Consumer motivations for mainstream “ethical” consumption

Iain Andrew Davies, Sabrina Gutsche

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Citations (SciVal)
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Purpose: By looking at the motivation behind mainstream ethical consumption this paper explores why consumers absorb ethical habits into their daily consumption, despite having little interest or understanding of the ethics they are buying into.

Design/methodology/approach: 50 in-depth field interviews at point of purchase capture actual ethical consumption behaviour, tied with a progressive laddering interview technique yields over 400 consumption units of analysis.

Findings: Ethical attitudes, values, and rational information processing have limited veracity for mainstream ethical consumption. Habit and constrained choice, as well as self-gratification, peer influence and an interpretivist understanding of what ethics are being purchased provide the primary drivers for consumption.

Research limitations/implications: Use of qualitative sampling and analysis limits the generalizability of this paper. However the quantitative representation of data demonstrates the strength with which motivations were perceived to influence consumption choice.

Practical implications: Ethical brands which focus on explicit altruistic ethical messaging at the expense of hedonic messaging, or ambiguous pseudo ethics-as-quality messaging, limit their appeal to mainstream consumers. Retailers however benefit from the halo effect of ethical brands in store.

Social implications: The paper highlights the importance of retailer engagement with ethical products as a precursor to normalizing ethical consumption, and the importance of normative messaging in changing habits.

Originality/value: Provides original robust critique of the current field of ethical consumption and provides insight into new theoretical themes of urgent general interest to the field.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1326-1347
JournalEuropean Journal of Marketing
Issue number7/8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2016


  • Sustainability
  • Moral Consumption
  • Ethical Consumption
  • Sustainable Consumption
  • Fair trade


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