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Addressing low-literacy in the South African clothing retail environment

H van Staden
D Van der Merwe


Low-literate consumers display distinctive behaviour in the marketplace, which entails concrete thinking (for example, the use of single pieces of information) and pictographic thinking (for example, the use of information as symbols), also evident among low-literate clothing consumers in this study. This behaviour poses challenges to low-literate consumers, although certain strategies are applied to cope with these challenges. In our study, the aim was to explore the challenges and coping strategies of female low-literate clothing consumers in the South African marketplace, especially in the context of high low-literacy levels in the country. An interpretive descriptive qualitative design was followed and semi-structured interviews were used to gather data from low-literate female consumers. Through inductive and interpretative data analysis, two broad themes relevant to the clothing marketplace were identified: Personal-related (cognitive, social, financial, and affective) such as poor reading and numeracy skills, and product-related challenges (types and format of product information, evaluative criteria) for example the format of label information. Coping strategies (cognitive, product, and social and affective), such as asking children to read for them or leaving the store, were associated with both themes. This is the first study addressing the marketplace behaviour of low-literate clothing consumers in South Africa. The results can be helpful in advising marketers and store assistants on how to specifically respond to the behaviour, needs, and strengths of low-literate clothing consumers, which are different from consumers in general.


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eISSN: 0378-5254