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Towards a Holistic Approach of the Attitude Behaviour Gap in Ethical Consumer Behaviours: Empirical Evidence from Spain
Eleni Papaoikonomou & Gerard Ryan & Matias Ginieis
Published online: 9 November 2010 # International Atlantic Economic Society 2010
Abstract This paper explores alternative understandings of the attitude behavior gap, a well documented phenomenon, both in ethical consumer behavior and social research in general. A multi-method, qualitative approach is adopted, aiming at greater internal validity of data. The findings broaden current knowledge on the attitude behavior gap, showing how ethically minded consumers rationalize their inconsistent behavior. The last section of the paper integrates existing knowledge on the attitude behavior gap with the empirical findings of the present study into a conceptual model. Relevant implications for marketers are also discussed. Keywords Attitude behavior gap . Consumer behavior . Ethics JEL M00 . Z13 Introduction Several behavioral models in social psychology, such as the Theory of Planned Behavior (Ajzen 1991), are based on the premise that individuals behave the way they intend to behave. Sheeran’s (2002) literature review reveals that attitudes have been used to predict a wide range of behaviors, from weight loss to illicit drug use. The use of attitudes has also been commonplace in the context of ethical consumer behaviors such as Fair Trade shopping (Shaw and Shiu 2003). Nevertheless, there is skepticism as to whether attitudes can be considered a valid predictor of an
E. Papaoikonomou (*) G. Ryan M. Ginieis
Spain e-mail: eleni. Ginieis e-mail: matias.Universitat Rovira and Virgili.email@example.com@urv.cat . Ryan e-mail: gerard.ginieis@urv. 43204 Reus.cat G.cat M. Avinguda Universitat 1.
Attitude Behavior Gap in the Ethical Consumer Context In recent times. adding the constructs of ethical obligation and self identity to the original conceptual model as explanatory measures of ethical consumer behavior (Shaw and Shiu 2003. 2007). In this sense. In addition. This framework is based on the assumption that behavioral intentions are defined by an individual’s attitudes. as the assumption that attitudes determine behavior cannot be taken for granted. Cowe and Williams 2000. and an examination of ethical consumer behavior in the context of ethical consumer communities. that have adopted Fair Trade practices. the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) (Ajzen 1991) is one of the more testable frameworks that has been applied in ethical consumer behavior (Chatzidakis et al. do not pollute the environment.e.g. this research aims to contribute empirically to filling the attitude behavior gap. Auger et al. Mohr et al. Therefore. The emergence of the attitude behavior gap has been well documented in the ethical consumer literature with an emphasis on trying to explain why this gap exists (Boulstridge and Carrigan 2000. much research has been focused on modelling ethical consumer behavior based on existing attitude-behavior models (Shaw and Shiu 2003. 2007). The first section reviews the extant literature on the attitude behaviour gap in ethical consumer decision making. and the final section presents a conceptual model of the emergence of the attitude behavior gap and examines the implications for marketers. Chatzidakis et al. Chatzidakis et al. Papaoikonomou et al.). While a number of studies (e. 2007). etc. individual’s behavior. these studies explain the existence of word/deed inconsistencies... prioritize their employees welfare. The second section presents the research methodology adopted in this study. Creyer and Ross 1997. but just a niche of 3% actually buys them. where 30% of the consumers claim to buy ethical products. 2007). Indeed. The third section outlines the main findings. Sheeran 2002). Cowe and Williams (2000) refer to this phenomenon as the 30:3 syndrome.e. For . This phenomenon has been referred to as the attitude behavior gap (Boulstridge and Carrigan 2000. Carrigan and Attalla 2001. to answer this question would provide a significant contribution to existing behavioral models. Carrigan and Attalla 2001). further research on why ethical attitudes do not always translate into ethical behaviors is of vital interest to both academics and practitioners. By adopting a multi-method qualitative approach to the study of the attitude behavior gap.. and perceived behavioral barriers of the respective behavior. 2001. the attitude behavior gap has important implications for the marketers of ethical products. subjective norms. i. as attitudes are often not translated into action (Sheeran 2002). the difference between what one says and what one actually does. To an extent. the market share for these products is much more limited than what the studies suggest (Boulstridge and Carrigan 2000. Chatzidakis et al.78 E. Previous research has applied the TPB in the context of Fair Trade shopping. 2004. This paper is divided into four sections. Fernandez-Kranz and Merino-Castello 2005) suggest that consumers will prefer to buy products from socially responsible firms (i. Carrigan and Attalla 2001.
Low and Davenport 2007). they claim to be overwhelmed when too much information is available (Shaw and Clarke 1999) and tend to question the credibility of the information sources (Uusitalo and Oksanen 2004). For instance. Indeed. the nature of the information and how this affects the purchase decision should be considered. (2007). consumers tend to believe more easily that companies are unethical rather than ethical (Folkes and Kamins 1999). in the modern production system the significant distance between the producer and the final consumer means that “a fully informed consumer is unattainable” (Newholm and Shaw 2007: 258). in general. Body Shop) and unethical firms (e. and their motivations vary. and they tend to develop stereotypical images of ethical (e. in spite of their good corporate record. a need previously highlighted by Chatzidakis et al. nor are they aware of the real motives behind company’s seemingly ethical actions (Folkes and Kamins 1999. A number of studies find that. However. consumers claim that price. until the actual moment of purchase. Cherrier 2007. are . 2000). Hence. Nike) (Uusitalo and Oksanen 2004). a review of the literature suggests that ethical consumer behavior is more complex and heterogeneous than may at first be apparent (Shaw and Clarke 1999. Uusitalo and Oksanen 2004). Newholm and Shaw 2007. a number of studies found that consumers would like better product labelling (Sen and Bhattacharya 2001. consumers behave in different ways under different circumstances. Indeed. Factors that Intervene in Ethical Decision Making The Issue of Information On the one hand. So. In other words. Indeed.Attitude Behavior Gap 79 instance. especially in the case of certain multinationals that. a whole variety of factors may intervene in the purchase process. many consumers consider ethical activities as nothing more than a marketing ploy (FernandezKranz and Merino-Castello 2005).g. On the other hand. They complain that information is incomplete and insufficient on business practices. For instance. availability. Skepticism Concerning Companies’ Motives This factor is related to the aforementioned issue of information. Carrigan and Attalla 2001). consumers mention that one of the main obstacles when buying ethical products is the lack of information about these products (Dragon International 1992).g.. the more extreme the negative information. and convenience are significant barriers to their intention to behave ethically (Shaw and Clarke 1999. from the moment the consumer receives the information about an ethical or unethical product. Carrigan and Attalla 2001). in the impression formation literature (Ahluwalia et al. This leads to skepticism and cynicism.. The following section identifies moderating factors in the ethical consumer decision making process that have been discussed in the literature. researchers highlight the diagnosticity effect of negative information. Carrigan and Attalla 2001. As well as the availability of information. consumers do not know for sure whether companies are actually ethical or not. the more diagnostic it is and the more impact it has on behavior.
g. (2000) refer to this as the information processing bias. However. considered unethical to some degree and more interested in looking to boost profits (Carrigan and Attalla 2001. animal testing) and the environment (e. who used the more sophisticated conjoint analysis. Customer’s Support of Ethical Practice and the Elativity of Ethics According to the postmodern view of ethics “what seems good or ethical for one [consumer] may not be so for another” Cherrier (2007: 322). quality. So. Low and Davenport (2007: 340) provide an interesting segmentation of ethical consumers as ‘animated’. saying that loyal consumers tend to believe positive information about their favorite brand and ignore the negative information. 2000. what Uusitalo and Oksanen (2004:220) call the “practice of selective ethics. conclude that the appreciation of the ethical attribute was not sufficient for consumers to pay a price premium. De Pelsmacker et al. ‘whole earth consumers’ will avoid products when the producing company disrespects animals (e. The evidence on product quality as a trade-off attribute is quite clear. It can lead to selective processing of the information about the company and the product. The evidence on the importance of price in ethical consumer decisions is inconclusive. The results indicate that a high level of brand loyalty can lower the threshold of what is considered as fair and ethical. it is important to consider what ethical issues each individual consumer supports and whether there is congruence between the morality/immorality of a company and the self perception of a consumer (Sen and Bhattacharya 2001). Shaw et al. (2005) examine the effect that sweatshop practices have on committed consumers of a specific company. Ingram et al. For instance. even in cases of unethical corporate behavior (Ahluwalia et al. 2005) than operating in an ethical manner. Ahluwalia et al.g.” Traditional Purchasing Criteria Come First The complexity of ethical consumer behavior increases when we take into account that the purchasing decision involves the evaluation of a bunch of different attributes. Creyer and Ross (1997) found that the respondents would pay a price premium for an ethical product. Hence. ‘triple bottom line’ and ‘whole earth’ consumers according to the ethical issues (animal welfare. consumers might compromise on ethics.. no returnable packaging). Papaoikonomou et al. environmental welfare. when the decision involves a trade-off between ethics and traditional purchasing criteria (price. so that these same practices are not seen as so bad. Consumers do not accept ethical company behavior as a substitute for product quality (Folkes . and availability). Ingram et al. (2005).80 E.. Brand Loyalty as a Moderating Factor A number of studies suggest that brand loyalty to a product can be the overriding factor in the final purchasing decision. Mohr and Webb (2005) claim that information on CSR can influence purchase intentions more strongly than price. Other consumers might concentrate on single issues like anti-child labor. For instance. societal welfare) that they set as their bottom line. ‘clean’. 2005).
The problems related to the survey method are the emergence of the social bias and the limited ability of numerical and rating scales to express consumer opinions. This approach has the advantage of giving depth and richness of data. which. Research Methodology There is some disagreement as to the most suitable methodological approaches when studying ethical consumer behavior. Consequences of Consumer Action An issue that has been frequently raised as inhibiting ethical consumer behavior is the societal impact that it is perceived to have. Auger et al.Attitude Behavior Gap 81 and Kamins 1999. On the availability factor. In total. Newholm 2005. have been employed in nearly all studies of consumers’ willingness to engage in ethical behavior. purposive sampling was preferred. 2004) in that ethical consumers feel that their efforts make little real effect. Chatzidakis et al. although sweatshops are frowned upon in western countries. Low effectiveness of consumer actions is commonly mentioned in the ethical consumer literature (Carrigan and Attalla 2001. 2007). This study adopts a multi-method. Carrigan et al. According to Folkes and Kamins (1999). 2005). Like previous research on the ethical consumer (Shaw and Clarke 1999. they are more acceptable in Asian countries because workers would not have any kind of income otherwise. the consequences of action are considered as relative according to the context they impact. while Sen and Bhattacharya (2001) claim that a good social profile cannot compensate for inferior quality. other research has raised availability as an impeding factor for ethical consumerism. Some authors are critical of the use of specific research methods when examining ethical consumer behavior. Auger et al. since it could provide richer insights for the phenomenon under study. located in the Spanish region of Catalonia. (2006) suggest that. Creyer and Ross (1997) and Bhate (2001) found that consumers claimed that they would change their retail store if there were no ethical alternatives. Sen and Bhattacharya 2001). Mohr et al. 4 focus groups with 32 participants were conducted resulting in approximately 7 h of recording and 96 pages of transcribed text. Moreover. as they mention. In this study the units of observation are members of ethical consumer communities. However. virtuous behavior is not a substitute for product quality. resulting in approximately 9 h of recording and 246 . whereas the combination of different techniques triangulates data in order to increase the internal validity of the study. and documentary analysis. when consumers wish to buy ethical alternatives. in-depth interviews. 2001. (2004) heavily criticize the traditional survey methods. as it is argued that consumers will give misleading answers and hide their true opinions on ethical purchase behavior (Newholm and Shaw 2007). (2004) and Devinney et al. traditional and online observation. qualitative approach based on four methods of data collection: focus groups. For example. but they don’t find the alternatives (De Pelsmacker et al. Nine in-depth interviews were also carried out.
including various informal unrecorded interviews. explaining why an ethically minded consumer might not behave according to his or her ethical concerns.. online observation took place by subscribing to the mailing lists of two ethical communities. The lack of offers becomes an inhibiting factor that does not allow them to buy according to their principles. Silvia (Interview VII): “When we go out. with a total of 178 mails and 85 mails. the constructs of this category would constitute the control beliefs that impede participants from consuming ethically in certain situations. All these constructs are further explained in detail. N-Vivo software facilitated the data analysis process. specific behavior (e. For each theme. representative quotations from the qualitative data are included. To minimize the possibility of error and to increase data visibility. such as the UK (Carrigan and Attalla 2001) or Finland (Uusitalo and Oksanen 2004) also point to a lack of ethical . Also. Traditional observation lasted 24 months with visits to ethical consumer communities.. Therefore. Lack of Availability of Ethical Alternatives Most participants find that there is a very limited range of ethical alternatives.82 E.g. 300 pages of a magazine written and published by the members of the communities were also analyzed. respectively. In other words. consumers were not asked about future. how can you be responsible in that case?” Previous research in other cultural contexts. Instead. Finally. they end up buying one of the alternatives that the market offers. we often go to a restaurant! But you cannot find ecological beer! Or in a bar. The concepts are categorized under two main groupings according to what factors consumers attribute the blame for their reported attitude behavior gaps. In line with Newholm (2005).. this study aimed to reverse the attitude-behavior gap and place emphasis not on the attitudes. pages of transcribed text. These categories are labelled as perceived external and internal limitations. So. Do you intend to purchase Fair Trade coffee?). Perceived External Limitations This category includes all those factors that participants perceive as obstacles that prevent them from behaving in their desired ways. but on the actual behaviors of ethical consumers. Papaoikonomou et al. Findings This section presents the main findings of this study. The objective was to get a more holistic view of the attitude behavior gap in the ethical consumer context with real life examples. In the TPB. the focus was on identifying past situations where the participants did not act accordingly to their ethical attitudes and on understanding why this happened. This took place over 26 months for the first group and 12 months for the second group.
Spain is perceived as one of the low gear ethical markets when compared to Northern European countries or the U. the legitimacy of the existing information. as Newholm (2005) also points out. They claim to be surprised by the variety of ethical products when traveling to other countries such as Germany or the U. Some participants find it complicated to answer questions such as how the product was fabricated and where it come from? They feel unable to make an informed and responsible decision either because there is no easy access to information on how products are made or because the existing ethical companies’ listings and rankings are incomplete.. and the ethical market is so dynamic and changing that this evidence may now be considered outdated. more actualized data are necessary. You get online and find information. Therefore. Therefore. This argument was previously raised by Berry and Mc Eachern (2005). the participants’ desire to make an informed and conscious consumer decision requires constant search and information updates. Others feel they don’t have enough information to decide. Rebecca (Interview V): “Also. in both cases the problem is located in that the existing information comes from nonreliable sources. for more proper comparisons. the UK market for ethical products grew by 15% in 2008 alone (Ethical Consumerism Report 2008). Nevertheless. For most participants. the marketplace. Nevertheless. whereas some intend to buy certain products abroad since they cannot find them in the local market. I’ll try it.” Furthermore. For example. the Spanish ethical market is still developing when compared to Northern European countries. Given that “businesses change hands and products change specifications” (p.. but one way or another you have to compromise. For the participants.. So you have to make sure that the information you find is true and decide whether you can use it as a criterion to make decisions!” . tell me… Tell me and I’ll join. if you have information. Lack of Transparency of Information and Concerns about its Legitimacy Another important obstacle to purchase ethically is the difficulty of obtaining information about the production process of the products. you hear so many things but there is nobody really knows which companies are ethical and which are unethical. So the main concern is whether the information is credible or just urban myths. besides the lack of information. available empirical evidence from other contexts mostly dates from the beginning of the decade. it seems that the biggest problem is not the lack of information. as a more important issue.Attitude Behavior Gap 83 alternatives. but the quality and credibility of the existing information.. is dynamic and constantly changing. Judith (Interview VIII): “It is purely a matter of how the market works.S. and the findings of this study provide the empirical ground to support it. I don’t know! If you know something. they raise. Nevertheless. Because of the price or because you don’t know. There is a big market and you intend to be ethical.. 108). Some consumers experience it as an overload of information which makes them unsure of what is really true.S.
I felt like to eat them because my friends were eating them and they were so happy…” .. Nevertheless. so they are ethically concerned. it wouldn’t work out anyway because you can only find it in Barcelona and they don’t give you a debit card and they only provide limited services.84 E. even if I knew that they didn’t cover my basic ecologic quality criteria. I only know one shop in Gracia with fair trade clothes. There is not a lot of information and there are not a lot of products. Limited Budget and High Prices The high prices of the ethical alternatives in the market have been raised as an issue in previous studies (e.g. Ferran (Magazine Winter 2003): “…sometimes from laziness or tiredness I was eating things that. Previous research has found that consumers do not accept ethical company behavior as a substitute for product quality (Folkes and Kamins 1999). but I don’t like them! Maybe I bought a top once…And a bank account with Triodos. They consider that ethical alternatives tend to be expensive because they represent a marginalized sector.. whereas in this study they are real life examples from participants’ experiences.hmm. Most participants confirm this by arguing that some of the ethical products and services are too expensive for them. But they are not extremists leading alternative lifestyles and living in isolated communities like the members of the New Consumption Communities of Bekin et al. existing empirical evidence is based on experiments with fictitious stimuli. Uusitalo and Oksanen 2004). which is currently the ethical bank with the most services. They are leading mainstream lives and do not always interact with people that share their principles.” Keeping Up with Social Obligations The participants of this study have chosen to participate in ethical consumer groups.. such as functionality or style and design. So at the moment I am not using it. Joan (Focus Group IV): “For instance there was an exhibition show in Manresa and there were all type of products. And even if you want to buy them they are expensive. they do not meet other criteria that are also seen as important. so there are few offers that result in high prices. from solar panels to things for the house.. he/she has to compromise with the existing ethical choices. Papaoikonomou et al. well.. This makes them compromise when they sometimes have to comply with their social obligations. Judith (Interview VI): (about how she buys clothes) “Because fair trade clothes are so few and they are. beds. still very expensive!” Inefficient Ethical Alternatives Another problem mentioned by some of the participants is their dissatisfaction with the existing ethical alternatives.There is no variety.so. (2007).. The main concern is that there is such limited offer that if a consumer wants to buy ethically.It is expensive. While these choices satisfy the ethical requirements of the consumers.. because they are still a few of them!. and they have a limited budget to spend. But this sector is still in the margin. hmm.
either because their children refuse to consume ethical products. They prefer the easiest and more conventional option.” Compromise in Everyday Life In various cases. But I almost did!” The concept of pester power emerged from the data. Whatever! It didn’t matter! Something that costs one euro! A blackmail! Well. Such as CDs.hmm. some of the participants might not prefer it because it requires more time and energy to carry out. Marti (Focus Group I): “There are many products that I don’t even think about.Attitude Behavior Gap 85 Pester Power Pester power is defined as the influence that children exercise on their parents’ purchase behavior by nagging and demanding specific products (Gunter and Furnham 1999). Indeed. they assume their inconsistencies as an unchangeable reality. Perceived Individual Limitations In other cases. I will just put batteries! All the time batteries! Because it is the easiest thing for me to do. Pester power has been discussed previously in general consumer research and ethical consumer research (Carey et al. Antonia (Focus Group III): “And about cutting down on consumption! Uf! With a teenager daughter and a small son. this throws us against! Now we were coming over here with my son and he wanted me to buy him something from the One euro shop. 2008). given that a constant effort to be ethical might turn them paranoid. This shows that it is important to keep in mind that an important part of daily consumer decisions are not taken individually. I didn’t fall. Therefore. since nowadays consumption is much of our life. consumer decisions take up much of an individual’s time. Tony B (Focus Group III): “I don’t have time to think about certain things.. participants simply accept their individual responsibility and discuss their inconsistencies.. Some of the consumers refer to it as a reason of their inconsistencies. the consumers accept their individual limitations and the fact that they simply cannot be ethical all the time with all type of purchases. Instead they are the result of negotiations among all the members of a household. Opting for the Easy Choice Besides their strong ethical orientation and awareness of existing alternatives. It has never occured me to think: Who has made it?” . or because they insist and persuade their parents to buy unethical products. Or to go and look for an energy-efficient alarm clock.. Differences in the attitudes and desires among the family members can lead to inconsistencies in the purchase behavior of the ethically minded member.
9. since attitudes Receiving Information Processing information and forming attitudes Taking action Stimulus Knowledge Attitudes Behavio r Uusitalo & Oksanen. 2001. Nevertheless. Lack of available information (Dragon. inconsistencies take place. Ahluwalia et al. Low & Davenport. 2005. Skepticism about corporate motives when companies behave ethically (Mohr & Webb. whether consumers take ethical action largely depends on the stage in this development.” Previous research (Mohr et al. 2007) 22. Papaoikonomou et al. 1999. Full and symmetric information is impossible (Shaw & Newholm. Therefore. 1999.86 E. It is argued that while consumers may be interested in ethical issues. they claim that such change cannot be immediate. Then. Freestone and McGoldrick (2008) claim that individuals are gradually developing “more socially conscientious mindsets” (p. 9. no? First. Consequences of consumer action: 1) Low Perceive . Uusitalo and Oksanen. 2001. Discussion and Implications Existing behavioral models have been traditionally based on the premise that attitudes predict behavior. 2004). 2007). Carrigan et al. this has generated discussion.. Smaller steps are taken towards a greater consciousness. In the meanwhile. 461). For some of the interviewees. IV. Carrigan & Attalla. 35. but in definable stages. Nevertheless. Carrigan & Attalla. Freestone and McGoldrick 2008) also accepts that ethical consumers usually undergo a slow change process. Jordi (Focus Group III): “I suppose it is about evolving slowly.. Shaw et al. 2001. Fernandez– Kranz & MerinoCastello. they do not change their behavior at once. Sen & Bhattacharya. previous research has not examined this in relation to the attitude behavior gap emergence. Relativity of ethics (Sen & Bhattacharya . 1998. the starting point of their change was becoming members in the ethical consumer group. you slowly start to think about things that they seem more real to you…You get in this process slowly. 2001. 61. Negative information about corporate behavior has more impact than positive information (Folkes & Kamins. 1992. Change Takes Time One of the most frequently emerging concepts is that becoming an ethical consumer is a slow process that takes time. Folkes & Kamins. 2004. 2007. 2004. Uusitalo & Oksanen. 2001.. 35. 2005. Cherrier. 1999) IV. Nevertheless. 2004) Confusion from too much information Lack of the transparency of information and concerns about the legitimacy of existing information (Shaw & Clarke. they started realizing the alternative options and looked for ways to adopt them as habits. 2000) III.
1999. 1997. 2) 3) Inefficient ethical alternatives. Carrigan et al. Mohr &Webb. External limitations for enacting ethical behavior 1) Limited offer on ethical & 2001. Uusitalo Oksanen. 2001. 2004). Strong. 2004). 2001. Devinney et al. 2) Context Dependent Consequences (Auger et al. 2005) I. 1 The attitude behavior gap in ethical consumer decision making . availability of products* (Creyer & Ross.d Effectiveness 2004) (Carrigan & Attalla. 2001. & lack of time. 3) Unavoidable compromise in everyday life . Brand loyalty may lead to selective processing of information for favorite company (Ahluwalia et al. Carrigan & Attalla. 2000. putting first traditional purchasing criteria such as price... 2001. 2006) IV.. Mohr & Webb. 2001. Ingram et al. 2004. Folkes & Kamins. alternatives* (Carrigan Attalla. Slow proces s of change to adopt ethical consu mer habits. quality. 1997. 2001. 4) II. De Pelsmacker et al. Internal Limitations for enacting ethical behavior Fig. 2) Expensive ethical products and limited budget (Uusitalo * & Oksanen. Social obligations and pester power. 1) Opting for the easy choice. Bhate.. Sen & Bhacattacharya.. Social context. 2005).
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