Ethical Consumerism Research

Overall, value for money and the quality of products are seen as most important when purchasing. The way the company is seen to treat its employees is seen as very important by over two in five of the British public, while a third consider its impact on the environment very important. Customer service would be most likely to persuade the public to buy one product over another, when price and quality are consistent, while the brand name or image is seen as most important to those aged under 35.

Ethical Consumerism Research [pdf format - 82K]

This summary report contains the salient findings from the research project conducted into 'Ethical Consumerism' on behalf of The Co-operative Bank.

  • Overall, value for money and the quality of products are seen as most important when purchasing. The way the company is seen to treat its employees is seen as very important by over two in five of the British public, while a third consider its impact on the environment very important. Customer service would be most likely to persuade the public to buy one product over another, when price and quality are consistent, while the brand name or image is seen as most important to those aged under 35.
  • Half the British public believe they can make a difference to how responsibly companies behave, although only one in ten strongly agree. ABC1s and those who believe social responsibility and ethics is most important and act on it, are more likely to feel empowered, supporting the findings from the qualitative stage of the research.
  • Although the qualitative research indicated that the public do not like or associate themselves with the term 'ethical consumer', over half say they would describe themselves as such, although only 8% say this describes them 'a great deal'. Those under 35, whether or not they place importance on ethics, are least likely to describe themselves as ethical.
  • A quarter of the British public say they have actively sought information on a company's ethical practices and policies in the last twelve months. However, three in five say they have looked for specific products when shopping, such as recycled or GM free, Dolphin-friendly food, Fairtrade-unions and eco-friendly products. Ethical activists, ABC1s, broadsheet readers and those aged between 35 and 54 are most likely to look for this information/these products.
  • In terms of behaviour the British public are most likely to recycle products or support local shops and producers by buying products locally. Where these are done at all, these activities are likely to be done frequently.
  • Over half the British public also talk with friends and family about company behaviour, and say they recommend or choose a company or product on the basis of their responsible reputation.
  • While 44% say they have avoided a product on ethical grounds, only three in ten say they have bought a product or service using the same criteria.
  • The extremist behaviour (again supporting the qualitative findings) is actively seeking information on a company's terms or policies, although a quarter have done so at least once in the last twelve months, and a small minority (5%) have done so over four times this year. Only one in six say they have felt guilty about an unethical purchase in the last twelve months. Those who regularly do these actions are clearly 'hardcore' ethical consumers.
  • In fact through detailed factor and cluster analysis, there seems to be five distinct segments* of the British public in relation to ethical consumerism. These are:
    • Global Watchdogs
    • Conscientious Consumers
    • Brand Generation
    • Do What I Can
    • Look After My Own
  • The 'global watchdogs' account for approximately 5% of the population. These are more likely than average to be ABs, aged between 35 and 54 and live in the South of England. They tend to be broadsheet newspaper readers and socio-political activists. While they obviously place high importance on ethical factors when purchasing, it is the influence of these in persuading them to buy one product over another, and the lack of concern about getting value for money which really distinguishes this cluster. They are also particularly likely to seek information on companies' ethical behaviour, and be influenced by consumer watchdog organisations, charities or NGOs.
  • Those who place importance on ethical issues when purchasing - from perceived impact on the environment to community involvement, and are fairly active from recycling to recommending companies to others and either choosing or avoiding products on ethical grounds have been classified as 'conscientious consumers' (18% of pop). While this group are traditionally classified as CSR activists, the cluster analysis shows that this group fall short of the hardcore activists as they are less likely to actively seek information or campaign on ethical issues. Although resembling the hardcore activists, they are more likely to own a car or read a 'mid market' tabloid.
  • The 'brand generation' make up approximately 6% of the British public. They are likely to be aged under 35 and single, C1C2s and read 'redtop' Tabloids. They are less likely to own their own home or have shares. Although they tend to feel empowered as consumers, they do not like the tag of 'ethical consumers'. A company's treatment of its employees, the customer service provided and brand names are the key persuading factors when choosing between products of similar price and quality. Although they are unlikely to shop locally , recycle or seek GM free or organic labels, ethical issues are engrained and they regularly discuss ethical issues and companies' ethical reputations with friends and family and recommend or avoid companies because of their responsible reputation. However, corporate involvement in the community or corporate policies are seen as less important than reputation and proven ethical track record.
  • 'Do what I can' account for half (49%) of the British adult population, accounting for the largest segment. As they make up half the British public, their geo-demographics reflect the population as a whole. Although four in five regularly recycle and seven in ten have purposely bought to support local shops and suppliers, they tend not to do any more ethically-challenging activities. This lack of substantial ethical behaviour, and the fact they place less importance on ethical factors when purchasing is reflected in their own perceptions of not being particularly ethical consumers.
  • 22% are 'look after my own', who rarely, if ever, recycle, support local shops or take ethics into account when purchasing - value for money is the key over-riding factor. Inactives are more unlikely than average to not vote, and only one in four have talked to friends and family about a company's behaviour (compared to three in five of the public as a whole). They tend to be often aged under 35, rent from local authorities, unlikely to own shares, and are unlikely to be trade union members. This group are honest about the perceived importance of ethical standards and its impact on their purchasing behaviour. It has little relevance to their daily lives.

MORI conducted 1,970 interviews among a representative sample of British public (adults aged 15 and over), across 151 sampling points. All interviews were conducted face-to-face in respondents' homes between 18 and 22 May 2000.

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