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Consumer Religion

Consumer Religion

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Does a Consumer’s Religion Really Matter in the Buyer–Seller Dyad? An EmpiricalStudy Examining the RelationshipBetween Consumer ReligiousCommitment, Christian Conservatismand the Ethical Judgment of a Seller’sControversial Business Decision
Krist R. Swimberghe Dheeraj SharmaLaura Willis Flurry
ABSTRACT. Religion is an important cultural andindividual difference variable. Yet, despite its obviousimportance in consumerslives, religion in the UnitedStates has been under-researched. This study addressesthat gap in the literature and investigates the influence of consumer religion in the buyer–seller dyad. Specifically,this study examines the influence of consumer religiouscommitment and a Christian consumer’s conservativebeliefs in the United States on store loyalty when retailersmake business decisions which are potentially reli-gious objectionable. This study uses structural equationmodeling and applies Anderson and Gerbing’s (PsycholBull 103(3):411–423,1988) two-step approach to exam-ine data obtained from a national sample of 531 con-sumers. The results from this study suggest that consumersevaluate seller’s actions and form ethical judgments. These judgments are a major explanatory variable in consumer store loyalty intentions.KEY WORDS: ethical judgment, religious commit-ment, Christian conservatism, social responsibility
Krist R. Swimberghe is currently Assistant Professor of Mar-keting, Dept of Management and Marketing, University of  Texas, Tyler, USA. His research interests include consumer religiosity and salesperson deviance. He has presented hisresearch in a number of marketing conferences, and has published in conference proceedings as well as refereed journalssuch as the 
Journal of Consumer Marketing,
the 
Journalof Personal Selling and Sales Management,
the 
Journalof Organizational Leadership and Business, Issues inInnovation,
etc.Dr. Dheeraj Sharma is Associate Professor of Marketing at Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad, India. His primary research interests are sales management, marketing channels, ethics, and international business. Dr. Sharma’s publications have appeared in
Advances in Marketing,European Journal of Marketing, Journal of BusinessEthics, Journal of Business Research, Journal of Con-sumer Marketing, Journal of Marketing Channels, Journal of Marketing Education, Journal of PersonalSelling and Sales Management, Journal of Product andBrand Management, Journal, Marketing Management Journal,
and numerous national and international conference  proceedings.Laura Willis Flurry is an Associate Professor of Marketing at Louisiana Tech University. Her research interests include children and teens as consumers and influencers in familydecision-making, consumer religiosity, and brand communi-ties. Dr. Flurry’s publications include articles in the 
Journalof Business Research, Journal of Macromarketing, Journal of Applied Business Research, Journal of Consumer Behavior, and Consumption, Markets andCulture,
as well as numerous conference proceedings.
 Journal of Business Ethics (2011) 102:581–598
Ó
Springer 2011DOI 10.1007/s10551-011-0829-6
 
Introduction
I have been a Ford fan for many years. I will no longer patronize a company which supports people, whothrough their actions and words, diminish theimportance and necessity of male/female marriage andrelationships which is contrary to the teaching of our Lord and nature which he created for us. (Paul)Even though I do not support gay marriage, I will stillbuy Fords. (Robert)Sad, very sad. Lost my business as well. In addition,Wal-Mart has adopted ‘‘Holiday’’ instead of ‘‘Christ-mas’’. Won’t get my business that is for sure
(Andrew)Wal-Mart is a store, church is where you go to prayand find faith
separate the two, it’s not that hard.(Douglas)
The opening statements of this paper are illustra-tions of reader comments in response to two recentlypublished articles on the Internet in which Ford af-firmedthatitwouldrunadsingaypublications(Kiley,2005) and after the National Gay and LesbianChamber of Commerce announced that it is joiningwith Wal-Mart to help promote diversity in its retailoperations (French,2006). These quotes echo theimportant influence that values and beliefs have onconsumers’ purchase intentions at stores. Specifically,consumers’ religious beliefs seem to resonate in their consumption choices. Consequently, Proctor andGamble is one of several companies which has cutback millions of dollars in advertising from televisionshows such as ‘‘Will and Grace’’ in reaction to pres-sures from some religious organizations (Han,2005).Additionally, large retailers, such as Wal-Mart andTarget, have received widespread criticism foavoiding the explicit use of religious references innational advertising and promotional campaignsduring the Christmas holidays (French,2006).Religion continues to play a prominent role inthe formation of knowledge, belief, and value sys-tems and the general social fabric in the UnitedStates, a nation founded by individuals seeking ref-uge from religious persecution. In fact, in a 2002study conducted by The Pew Research Center, theauthors of the study stated that ‘‘among wealthynations, the United States stands alone in its embraceof religion’(Pew Research Center,2002, p. 1).According to the same study, 6 of 10 people (59%)in the United States say that religion plays a veryimportant role in their lives. This is roughly twicethe percentage of self-avowed religious people inCanada (30%), and an even higher proportion whencompared with Japan (13%) and countries in Wes-tern Europe (U.K. 33%, Italy 27%, Germany 21%,France 11%). Furthermore, when asked about their religious affiliation, 82% of respondents in the UnitedStates indicated they were Christian.In addition, conservative Christian churches areamong the fastest-growing church type in America,some of which grew more than 20% over a 10-year period beginning in 1990 (Goodstein,2002). Leadersof these conservative Christian churches increasinglyexpress their views about political and social issuesfrom the pulpit in an attempt to mobilize theimembership to participate in these debates as toinfluence their outcome. A majority of those whoattend religious services in the United States reportthat their clergy not only speak out on hunger andpoverty (92%), but that they frequently address theissues of abortion (59%), the war in Iraq (53%), andlaws regarding sexuality and homosexuality (52%)(Pew Research Center,2006). Hence, a retailer thatdevelops a specific marketing mix which targets thegay and lesbian segment of the market provides areasonable context wherein consumer religiousnesscould influence his/her response to the firm in themarketplace, particularly in the United States. It isreasonable to expect that such context may helpprovide answers to the following research questions.Will an increase in American consumer religiouscommitment and conservatism spill over in themarketplace and manifest itself through a change inshopping behavior? More specifically, will Americanconsumers change their shopping behavior if theyperceive their religious beliefs to be violated by acompany’s actions? Will consumers change wherethey shop? Will they attempt to influence others toshop elsewhere? Will they simply do nothing? Thesequestions seem to be particularly appropriate intoday’s social and political climate.Despite the widespread media attention focusedon the influence of religious beliefs on consumer choices and in moving beyond the generallyobservable fact that religion is important in con-sumerslives, the domain becomes murkier. As582
Krist R. Swimberghe et al.
 
Delener (1994, p. 36) notes, ‘‘although religion hasbeen a significant force in the lives of many indi-viduals, its role in consumer choice can be charac-terized as unclear or fuzzy.’’ Empirical research inthis domain remains scant. This lack of research maybe attributed to the sensitive nature of the subject(Bailey and Sood,1993; Hirschman,1983), the problem of measurement (Wilkes et al.,1986),methodological difficulties in obtaining valid andreliable data (Bailey and Sood,1993; Roof,1980; Sood and Nasu,1995), and the lack of theory inrelating religion to buyer behavior (McDaniel andBurnett,1990; Wilkes et al.,1986).
Literature
Religion and consumer ethics
Scholars have investigated the role of religion inconsumer ethics. Clark and Dawson (1996) con-ceptualized religiousness as a motivation for ethicalaction and discovered significant individual differ-ences in ethical judgments of business situationswith ethical content among respondents categorizedby personal religious motivation. In later studies,researchers found that consumer alienation andspirituality may be related to ethical judgments andthey further investigated the role that religion plays indetermining consumer attitudes and beliefs regardingvarious questionable consumer practices (Vitell andPaolillo,2003). Results showed that consumer reli-gious commitment was a significant determinant of both idealism and relativism. Since idealism and rel-ativism determine consumer ethical beliefs, religiouscommitment was a significant indirect determinate of consumer ethical beliefs. These findings were con-firmed in a series of three studies performed by Vitellet al. (2005,2006,2007) in which two dimensions of  religiousness – intrinsic and extrinsic religiousness – were used. According to Allport and Ross (1967),intrinsically motivated religious people are genuinelycommitted to their faith, while extrinsically moti-vated religious people are more self-serving. Theystated that ‘‘the extrinsically motivated person useshis religion, whereas the intrinsically-motivated liveshis religion’’ (Allport and Ross,1967, p. 434).Overall intrinsic religiousness appeared to explainconsumer ethical beliefs as expected with morereligiously oriented individuals being more likely toview these questionable consumer behaviors aswrong. Extrinsic religiousness did not significantlyexplain any of the dimensions of the consumer ethicsscale, thus extrinsic religiousness does not appear tobe a factor in determining one’s attitudes towardquestionable consumer practices. However, someresearchers recently raised concern on the directusefulness of Allport and Ross’s (1967) scale inmarketing research. Singhapakdi et al. (2000), foexample, emphasized that the basic idea of the scale isto differentiate those who view their practice of religion as a goal in itself (intrinsic orientation) fromthose who view it instrumentally (extrinsic orienta-tion). Allport and Ross’s scale essentially measures anindividual’s motivation/orientation for being reli-giously active and as such does not measure the de-gree or intensity of religious commitment.Furthermore, the intrinsic items on the scale havealso been shown to lack internal consistency and tobe of questionable value for other than Christianreligions (Genia,1993).
The measurement of religiousness in marketing 
According to the theory of religious values, religionmay or may not directly impose specific obligationsbut usually sets certain values, beliefs, and practicerequirements (Worthington et al.,2003). Some earlystudies show that religious affiliation can influenceconsumption patterns and behavior (Hirschman,1981,1982,1983). In the first study, Hirschman (1981) found Jews in New York to be more inno-vative than non-Jews and to be potentially less storeand brand loyal. In the second study (Hirschman,1982), it was found that religious affiliation alsoaffected the criteria used to make buying decisions.Finally, Hirschman (1983) concluded that few other variables exhibited the range and depth of explana-tory power offered by religious affiliation. However,McDaniel and Burnett (1990) failed to find anysignificant results in using religious affiliation as apredictor of retail store evaluative criteria.To explain such mixed results and better under-stand the role of religion, researchers have identifiedtwo components to religiousness namely, religiousaffiliation (i.e., denomination such as Southern Bap-tist) and religious commitment (Wilkes et al.,1986;583
Does a Consumer’s Religion Really Matter in the Buyer–Seller Dyad?

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