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Consumer Behavior, Experiences and Attitudes: A Comparison by Age Groups

Consumers are wary and dissatisfied--and they should be. Three-quarters of consumers report having had a bad buying experience in the past year, and nearly one in six report having been a victim of a major consumer fraud or swindle at some point.

A late-1998 telephone survey was conducted to compare the consumer behavior, experiences, and attitudes of different age groups. To see how well consumers are faring, a Consumer Vulnerability Index (CVI) was created. The Index is based on how many consumers are aware of their rights, how aware they are of how businesses should conduct themselves, and where (of if) they go if they have a problem.

  • The CVI shows that 8 percent of consumers are very vulnerable, 79 percent are somewhat vulnerable, and only 13 percent are not vulnerable.
  • Among the most vulnerable consumers are those over the age of 75. Their expectations about the honesty of the marketplace, and their lack of knowledge in an increasingly complex marketplace, contributes to the vulnerability.
  • Almost all (94%) consumers have taken some action when they have been wronged. As many as eight in ten have complained directly to a company or salesperson and have stopped buying from a company, asked for a refund or replacement, or told friends and others not to buy from the company.
  • Only about a third of consumers are completely satisfied with action taken as a result of their complaint. Very few take the next step of complaining to a consumer agency or an Attorney General.

The telephone survey was conducted November 18-December 22, 1998. Respondents comprised 602 consumers age 18-49, 387 age 50-64, and 459 age 65 and older. For more information, contact Gretchen Straw at 202-434-6334


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