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Solving Marketplace Problems for Consumers with Vulnerabilities

Special issue call for papers from Journal of Services Marketing


According to the logics of service, interaction is the basis of value creation and value fulfilment. Inherent in this understanding of value creation is individual actor agency in the service ecosystem (Grönroos, 2008; Lusch and Vargo, 2014). The customer is deemed to be capable, effortful, willing, and enabled, to engage the resources from a network of actors within the service provider ecosystem and beyond (including other service providers, other customers, peers, family and friends) to create value. Nevertheless, some consumers may have diminished resources and skills to apply to their value generating processes (Dickson et al., 2016; Grönroos, 2008; Ng et al., 2019), and are consequently involved in the value co-creation processes in different ways (McColl-Kennedy et al., 2012). This means that issues may need to be resolved, often demanding that value creation be viewed from multiple and/or various perspectives. Consequently, service processes, service design, support of intermediaries, greater accessibility to network actors and service resources, may be utilised to support problem solving in service exchanges (Patricio et al., 2018; Rosenbaum et al., 2017; Russell-Bennett et al., 2019).

Some consumers can be disadvantaged in the marketplace. For different reasons, consumers may find themselves vulnerable in a service setting. Vulnerable consumers can be considered those whose individual characteristics or individual states interact with the environment to create a perceived state of powerlessness in consumption situations, such that their service exchange goals are not realised (Baker et al., 2005; Rosenbaum et al., 2017). Although some consumers may perceive a state of powerlessness due to their personal characteristics (for example, being children, immigrants, or those with a disability), vulnerability can also be experienced when consumer’s trust (based on expectations) is not honoured in the service experience (Kozinets et al., 2018). Indeed, service systems themselves may exacerbate vulnerability and inequalities in obtaining value in service encounters. Thus, degree of vulnerability may be determined by individual characteristics and may be subjective but it is above all fluid, depending on the interactions between consumers and the marketplace environments (Anderson et al., 2013; Baker et al., 2005; Commuri and Ekici, 2008).

Despite increasing attention in the literature on vulnerability, consumers with vulnerabilities still experience:

-    Bias, stigma or exclusion from service providers or other consumers
-    Accessibility issues relating to service delivery, information, service recovery etc
-    Issues in determining service recovery solutions when problems arise
-    The inability to co-create value
-    System structures, processes and channels of service delivery that hinder individual agency influencing “consumers’ negotiation of responsibilization” (Anderson et al., 2016, p. 263).

Vulnerability can restrict the consumer’s participation, engagement, and ability to act upon resources within the service ecosystem. When this occurs, service consumption goals are hindered and value creation and wellbeing is diminished. Acknowledging such disadvantage and vulnerability, transformative service researchers (TSR) focus on identifying problems and solutions in service contexts to improve wellbeing and to create uplifting changes (Fisk et al., 2018; Rosenbaum et al., 2017).  Of growing interest among TSR scholars are avenues for overcoming challenges faced by vulnerable service consumers and how access to resources for vulnerable consumers can be enhanced in service contexts. For example, scholars are working on: service inclusion in design and delivery (Fisk et al., 2018); transformative service mediators (Johns and Davey,  2019); technology and assistive service robots (Čaić et al., 2018; Huang and Rust, 2018; Kunz et al., 2018; Wirtz et al., 2018); complaint recovery processes (Brennan et al., 2017); channel design strategies (Hogreve et al., 2019) and co-design processes (Dietrich et al., 2017) to name a few. Thus, this call for papers builds on a critical and timely issue that Journal of Services Marketing has highlighted (see Rosenbaum et al., 2017) and aligns with the ServCollab service research initiative (, to develop solutions to marketplace problems that confront consumers with vulnerabilities.

Solving Marketplace Problems for Consumers with Vulnerabilities

The aim of this special issue is to publish interesting and meaningful papers that consider ways service organisations, people, systems, and policies can contribute toward solving problems for consumers with vulnerabilities.,

Service researchers have called for a better understanding of how service can enhance consumer well-being (Anderson et al., 2013; Ostrom et al., 2015) and have identified the marketplace problems and challenges that consumers with vulnerabilities often confront. Yet, very few studies have actually offered solutions that foster inclusivity; that is, the notion that all consumers have equal opportunities for obtaining the same amount of value inherent in an exchange.  The purpose of this special issue is not to identify the existence of vulnerable consumer groups and to highlight their marketplace limitations, but rather, to solve their problems in a manner that fosters service inclusion. We welcome case studies that are theoretically sound. Empirical papers that explore solving problems in consumer vulnerability with plausible theory explanations are also sought. Innovative and interesting conceptual papers are also welcomed.

Broadly, solving problems in service exchanges could include but are not limited to the following:

•    At an individual level - individuals within an organisation, or other actors in the service ecosystem, may take on a pivotal role in value creation, purposefully mediating service interactions and value creating processes. At times, these actors are service providers, consumer advocates, service gatekeepers, and risk analysts.
•    At an organisation level – organisations may implement products, processes, servicescapes and networks to support inclusivity for consumers with vulnerabilities.
•    At a macro level – policies may be implemented to provide greater accessibility or to ‘level the playing field’ for consumers with vulnerabilities to obtain value. Furthermore, mediation could occur to reduce the consequences of service exclusion due to vulnerability.

Topics of interest
The Special Issue Editors welcome conceptual and empirical submissions relating to solving marketplace problems for consumers with vulnerabilities. Case studies providing examples are also strongly encouraged. Multi-disciplinary research and approaches are also invited.

Practitioners are also strongly encouraged to submit case studies or viewpoints.

In line with the goal of Journal of Services Marketing to publish work that has the aim of enhancing wellbeing for everyone, we encourage submissions from the following areas of interest:

•    How do solutions for consumers with vulnerabilities differ in various contexts? Suggested areas include, but are not limited to, aged care, disability support, foster care, dementia villages, childcare, healthcare. Researchers may wish to focus on one context or organisation, or provide a comparison of two or more.
•    How can technology provide support, or hinder service inclusion, for consumers with vulnerabilities? What are the antecedents and consequences for transformative service outcomes when digitalized platforms (e.g., see Ramaswamy and Ozcan, 2018) act as a Transformative Service Mediator? Čaić et al. (2018) highlight that for some service beneficiaries, technology enabled services may be a threat, reducing equity, and adding to the stigma of disability. When is technology transformative and wellbeing enhancing for consumers with vulnerabilities and when might it be the opposite?
•    What are the consequences of a vulnerable consumer’s direct engagement with a service provider? How does this compare to the interaction of an intermediary acting on behalf of the vulnerable consumer? Which is more effective for solving problems for vulnerable consumers?
•    How, and at which touch points, do problems arise for consumers with vulnerabilities? How can problematic touchpoints be effectively managed to foster service inclusion and create value inherent in marketplace exchanges?
•    How can solutions be developed to support competencies and resources/individual agency of consumers with vulnerabilities?
•    How does the collaborative and sharing economy help solve problems and/or increase service inclusion for consumers with vulnerabilities? (Dellaert, 2018).
•    How is support provided at the micro-meso-macro levels of the service ecosystem for consumers with vulnerabilities in order to improve equal opportunities for wellbeing outcomes?
•    How can service systems enhance vulnerable consumers’ engagement in service dialogues? How can transformative service mediators enhance autonomy and competences for consumers with vulnerabilities? How do organisations (and service employees) negotiate service system tensions to alleviate suffering and achieve the expected transformation in wellbeing?
•    How trusted are proposed and implemented solutions? To ensure sustainability in the solution, trust between parties, trust in technology, trust in relationships and open communication seems necessary. Researchers may wish to investigate trust and solving problems in situations of perceived vulnerability.

Submissions Procedure

The full manuscript must be submitted electronically at
1.    To be considered for publication, the article must be prepared according to the requirements on the Emerald website. Manuscripts must not exceed 40 double spaced pages (9,000 words), including the abstract, references, tables and/or figures. Manuscripts should use Times New Roman 12-point font, with 1 inch margins surrounding each page of text.
2.    Papers will be double-blind peer reviewed by reviewers with subject matter expertise. Reviewer recommendations and the Special Issue Editors’ decision will be final.
3.    All submissions must be original material not under consideration by any other journal or outlet. Authors are responsible for obtaining written permission to reproduce copyright material from other sources. Potential contributors can contact the Special Issue editors to discuss their ideas for a paper prior to submitting a formal proposal.

Key Dates

Manuscript central submission opens 30 April 2020
Submission deadline 29 May 2020
Final acceptances 15 May 2021
Estimated publication July 2021 Vol 35 (5)

Special Issue Guest Editors
Professor Raechel Johns, School of Business, University of Canberra, Australia
Dr Janet Davey, School of Marketing & International Business, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
Please direct any questions to the Guest Editors at [email protected]; [email protected]


Anderson, L., Ostrom, A.L., Corus, C., Fisk, R.P., Gallan, A.S., Giraldo, M., Mende, M., Mulder, M., Rayburn, S.W, Rosenbaum, M.S. and Shirahada, K. (2013), “Transformative Service Research: an agenda for the future”, Journal of Business Research, Vol. 66 No. 8, pp. 1203-1210.

Anderson, L., Spanjol, J., Jefferies, J.G., Ostrom, A.L., Nations Baker, C., Bone, S.A., Downey, H., Mende, M. and Rapp, J.M. (2016), “Responsibility and well-being: resource integration under responsibilization in expert services”, Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, Vol. 35 No. 2, pp. 262-279.

Baker, S., Gentry, J. and Rittenburg, T. (2005), “Building understanding of the domain of customer vulnerability”, Journal of Macromarketing, Vol. 25 No. 2, pp. 128-139.

Brennan, C., Sourdin, T., Williams, J., Burstyner, N. and Gill, C. (2017), “Consumer vulnerability and complaint handling: challenges, opportunities and dispute system design”, International journal of consumer studies, Vol. 41 No. 6, pp. 638-646.

Čaić, M., Odekerken-Schröder, G. and Mahr, D. (2018), “Service robots: value co-creation and co-destruction in elderly care networks”, Journal of Service Management, Vol. 29 No. 2, pp. 178-205.

Commuri, S. and Ekici, A. (2008), “An enlargement of the notion of consumer vulnerability”, Journal of Macromarketing, Vol. 28 No. 2, pp. 183-186.

Dellaert, B. G. (2019), “The consumer production journey: marketing to consumers as co-producers in the sharing economy”, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 1-17.

Dickson, T.J., Darcy, S., Johns, R. and Pentifallo, C. (2016), “Inclusive by design: transformative service and sport-event accessibility”, The Service Industries Journal, Vol. 36 No. 11-12, pp. 532-555.

Dietrich, T., Trischler, J., Schuster, L. and  Rundle-Thiele, S. (2017), "Co-designing services with vulnerable consumers", Journal of Service Theory and Practice, Vol. 27 No. 3, pp. 663-688.

Fisk, R.P., Dean, A.M., Alkire, L., Joubert, A., Previte, J., Robertson, N. and Rosenbaum, M.S. (2018), “Design for service inclusion: creating inclusive service systems by 2050”, Journal of Service Management, Vol. 29 No. 5, pp. 834-858.

Grönroos, C. (2008), “Service logic revisited: who creates value? And who co-creates?”, European Business Review, Vol. 20 No. 4, pp. 298-314.

Hogreve, J., Wünderlich, N.V., Chowdhury, I.N., Fleischer, H., Mousavi, S., Rötzmeier-Keuper, J. and Sousa, R. (2019), “Overcoming vulnerability: channel design strategies to alleviate vulnerability perceptions in customer journeys”, Journal of Business Research.

Huang, M.H. and Rust, R.T. (2018), “Artificial intelligence in service”, Journal of Service Research, Vol. 21 No. 2, pp.155-172.

Johns, R. and Davey, J. (2019), “Introducing the Transformative Service Mediator: value creation with vulnerable consumers”, Journal of Services Marketing, Vol. 33 No. 1, pp. 5-15.

Kozinets, R.V., Gershoff, A. and White, T. (2018), “Trust in doubt: consuming in a post-truth world,” Call for Papers Special Issue of the Journal of the Association of Consumer Research, Vol. 5 No. 2.

Kunz, W., Heinonen, K., Lemmink, J. and Lucas, B. (2018), “Future service technologies: business models, analytics, and experience,” Call for Special Issue Journal of Services Marketing,