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Investigating consumer ethics: a segmentation study

Denni Arli (Griffith University, Queensland, Australia)

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 13 November 2017




The plague of unethical practices in global businesses has sparked much research on the role of ethics in today’s business and society. One of the most effective tools to understand consumers’ motivation and behaviour is segmentation. Hence, the purpose of this study is segment ethical consumers based on consumer-ethics variables (i.e. actively benefiting, passively benefiting, questionable behaviour, no-harm, recycling and doing good).


Using a sample from the general population in Australia (N = 517), a TwoStep cluster analysis was conducted using baseline consumer ethics psychographic measures. The analysis resulted in three distinct segments: “The Good Samaritans”, “The Mainstream Ethical Consumers” and “The Unethical Consumers”.


The results clearly reveal that segments do exist among consumers in regards to their ethical beliefs. The study shows that a large percentage of consumers are ethical, there is also a segment consisting of unethical consumers.

Research limitations/implications

The study shows that only a small percentage of consumers are highly ethical (i.e. The Good Samaritans). This shows an opportunity for educators and public policy makers to push the “Mainstream Ethical Consumers” to become the “Good Samaritans”. The Good Samaritans are consumers who will go above and beyond to be ethical and more likely to do good toward the society.

Practical implications

Unethical consumers comprise a unique segment where researchers, educators and public policy makers need to focus on when addressing unethical consumer behaviour in the society.


This is one of the first few studies to segment consumers based on the consumer ethics scales. By understanding different segments within consumers, the results of this study will assist researchers, managers and public policy makers address unethical behaviour in society.



Arli, D. (2017), "Investigating consumer ethics: a segmentation study", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 34 No. 7, pp. 636-645.



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