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Why Do Consumers Purchase the Way They Do?

Join a discussion on why consumers buy ethical products, factors they consider, and what this means for firms, communities, and the environment.

Companies should be responsible and, when making decisions, consider a broad range of stakeholders: consumers, investors, employees, suppliers, the environment, and the communities within which they operate. That is, companies should do the right thing.

Some companies will do the right thing simply because it’s the “right thing.” Unfortunately, most will not unless there is an economic case for doing so. But what if companies could earn more by being responsible? Everyone wins.

The economic case for responsibility is a reality and it’s in the hands of consumers. By purchasing their products, consumers are supporting the company’s practices. Consumers must realize that every time they purchase, they are “voting” with their dollars.

By voting with their dollars and supporting responsible firms, consumers are the key to the economic case for responsibility. Obviously, these “ethical” or “responsible” consumers should not and do not disregard price and quality altogether in making choices. If the cost is too high or the quality of a product is poor, the responsible consumer will not purchase and thus vote against that company. So it’s not that ethical consumers ignore price in quality, but rather that they use additional criteria in decision making. Nothing original here, but I wanted to broadly define my thinking a priori.

In kicking off this new blog, I invite anyone and everyone with an opinion on ethical consumerism—I will use the terms ethical and responsible interchangeably—to post their thoughts here.

But take note: this isn’t just another consumerism blog! Although I invite posts that capture the angst of everyday consumers, this blog is about why. As academics and practitioners, we know very little about the psychological underpinnings of ethical consumption and have few answers to why people buy what they do. The economic case for responsibility rests in understanding why. Why do we purchase ethically in some situations and not others? Why do consumers consider additional (ethical) criteria in some product categories but not others?

My research focuses on the psychological underpinnings of ethical consumption with the objective of gaining valuable insights that have practical relevance for managers. I will be posting some interesting results from my research, and the research of others, for people to ponder. I invite managers of firms to populate this blog with their insights, thoughts and, especially, questions. I hope you will visit, read and post comments frequently.

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