Contradictory spaces: Negotiating virtual spaces of consumption

Angus Laing, Terry Newholm, Gill Hogg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose - The internet driven information revolution is frequently cited as one of the key drivers (re-)shaping contemporary consumption. In particular, the internet has been seen as disrupting established conventions in professional services. Popularly, it has been viewed as a liberating medium, a mechanism by which consumers and citizens have been able to challenge the authority of the professional establishment. Yet for consumers, the internet can equally be viewed as generating new uncertainties and challenges in terms of negotiating a new settlement with professionals and reconfiguring the service encounter. The purpose of this paper is to explore experiences of consumers with the use of internet derived information in respect of complex professional services and the impact of such information utilisation on the format of the service encounter. Design/methodology/approach - Empirical data is generated through interviews with professionals (n = 24) and consumer focus groups (n = 10/53). Findings - The paper argues that the multi-faceted nature of the internet creates informational "spaces" which present both opportunities and threats to consumers in renegotiating the service encounter. Balancing the paradoxes created by these informational spaces is at the core of the challenge confronting contemporary service consumers. Irrespective of the nature of that space, the effect is to create a driver for change, challenging the established practices of both consumer and professional to reshape the service encounter. Research limitations/implications - Focus group research does not enable a judgement about the prevalence or distribution of behaviours among consumers. Nevertheless, this paper advances understanding of contemporary consumption practices and provides a new perspective on nature of consumer utilisation of information within the consumption process. Practical implications - It is inevitable that professionals and service organisations will be required to respond to a complex and rapidly evolving set of consumer behaviours and rethink approaches to the delivery of professional services. Originality/value - The paper addresses an emergent phenomenon and provides unique insights into the changing dynamics of consumption practices in the contemporary knowledge economy. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)227-245
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Service Management
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • Consumer behaviour
  • Customer service management
  • Electronic commerce
  • Empowerment
  • Internet


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