How and Why Do They Use Dietary Supplements? Unveiling Dietary Supplements Consumption in Social Commerce in China

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Wang, Yun




Dietary supplements (DS) are used by consumers all over the world to promote health. However, in spite of the fact that clinical studies show some DS are ineffective in fulfilling their functional purposes, consumers are committed to the purchase and use of these DS. This apparent paradox leads us to seek answers for the following two research questions: "What are the benefits achieved by committed DS users?" and "How do they practice in order to achieve those benefits?" By answering these two research questions, this study aims to understand and interpret the particular horizons of meaning associated with a specific consumption object, and the variety of ways in which people consume. DS consumption in social commerce in China provides the research context and facilitates the examination of the benefits achieved by DS consumers and their practices for achieving those benefits. Active interviewing was employed to obtain a rich set of data from twenty-two mass elite females who are committed to the consumption of DS in the context of social commerce in China. Bourdieu's and Giddens's sociological theories of structure-agency dialectic provide the theoretical lens for this research. A grounded theory analysis based on the constructivist view revealed that individuals' DS consumption was influenced by the structure-agency dialectic, in which four different strategies were developed: self-learning, disciplined use, consumerism, and socializing. While practicing the four strategies, individuals selectively act upon the choices existing in the structure to actively engage in health promotion and to relieve the tensions caused by the structure-agency interplay. As a result, individuals achieve not only functional benefits from DS consumption but also various types of benefits associated with identity expression and status distinction. In this process, multiple layers of meanings of DS consumption are socially constructed. Importantly, this research provides implications for the DS consumption literature, health promotion literature, and consumer behavior literature. Recommendations for health product marketers and health promotion policymakers are suggested. Opportunities for future research are also proposed and discussed.






Carleton University

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