coping skills that empower vulnerable persons through information and personal bonds, and (3) innovative policy remedies to consumer vulnerability may emerge through the analysis of online conversations among members of the vulnerable group.
Contributions
This special issue focuses on consumer vulnerability and charges us to identify opportunities to facilitate consumers in overcoming vulnerability. Homelessness is often temporary or transient yet can indicate a lifetime of experienced consumer vulnerability. A deeper understanding of this specific case illustration of online support can potentially provide evidence of the resilience, coping skills, personal growth, and empowerment that can be cultivated through an online support network.
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Keywords: BLOG; CONSUMER VULNERABILITY; COPING; CRITICAL SPATIAL THEORY; HOMELESSNESS; NETNOGRAPHY; RESILIENCE

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2019

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