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Segmenting consumers’ reasons for and against ethical consumption

Paul F. Burke (Discipline of Marketing, University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), Sydney, Australia)
Christine Eckert (Discipline of Marketing, University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), Sydney, Australia)
Stacey Davis (Discipline of Marketing, University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), Sydney, Australia)

European Journal of Marketing

ISSN: 0309-0566

Article publication date: 4 November 2014

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to quantify the relative importance of reasons used to explain consumers’ selection and rejection of ethical products, accounting for differences in ethical orientations across consumers.

Design/methodology/approach

Reviewing previous literature and drawing on in-depth interviews, a taxonomy of reasons for and against ethical purchasing is developed. An online survey incorporating best–worst scaling (BWS) determines which reasons feature more in shaping ethical consumerism. Cluster analysis and multinomial regression are used to identify and profile segments.

Findings

Positively orientated consumers (42 per cent of respondents) purchase ethical products more so because of reasons relating to impact, health, personal relevance, and quality. Negatively orientated consumers (34 per cent of respondents) reject ethical alternatives based on reasons relating to indifference, expense, confusion and scepticism. A third segment is ambivalent in their behaviour and reasoning; they perceive ethical purchasing to be effective and relevant, but are confused and sceptical under what conditions this can occur.

Research limitations/implications

Preferences were elicited using an online survey rather than using real market data. Though the task instructions and methods used attempted to minimise social-desirability bias, the experiment might still be subject to its effects.

Practical implications

Competitive positioning strategies can be better designed knowing which barriers to ethical purchasing are more relevant. The paper challenges the benefits in altruistic-based positioning and outlines shortcomings in communication about ethical products, including those relating to product labelling.

Social implications

Through their purchase behaviours across a number of categories, ethical consumers aim to minimise the harm and exploitation of humans, animals and the natural environment. This research provides insights into the potential reasons why the uptake of ethical products is not being achieved and how it can be addressed to make improvements in making this movement more mainstream.

Originality/value

This research examines an extensive list of reasons for and against ethical purchasing used by a general population of consumers. By forcing respondents to make trade-offs, this is the first study quantifying the relative importance of reasons utilised by consumers. It also highlights the value in using cluster analysis on best–worst scores to identify underlying segments.

Keywords

Citation

F. Burke, P., Eckert, C. and Davis, S. (2014), "Segmenting consumers’ reasons for and against ethical consumption", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 48 No. 11/12, pp. 2237-2261. https://doi.org/10.1108/EJM-06-2013-0294

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited