The influence of ethics and social responsibility on grocery shopping behaviour in the UK
Consumption as an aspect of most people's lives in affluent societies is widely acknowledged as having become increasingly important (Newholm, 2005). We consume more, and consume more often, than previous generations (Durning, 1992) meaning the actions we make and the decisions we take have greater impact than ever before on the world we inhabit. For many their involvement with consumption goes beyond the act of purchase (Ollman, 1998) to include complex ethical dimensions. The relationship between ethics and social responsibility (E&SR) and consumption choices has received growing attention over recent years, resulting in the topic of 'sustainable consumption' becoming a central focus for national and international policy (Jackson, 2005). Yet a review of the pertinent literature in the fields of E&SR, consumer behaviour and shopping motives uncovers the limitations of existing E&SR research in relation to grocery shopping activities. What E&SR factors influence consumers' grocery shopping choice decisions and behaviour? How important are they when compared to traditional store image and product attribute criteria? How do attitudes influence E&SR grocery consumption? Who are the E&SR buyer types and how may they be differentiated and segmented? This thesis sets out to address these questions and comprises the results of, and reflections on, an investigation into grocery shopping behaviour in the South West of England. It consists of three stages: a literature review; a series of exploratory focus group interviews; and a confirmatory quantitative study. Content, factor, multiple regression and cluster analysis find: shopping motivations vary according to two facts 1) the shopping consideration (store to patronise, product to purchase), and 2) the shopping occasion (main shop, top-up shop); differences occur in the importance of E&SR issues and traditional elements of store image/product attribute depending on the shopping activity; attitudes, perceived behavioural control and ethical obligation are linked to E&SR behaviour with differences in the importance of E&SR concerns meaning that E&SR shoppers are not a homogenous group. Results enable a preliminary typology of E&SR grocery shopping concerns to be derived and a range of E&SR consumer types to be proposed. This insight offers a far more complex market that has hitherto been recognised. Motivating E&SR behaviour is far from straight forward due to dissonance occurring in decision-making as consumers try to balance traditional retail aspects with their E&SR beliefs, so finding themselves 'locked in' to non-E&SR behaviours; in spite of their best intentions. In these circumstances strategies are required to make it easy for consumers to behave in an E&SR manner: ensuring access to information that aids and encourages pro-E&SR behaviour, highlighting non-financial E&SR behaviours, and for Government to exemplify the desired changes through their own policies and practices.