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Acta Psychologica Sinica    2014, Vol. 46 Issue (7) : 1014-1031     DOI: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2014.01014
Why Ethical Consumers Don’t Do What They Say: The Study on Factors Influencing Consumers’ Ethical Buying Intention-Behavior Gap
DENG Xinming
(Department of Business Administration, School of Economics and Management, Wuhan University, Wuhan 430072, China)
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It has long been understood that intentions are poor predictors of behavior and that gaining insight into this gap is of critical importance to understanding, interpreting, predicting, and influencing consumer behavior. The gap, however, remains poorly understood, especially within the ethical consumerism context. In this article, our aim is to push the understanding of ethical consumption forward by drawing on the investigation of Chinese consumers’ ethical purchasing intention-behavior gap from the combining perspectives of consumers’ individual characteristics and environmental factors. This situation has profound implications for the marketers of ethical products, as product launches based on intentions to purchase are more than likely to result in costly failures. In-depth interviews with consumers are conducted, as they enable researchers to gain “a more accurate and clear picture of a respondent’s behavior”. The interview guidelines for the in-depth interviews were carefully prepared and, after pretesting, slightly adapted. Finally, a total of 235 individual interviews were conducted. Interviewing continued until redundancy was reached, implying theoretical saturation. The interviews took place in Wuhan city in summer 2010. The interviews lasted between 30 and 60 min. With the participants’ permission, each interview was audio-taped and transcribed, resulting in 867 pages of text. Furthermore, content analyses were taken to code the text. The PRL reliability value was between 0.68 and 0.93, which represented the average inter-coder agreement had reached a reasonable level. The findings are as follows: (1) In Chinese context, when making ethical purchasing decisions, consumers’ ethical purchasing intention-behavior gap will indeed take place, and nearly 58% of them are not going to walk their talk; (2) The ethical buying intention-behavior gap is influenced by consumers’ personal traits and the environmental factors simultaneously; (3) Consumer individual trait variables mainly include moral maturity, economical orientation, buying inertia, cynicism, and consumer ethical cognitive efforts. And moral maturity has a direct impact on ethical intention, all other variables will moderate significantly the relationship between ethical buying intention and behavior; (4) Environmental factors mainly consist of physical environment, social environment, purchasing task, and current status. And all situational factors have a moderating role on the relationship between ethical buying intention and behavior. It is generally accepted that an individual’s intentions will directly determine their actual behavior. Yet, the article concluded that investigations that relied on intention as a proxy for actual behavior must be interpreted with caution. Secondly, intention-behavior models of consumer choice artificially isolate decision making, ignoring the external effect of the environment/situation on purchase behavior. In fact, the paper concludes that, during the transition between purchase intention and actual buying behavior, the individual interacts with a physical and social environment and this interaction with environmental factors influences their decision making. Finally, the paper provides us with some profound conclusions and insightful implications upon how to motivate a consumer’s support of a firm’s ethical behavior and to transfer this kind of support into truly positive purchasing behavior.

Keywords ethical consumption      ethical purchasing intention      ethical purchasing behavior      intention-behavior gap     
Corresponding Authors: DENG Xinming   
Issue Date: 25 July 2014
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DENG Xinming. Why Ethical Consumers Don’t Do What They Say: The Study on Factors Influencing Consumers’ Ethical Buying Intention-Behavior Gap[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica,2014, 46(7): 1014-1031.
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