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project findings | PROJECT OUTLINE |

Consuming Services in the Knowledge Society: The Internet and Consumer Culture

In the past, service users were often thought to have been deferential to medical and legal professionals and, to a lesser extent, financial advisers. There is a perception that we are now moving towards more collaborative relationships. This research, however, suggests great diversity of expectations among service users. At one extreme, some expect their adviser to tell them what to do. At the other, informed consumers sample and choose advisers. This increases the scope for a mismatch between the professional’s and user’s expectations. Among more knowledgeable consumers, uncertainty has increased.

This project ran from June 2003 to December 2005

image illustrating findings

View the findings summary sheet for this project >>

Project team
Angus Laing award holder
Gillian Hogg
Terry Newholm


Professor Angus Laing
School of Business & Management,
University of Glasgow, West Quadrangle,
Gilbert Scott Building, Glasgow G12 8QQ

+44 (0)141 330 8693

Professor Gillian Hogg
Division of Marketing, University of Strathclyde,
Stenhouse Building, 173 Cathedral Street,
Glasgow G4 0RQ

+44 (0)141 548 4919

Publications include:

Laing A. W. and Hogg G. ‘Re-conceptualising the Service Encounter: Professional Services and Information Empowered Consumers’, (Working Paper 003, ESRC-AHRC Cultures of Consumption research programme, 2003). view as word doc>>

Laing A. W., Hogg G. and Newholm T. J. ‘The Impact of the Internet on Professional Relationships: The Case of Health Care’, Service Industries Journal,25 (4) (2005).

Laing A. W., Newholm T. J. and Hogg G.‘Crisis of Confidence: Re-narrating the Consumer-Professional Discourse’, Advances in Consumer Research, 32 (2005).

Laing A. W., Newholm T. J. and Hogg G. ‘Regulating in the Information Society’, Consumer Policy Review, 16, (6)(2005), pp. 122–128.



Project outline

The following is the text of the project's original proposal


A recurrent theme within professional and trade journals in professional services such as health care, law, and investment management over the past two to three years is the impact of internet based information on client behaviour. At the heart of such commentary are accounts of clients bringing reams of internet derived information relating to their particular service need and challenging the service professional, in particular questioning the judgement and recommendation of the service professional. The thrust of such commentary is that consumers have changed fundamentally in terms of the way in which they consume professional services and relate to service professionals. Although in part mourning the erosion of traditional deferential patterns of consumption, there is equally an acknowledgement of the necessity of responding to such a changing culture of consumption. The ability to respond to such emerging changes in consumption is, however, dependent on understanding the rate and extent of consumer evolution as well as the nature of this new consumer culture.

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The internet driven information revolution is perceived to be transforming patterns of consumption. To date the impact of such developments has been regarded as greatest in those sectors where the internet offers consumers a new route to accessing services. However, the internet equally influences professional services where a major component of the service is information and expertise. Specifically the effect of the internet goes beyond on-line service provision and influences consumption in off-line environments by offering consumers access to a level of specialist technical information that was formerly the preserve of professionals. Concurrently, by facilitating close interaction between consumers across national boundaries through the emergence of service specific computer mediated communities, the internet enables consumers collectively to develop the expertise to challenge professional judgement.

The research aims to investigate the impact of enhanced consumer access to specialist technical information on the nature of consumption in professional services. Focussing specifically on primary health care, civil legal advice and investment management as distinct exemplars of professional services, the research will examine the sources and types of information sought by consumers, the motivation for acquiring such information, and the managerial responses of service professionals. Through addressing these specific issues the research will facilitate an understanding of (a) the new consumerism of the information society (b) the evolution of on-line service consumer communities (c) the economic and social basis of consumer-professional relationships (d) the impact on consumer culture in post-modern societies.

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The research seeks to addresses the following key questions:

  • the extent to which access to information changes consumer behaviour and the factors that lead to variation in responses to internet based information.
  • the sources and types of information used by consumers, their motivation for accessing this information and the criteria employed in evaluating information.
  • the way in which consumers individually and collectively, via computer mediated communities, use this type of information to influence professional behaviour and the service outcome.
  • the effect of this informational empowerment on professional and consumer roles and the nature of the consumer-professional relationship
  • the professional and organisational consequences of such enhanced access to information on the management of the service delivery process.

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The research will use a combination of quantitative and qualitative approaches in two phases. The first phase will consist of interviews with service professionals and focus groups with current service consumers across the selected service settings. The objective of this first phase will be to gain an in-depth understanding of the changing nature of service consumption and develop specific research propositions. The second phase of the research will involve a postal questionnaire based survey of households across the United Kingdom and the posting of an on-line questionnaire utilising sectorally relevant internet discussion sites. This two-stage approach will provide valid and generalisable data facilitating the development of an empirically robust understanding of service consumption within the emerging information society.

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The project will examine the impact of enhanced access to information on consumption, addressing one of the major challenges confronting consumers, organisations and policy makers in post-modern societies. Although the research is contextually anchored in the service sector, such is the centrality of the issues shaping consumption in this context to the broader debate surrounding the evolving nature of consumption in post-modern societies that research results will be relevant beyond the confines of the sector. A central element of the project will be the generation of practical frameworks geared to supporting professionals and public policy makers in responding to such shifts in consumer behaviour.



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