Public relations in the Swedish consumer cooperation : a new perspective of consumerism
Christensson, Eddy K. G.
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During the 1960s there have been, in the industrialized western countries, many signs of an accelerated consumer movement. The trend is that consumerism pressures will intensify, as will the pressure to increase government regulation of private business. No business is more oriented to immediacy than retailing. Each day presents the merchant with new challenges and with a fresh set of consumer demands and competitive pressures. One way of eliminating the supposed evils of private retailing is the concept of the consumer-owned store. In spite of several endeavors, the cooperatives have come to play only a marginal role in American retailing. In Europe, however, the consumer cooperatives have been more successful and grown increasingly professionalized, centralized and technically-oriented. In Sweden and Scandinavia as a whole the consumer movement is based on the extraordinary success of the cooperative movement, which is about a century old. This study focuses on the public relations function of the Swedish consumer cooperation and evaluates the relative importance of the cooperative movement in Sweden. In addition, contemporary trends of the consumer movement in the United States are presented and analyzed. Comparisons with the cooperative movement in Sweden are made, and challenges to the public relations practitioner in "the consumer revolutionary era" are discussed. Methodology employed was: 1. An in-depth study of the Swedish Coop Group with special emphasis on the central organization. This investigation includes (a) personal interviews with "key-personnel" in the field of public relations, (b) a review of publications and other pertinent material produced by the Coop Group. 2. A survey of contemporary American and Swedish literature in the fields of public relations, retailing and consumer behavior. The study reveals that the public relations profession in Sweden has been, mainly, inherited from the United States both in name and definition. The acceptance or rather the understanding of the function in Sweden, however, is still far from widespread. In 1970 every third of the big companies in Sweden had not established a special department for the public relations function. In the United States the consumer dissent with business has resulted in several consumer movements. The earlier movements, often very loosely organized, were stimulated by concern for relatively low order personal needs related to physical safety and physical needs. In Sweden self-regulating measures from the government, such as the "ombudsman" system, and the strong cooperative movement have contributed to reduce the consumer pressure. Lately, however, the traditional role of the consumer cooperation as "the consumer's representative" in the market place has been under scrutiny. Based on the founding cooperative ideals there are today in Sweden definite signs of a new "movement in the movement." Just as in the United States, there are in Sweden a growing number of young articulate consumer advocates, demanding a reorientation of business policy toward more human and moral values and an increased social responsibility. In Sweden, however, they want the consumer cooperation to make use of its present strong position in the marketplace as an instrument in fulfilling these demands. Representatives for the Swedish consumer cooperation and American retail organizations are unanimous in the conclusion that the task of insuring these new consumer demands also will demand more sophistication and broader-gauged knowledge from retail management and a tremendous increase of the research and planning functions.