Exchanges in marketing systems: The case of subsistence consumer-merchants in Chennai, India

Madhu Viswanathan, José Antonio Rosa, Julie A. Ruth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A qualitative study of subsistence consumer-merchants (SCMs) in Chennai, India, reveals that they sustain relationships in three interdependent relationship domains: vendor, customer, and family. Relying on long interview data, the authors interpret the subsystems as closed-loop and self-sustaining relationships. Subsystems are managed by SCMs through buying and selling activities alongside the receiving and granting of credit, and these activities engender three facets of commitment: continuance, affective, and normative. Different facets of commitment underlie the relationships in the three subsystems. Through different role-based activities, SCMs enhance or diminish commitment levels to keep all three types of relationships viable while moving their scarce time, energy, and financial resources into the domain with the greatest need. Activities and the management of commitment are performed within 24-hour business cycles, with negligible resources, and in highly unstable environments, providing valuable theoretical insights and managerial implications that guide recommendations for firms wanting to serve subsistence markets successfully.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Marketing
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2010


  • Base of the pyramid
  • Commitment
  • Exchange
  • Relationship marketing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Marketing


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