Consumer vulnerability is a sometimes misunderstood or misused concept that is equated erroneously with demographic characteristics, stigmatization, consumer protection, unmet needs, discrimination, or disadvantage. This article seeks to clarify the boundaries for what is and what is not consumer vulnerability. By explicating the key themes of consumer vulnerability from previous studies in the consumer research and marketing literatures, the authors build a definition and model to explain that consumer vulnerability is multidimensional, context specific, and does not have to be enduring. The authors clarify that multiple and simultaneous internal and external factors contribute to consumer experiences of vulnerability. They conclude by proposing some ways the consumer-driven definition of consumer vulnerability can be implemented into research and policy decisions. Most important, their implementation focuses on treating consumers as they wish to be treated, not as well-meaning others think they should be treated, and on directing policy toward facilitating individual empowerment.
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