Digital transitioning of charity and community services and the loss of human touch, a bricolage approach to address consumer vulnerability and foster social wellbeing

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


Vulnerable populations have been disproportionately affected by the COVID pandemic with a severe spike in their fundamental needs. This has foregrounded the importance of devising practical solutions for ever-growing societal and economic challenges that expose an increasing number of consumers to the experiences of vulnerability and disadvantage. In doing so, although individual stats and characteristics can hinder one’s consumption goals and precipitate consumer vulnerability, external and contextual conditions such as availability of and access to required resources and effective services can address consumption needs and goals with resultant wellbeing outcomes.
In view of this, a large percentage of Charity and Voluntary Services (CVSs) in the UK is dedicated to delivering instrumental, emotional, and social support to address vulnerability and disadvantage. This holistic approach is often operationalised through the social provisioning that offers an interdependent process of activities and social interactions, often in contexts outside price-based markets, to facilitate access to and utilisation of resources. The human-touch element of these services, which is meaningful and sympathetic interpersonal interactions that generates relational value, is a key determinant of the social wellbeing of consumers. However, the omnipresent digitalisation of services in the aftermath of the Pandemic is changing the way people engage with CVSs. In the digital transformation of the sector, the question remains as to how service providers, with resources they have at hand, can transfer human touch online to offer integrative services that transcend instrumental needs and respond to the social and emotional needs of consumers.
Against this background, a three-stage study was undertaken on an online education service for refugee learners. The first stage was an exploratory study to understand how human touch is experienced in the context of online CVSs and further ascertain consumers’ behavioural and attitudinal responses. Furthermore, deriving on theories of social wellbeing (Keyes, 1998) and employing a bricolage strategy and in consultation with service practitioners, data from the first phase was used to propose a socially-enhanced online service that encourages direct and indirect interactions and responds to the consumption needs and goals of service users. Finally, through a usability study, the proposed intervention was tested to ascertain the efficacy of the bricolaged solution.
Our findings uncovered service users’ poor appraisal of their social wellbeing and a sense of being socially disadvantaged as potential pitfalls of digital CVSs that can enforce consumer vulnerability. Moreover, our solution development and further usability study revealed that augmenting human touch in online CVSs by taking into account density, duration, frequency, reciprocity, and multiplexity of interpersonal interactions can enhance the flow of social resources and encourage positive behaviours and attitudes towards CVSs. This offers new opportunities for the sector to capitalise on the advantages of digitalisation whilst responding to service users consumption needs and vulnerabilities. Also, bricolage has been proved as a promising strategy for the sector to implement innovative yet feasible solutions for consumer vulnerability whilst dealing with restricted resources.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of 2021 Academy of Marketing Annual Conference
Subtitle of host publicationReframing Marketing Priorities Online
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 7 May 2021
Event 2021 Academy of Marketing Annual Conference : Reframing Marketing Priorities Online - Online
Duration: 5 Jul 20217 Jul 2021


Conference 2021 Academy of Marketing Annual Conference
Internet address


  • Consumer vulnerability
  • Social wellbeing
  • Charity and community services


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