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Challenges in researching consumer ethics: a methodological experiment

Alex J. Hiller (Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK)

Qualitative Market Research

ISSN: 1352-2752

Article publication date: 15 June 2010




Consumers' ethical shopping habits are of increasing interest, but there has been little discussion and development of the methods used to research them. The purpose of this paper is to reflect on the methodology employed for an empirical study of consumers' ethical concerns in buying clothes.


The paper adopts an interpretivist epistemology and interactive approach with the data collection and analysis rooted in grounded theory. More specifically, the study takes an ethnographic approach in the form of existential‐phenomenological interviews coupled with accompanied shopping.


The paper reflects on the use of observational methods in researching the role of ethics in consumer clothing choices and finds that they are invaluable in dealing with the challenges of defining ethics, social desirability bias and the problems involved with consumers translating their stated beliefs or intentions into action.

Research limitations/implications

As a pilot study, the research is only conducted with six respondents. Future research should seek to investigate ways to overcome the challenges outlined in this paper; particularly that of social desirability bias.

Practical implications

There is a need for academics and marketing researchers to adopt innovative observational research methods to investigate ethical consumer behaviour.


Provides a reflection on a unique, emergent approach to researching ethical consumer behaviour. The findings of the research will be of value to anyone researching consumer ethics or buyer behaviour in retail, grounded theorists or those interested in qualitative interactive research techniques.



Hiller, A.J. (2010), "Challenges in researching consumer ethics: a methodological experiment", Qualitative Market Research, Vol. 13 No. 3, pp. 236-252.



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Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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