Date of Award


Document Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Marketing and International Business

First Advisor

Dr Margaret Linehan

Second Advisor

Dr Irene Sheridan


Relationship marketing has been dominant in marketing literature since the 1990s. Despite this, however, the relationship marketing concept has not yet acquired uncontested meaning and application, and consequently its core philosophy remains ambiguous. In particular, there is a lack of relationship theory building and testing in mass consumer markets. It is within this context that this thesis is positioned. Adopting the relationship marketing and social psychology literatures as a framework, this study explores relationship marketing in Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) markets from the consumers' perspective. Taking an interpretivist inductive approach, the study focuses on the applicability of relationship marketing to FMCG markets, the nature of exchange in these markets, and the future development of the relationship marketing concept.

Through a qualitative methodology, this research conclusively determines that relationships, as defined through the lens of social psychology do not exist in FMCG markets, but can only exist where a true interpersonal relationship is present. Extrapolating from this it can be stated that the contributions of this research are two-fold. The first contribution is to the relationship marketing literature. This study affirms that the core philosophy of relationship marketing should be the development of an interactive personal relationship between sellers and buyers. In this way, the boundaries of relationship marketing are tightened around the development of interpersonal relationships. Contrary, therefore, to those who argue that relationship marketing is a concept with universal application, this research has found that it has applicability in contexts only where a relationship as defined in this research can exist. Relationship marketing, therefore, is a concept suited to certain contexts, and is accordingly proposed as a specific approach to marketing, situated within the broader marketing discipline.

The second contribution is to theories relevant to FMCG markets. A synthesis of the empirical findings identified that four dominant exchange situations exist in FMCG markets. Arising from these situations it can be concluded that consumers do not have relationships with brands, but rather they bond with them. Further to this, it can be concluded, that where consumers engage with companies, they do not have relationships with them, but rather they interact with them. In line with the first contribution as outlined in the preceding paragraph, this research recommends moving relationship marketing out of the domain of mass consumer markets. In addition, it recommends replacing it with more appropriate strategies designed to encourage loyalty and/or interaction, consistent with the behaviour that consumers demonstrate in these markets; behaviour that is informed by the exchange situations developed through this research. In this way, the development of marketing strategies suited to the reasons for loyalty and to the bonds that support loyalty should replace relationship based strategies.

Taken together, these research contributions provide new and significant insights into both the relationship marketing and the wider marketing discipline. Through the distinct conceptual framework and the under-researched consumer perspective, this study broadens understanding of the relationship marketing phenomenon. The research, therefore, makes an important contribution to the relationship marketing debate, indicating parameters and guidelines for the future development of both relationship marketing theory and practice.

Access Level


Included in

Marketing Commons