Academic journal article International Advances in Economic Research

Towards a Holistic Approach of the Attitude Behaviour Gap in Ethical Consumer Behaviours: Empirical Evidence from Spain

Academic journal article International Advances in Economic Research

Towards a Holistic Approach of the Attitude Behaviour Gap in Ethical Consumer Behaviours: Empirical Evidence from Spain

Article excerpt

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 individual's behavior, as attitudes are often not translated into action (Sheeran 2002). This phenomenon has been referred to as the attitude behavior gap (Boulstridge and Carrigan 2000; Carrigan and Attalla 2001; Sheeran 2002).

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; Carrigan and Attalla 2001; Auger et al. 2004; Chatzidakis et al. 2007). Indeed, to answer this question would provide a significant contribution to existing behavioral models, as the assumption that attitudes determine behavior cannot be taken for granted.

In addition, the attitude behavior gap has important implications for the marketers of ethical products. While a number of studies (e.g., Creyer and Ross 1997; Mohr et al. 2001; Fernandez-Kranz and Merino-Castello 2005) suggest that consumers will prefer to buy products from socially responsible firms (i.e., that have adopted Fair Trade practices, do not pollute the environment, prioritize their employees welfare, etc.), the market share for these products is much more limited than what the studies suggest (Boulstridge and Carrigan 2000; Cowe and Williams 2000; Carrigan and Attalla 2001). Cowe and Williams (2000) refer to this phenomenon as the 30:3 syndrome, where 30% of the consumers claim to buy ethical products, but just a niche of 3% actually buys them. Therefore, 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 an examination of ethical consumer behavior in the context of ethical consumer communities, this research aims to contribute empirically to filling the attitude behavior gap.

This paper is divided into four sections. The first section reviews the extant literature on the attitude behaviour gap in ethical consumer decision making. The second section presents the research methodology adopted in this study. The third section outlines the main findings, and the final section presents a conceptual model of the emergence of the attitude behavior gap and examines the implications for marketers.

Attitude Behavior Gap in the Ethical Consumer Context

In recent times, much research has been focused on modelling ethical consumer behavior based on existing attitude-behavior models (Shaw and Shiu 2003; Chatzidakis et al. 2007). In this sense, 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. …

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