In the fourth era of the consumer movement, the key marketplace features include concern for the environment, increasingly complex technology, a diverse market, and a global market. Concern for the environment has manifested itself in a number of different ways. One example is the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which caused many consumers to become disappointed in Exxon. Exxon has had to work at improving its environmental image after this accident, and there are still individuals who will not buy gas at Exxon as a result of Exxon s handling of this situation. There has been a trend in the past ten years or so to protect the environment and to also buy products that are more natural and environmentally sound. In our era, Fresh Fields, a supermarket that has sells organic and more natural products, has prospered because of consumers interests in buying food that is not contaminated by pesticides, chemicals, and other non-natural ingredients. Interestingly enough, a news report last week on TV indicated that organic produce, which is more expensive than regular produce, may actually be more dangerous to consume because it is fertilized with manure that contains E. Coli bacteria. There may be a consumer backlash against organic products if they are shown to pose a danger to the consumer.
Complex technology, has also been a key marketplace feature of the fourth era of the consumer movement. Through the Internet, it is possible to buy even the most obscure goods and services, often at prices which are significantly less expensive than at a retail establishment. However, the Internet also presents serious risks to the consumer. The Clinton administration recently announced that it is proposing legislation that will address the illegal sale of drugs via the Internet. It is now possible to purchase prescription drugs though Internet companies, by placing the orders online. However, this practice is not sufficiently regulated, and consumers may be getting medicines that would ordinarily require close supervision by a personal physician, without having adequate medical supervision when they buy through the Internet. It is very easy to do an Internet search for Internet drug companies, some of which are located overseas (especially in Asia, Mexico and Europe), and find companies which sell Viagra, Xenical, Propecia, etc. through online orders without a medical examination.
Advanced technology has had a great impact on the fourth era of the consumer movement. For example, genetic engineering has made it possible to buy produce that is bigger and lasts longer than non-engineered produce. Questions of safety have been raised with respect to this practice, and some consumer groups have voiced concerns. Advanced technology has also made a business of fertility problems, making fertility treatments a possibility, and the selling of human eggs has become a booming business. All this poses new challenges and ethical dilemmas to the consumers of today.
Credit has become another key feature of the fourth era of the consumer movement. Direct marketing is widely used to target individuals who may be eligible for credit, and these individuals are aggressively pursued. Credit abuses exist, including giving credit to students who are not in a financial position to acquire such debt. In addition, companies exist that claim to be able to fix credit problems for a fee, and in fact, they do nothing that consumers cannot do themselves, by writing the credit bureaus, for example. Claims that a company or agency can miraculously clean up bad credit are simply false. The use of credit as a way to purchase goods and services has greatly altered the world in which we live, and has changed the way that consumers operate in the business world.
1B. The key media forms of the new era are television, radio, image advertising, direct marketing, and of course, Internet advertising and sales. The key individuals of the new era are David Kessler, the former head of the FDA and Jane Henney, the current head of the FDA. Al Gore has also been a key figure, especially with respect to the development of the Internet and with respect to the environmental movement.
2. The current marketplace feature more organized forms of consumer protest than existed in the very beginning of the consumer movement. For example, organizations such as the Sierra Club concern themselves with consumer issues. The FDA has taken on the cause of the anti-tobacco movement. In addition, consumers can fight unfair or harmful business practices through class action lawsuits, such as the class action lawsuits against the companies that produced the breast implants and Phen-Fen. In addition, consumer protests now take the form of legislation, such as the health care bill of rights that is pending in Congress. Before, protests were more community and grass roots driven, but now, although they may start at the grass roots level, protests become more organized, are taken up by organizations or government agencies at the national level, and in many respects are much more powerful.
3. In the past, the consumer movement was in a continual struggle against large businesses, which operated without regulations or safeguards to protect the interests of the consumer. The FDA, for example, did not exist at the turn of the 19th Century. There were no regulations or laws to protect the environment. People were generally at the mercy of businesses, large and small, that could make claims about their products and services even if these claims were misleading or untrue. The activism in the beginning of the consumer movement was revolutionary, because this activism introduced and established the idea that consumers have rights and must be treated justly by business. Consumer activism is no longer a revolutionary idea, but it is more prevalent than it was fifty years ago. Consumer activism, in this day and age, actually is ubiquitous. Now, we think of consumer activism as a normal part of business. We buy Consumer Reports, check the Internet to compare products and prices, and engage in political activism for the purpose of preserving consumer rights. Moreover, businesses have become much more sensitive to the needs and wants of consumers. Consumer reaction has a great impact on the way that companies operate today, and business have learned that consumers wield great power in today s marketplace.