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Why Ethical Consumers Don’t Walk Their Talk: Towards a Framework for Understanding the Gap Between the Ethical Purchase Intentions and Actual Buying Behaviour of Ethically Minded Consumers

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Despite their ethical intentions, ethically minded consumers rarely purchase ethical products (Auger and Devinney: 2007, Journal of Business Ethics 76, 361–383). This intentions–behaviour gap is important to researchers and industry, yet poorly understood (Belk et al.: 2005, Consumption, Markets and Culture 8(3), 275–289). In order to push the understanding of ethical consumption forward, we draw on what is known about the intention–behaviour gap from the social psychology and consumer behaviour literatures and apply these insights to ethical consumerism. We bring together three separate insights – implementation intentions (Gollwitzer: 1999, American Psychologist 54(7), 493–503), actual behavioural control (ABC) (Ajzen and Madden: 1986, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 22, 453–474; Sheeran et al.: 2003, Journal of Social Psychology, 42, 393–410) and situational context (SC) (Belk: 1975, Journal of Consumer Research 2, 157–164) – to construct an integrated, holistic conceptual model of the intention–behaviour gap of ethically minded consumers. This holistic conceptual model addresses significant limitations within the ethical consumerism literature, and moves the understanding of ethical consumer behaviour forward. Further, the operationalisation of this model offers insight and strategic direction for marketing managers attempting to bridge the intention–behaviour gap of the ethically minded consumer. Keywordsactual behavioural control-consumer ethics-ethical consumerism-implementation intentions-intention–behaviour gap-perceived behavioural control-situational context-theory of planned behaviour-word–deed gap
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Why Ethical Consumers Don’t Walk Their
Talk: Towards a Framework for
Understanding the Gap Between
the Ethical Purchase Intentions and Actual
Buying Behaviour of Ethically Minded
Consumers
Michal J. Carrington
Benjamin A. Neville
Gregory J. Whitwell
ABSTRACT. Despite their ethical intentions, ethically
minded consumers rarely purchase ethical products
(Auger and Devinney: 2007, Journal of Business Ethics 76,
361–383). This intentions–behaviour gap is important to
researchers and industry, yet poorly understood (Belk
et al.: 2005, Consumption, Markets and Culture 8(3),
275–289). In order to push the understanding of ethical
consumption forward, we draw on what is known about
the intention–behaviour gap from the social psychology
and consumer behaviour literatures and apply these in-
sights to ethical consumerism. We bring together three
separate insights implementation intentions (Gollwitzer:
1999, American Psychologist 54(7), 493–503), actual behav-
ioural control (ABC) (Ajzen and Madden: 1986 , Journal of
Experimental Social Psychology 22, 453–474; Sheeran et al.:
2003, Journal of Social Psychology, 42, 393–410) and situa-
tional context (SC) (Belk: 1975, Journal of Consumer Research
2, 157–164) to construct an integrated, holistic con-
ceptual model of the intention–behaviour gap of ethically
minded consumers. This holistic conceptual model
addresses significan t limitations within the ethical con-
sumerism literature, and moves the understanding of
ethical consumer behaviour forward. Further, the oper-
ationalisation of this model offers insight and strategic
direction for marketing managers attempting to bridge
the intention–behaviour gap of the ethically minded
consumer.
KEY WORDS: actual behavioural control, consumer
ethics, ethical consumerism, implementation intentions,
intention–behaviour gap, perceived behavioural control,
situational context, theory of planned behaviour, word–
deed gap
Introduction
Over the last decade, the reach of ethical consum-
erism has widened from the cultural fringes to
mainstream society (Carrigan et al., 2004; Crane and
Matten, 2004; Shaw et al., 2006). Researchers have
sought to understand this social change by devel-
oping models of ethical consumer behaviour. These
models have generally been drawn on Ajzen’s (1985)
Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) (Chatzidakis
et al., 2007) to suggest that the purchasing intentions
of ethical consumers are driven by personal values,
moral norms, internal ethics, and other similar fac-
tors (e.g. Arvola et al., 2008; Shaw and Shui, 2002;
Vermeir and Verbeke, 2008). Empirical evidence
suggests, however, that while increasing numbers of
consumers have absorbed and are motivated by the
values of ethical consumerism, a change in con-
sumption behaviour is much less apparent. Stated
ethical intentions rarely translate into actual ethical
buying behaviour at the moment of truth the cash
register (Auger and Devinney, 2007; Belk et al.,
2005; Carrigan and Attalla, 2001; Follows and
Jobber, 2000; Shaw et al., 2007). One recent study,
for example, found that while 30% of consumers
stated that they would purchase ethically, only 3%
actually do (Futerra, 2005, p. 92). It follows that
there are grounds for being wary of intentions-based
models of ethical consumer behaviour. The data
from the Futerra study (2005) suggest that models
Journal of Business Ethics (2010) 97:139–158 ! Springer 2010
DOI 10.1007/s10551-010-0501-6
that predict that ethical intentions are directly rep-
resentative of ethical behaviour will be wrong 90%
of the time. 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. Understanding
the gap between what ethically minded consumers
intend to do and what they actually do at the point
of purchase, and understanding how to close this
gap, is clearly an important academic, managerial and
social objective.
The intention–behaviour gap has previously been
addressed by Auger and Devinney (2007) and Carr-
igan and Attalla (2001). They both argue that the
explanation lies principally in the way social desir-
ability bias distorts measures of ethical consumers’
intentions. They imply that consumers are not as
ethically minded as many researchers believe; the
intention–behaviour gap exists but has been exag-
gerated because of inflated measures of intentions.
We accept this argument but suggest that it provides
only a partial explanation of the intention–behaviour
gap of the ethically minded. We argue that many of us
do intend to consume more ethically than we end up
actually doing, but are hampered by various con-
straints and competing demands before we get to the
cash register. Sometimes, we just forget. In this arti-
cle, we show that ethical consumerism researchers
will benefit from insight into the intention–behav-
iour gap developed within the consumer behaviour
and social psychology literatures. Our aim is to push
the understanding of ethical consumption forward by
drawing on what is known about the intention–
behaviour gap from these literatures and applying this
knowledge to ethical consumerism. We bring
together three separate insights from these literatures
implementation intentions (Gollwitzer, 1999), Actual
Behavioural Control (ABC) (Ajzen and Madden,
1986; Sheeran et al., 2003), and situational context (SC)
(Belk, 1975) to construct an integrated, holistic
conceptual model of the intentionbehaviour gap of
ethically minded consumers. These insights are pre-
sented as mediators and moderators of the relationship
between the intentions and behaviour of ethically
minded consumers. Finally, we conclude by discuss-
ing the operationalisation of our conceptual model
and suggesting future research directions.
The ethically minded consumer
Mounting ethical concerns about the impact of
modern consumption culture on society and the
environment, the rising prominence of these envi-
ronmental and social issues within mainstream
media, the emergence of organised consumer activist
groups and the increasing availability of ethical
products, have all led to a growing awareness by
consumers of the impact of their purchasing and
consumption behaviour (Carrigan and Attalla, 2001;
Connolly and Shaw, 2006; Crane and Matten,
2004). A new type of consumer the ‘ethical con-
sumer’ has arisen. Ethically minded consumers
feel a responsibility towards the environment and/or
to society, and seek to express their values through
ethical consumption and purchasing (or boycotting)
behaviour (De Pelsmacker et al., 2005; Shaw and
Shui, 2002). ‘Ethical’ will encapsulate different
expressions, concerns and issues for each individual.
Examples of ethical concerns for the ethically
minded include environmental/green issues, sus-
tainability concerns, workers’ rights, country of
origin, arms trade, fair trade and animal welfare.
‘Green’ consumerism, it should be noted, is sub-
sumed within the wider category of ethical con-
sumerism. The broader range of issues (including
environmentalism) integrated within ethical con-
sumerism creates complex decision-making pro-
cesses for ethically minded consumers (Freestone and
McGoldrick, 2008). This trend towards ethical
purchasing and consumption is illustrated by the
47% growth in global sales during 2007 of products
endorsed by Fairtrade Labelling Organizations
International (2007).
The growth and popularisation of ethical culture
(Shaw et al., 2006) has inevitably attracted the interest
of companies seeking to meet the needs of their
stakeholders including ‘ethical’ consumers (Polon-
sky, 1995). From ‘green’ beer (a carbon neutral beer)
and hybrid car technology to ‘Fair Trade’-endorsed
tea and -chocolate, marketing strategies targeted at the
ethically minded are widely being adopted to tap into
potentially profitable ethical market segments and to
promote the ethically responsible and environmen-
tally sustainable credentials of products, brands, ser-
vices and/or corporations.
140 Michal J. Carrington et al.
Mind the gap
Companies are increasingly finding, however, that
ethically minded consumers do not always walk their
talk. There exists a gap between what consumers say
they are going to do and what they actually do at the
point of purchase (Auger and Devinney, 2007; Belk
et al., 2005; Carrigan and Attalla, 2001; Follows and
Jobber, 2000; Shaw et al., 2007). This phenomenon
is referred to by researchers such as De Pelsmacker
et al. (2005), Carrigan and Attalla (2001) and Auger
and Devinney (2007) as the attitude–behaviour or
word–deed gap, and has been widely documented
within both the social psychology field and the
ethical consumerism sub-field (Carrigan and Attalla,
2001; Elliot and Jankel-Elliot, 2003).
It has long been understood that intentions are
poor predictors of behaviour and that gaining insight
into this gap is of critical importance to understand-
ing, interpreting, predicting and influencing con-
sumer behaviour (Bagozzi, 1993). The gap, however,
remains poorly understood, especially within the
ethical consumerism context (Auger et al., 2003; Belk
et al., 2005; De Pelsmacker et al., 2005; Shaw and
Connolly, 2006). Seeking to address this disparity
between the attitudes, intentions and buying behav-
iours of ethically minded consumers, two contrasting
research perspectives have emerged within the ethical
consumerism literature (Newholm and Shaw, 2007).
One stream is concerned with the limitations of the
self-reported survey methodological approaches
commonly employed to assess consumers’ ethical
purchase intentions and subsequent behaviour (e.g.
Auger and Devinney, 2007; Carrigan and Attalla,
2001). These authors suggest that in research con-
sidering ethical issues, attitudes and intentions, people
respond with answers they believe to be socially
acceptable, overstating the importance of ethical
considerations in their buying behaviour (Auger and
Devinney, 2007; Boulstridge and Carrigan, 2000; De
Pelsmacker et al., 2005; Follows and Jobber, 2000;
Ulrich and Sarasin, 1995). A second stream takes a
modelling approach; identifying influencing factors
that directly and indirectly affect the translation of
ethical attitudes into ethical purchase intentions and
actual behaviour (e.g. Areni and Black, 2008;
De Pelsmacker and Janssens, 2007; Shaw and Shui,
2002; Vermeir and Verbeke, 2008). Similarly, we
contend that social desirability and flawed research
methodologies only partially explain the gap between
intention and behaviour of the ethically minded.
Respondents to questions regarding their ethical
intentions are not only biased by social desirability
(Auger and Devinney, 2007
; Carrigan and Attalla,
2001), but will also almost certainly make errors in
their predictions of their future shopping context. For
example, they may arrive at the shopping location
with less money than they predicted, or the desired
ethical product may not be available at that time, or a
competing ‘unethical’ product may be heavily dis-
counted or be promoted in a more attractive manner,
and so on. In order to address these issues, we look to
build on the theoretical advances made within the
ethical consumerism literature by drawing from the
advances in decision-making models presented
within the consumer behaviour and social psychology
domains. First, however, we review the current state
of the literature on ethical consumerism.
Current theory development
Within the field of ethical consumerism, theory
development is in its early stages, and an established
and widely accepted theoretical framework for
the decision making of ethical consumers is yet to
be developed (Fukukawa, 2003). Attempting to
understand the purchase decision-making processes
of ethically minded consumers, researchers within
this stream have drawn on the established theoretical
frameworks from within the consumer behaviour,
business ethics and social psychology domains
(Newholm and Shaw, 2007). These models tend
to be based on cognitive approaches, focusing on
the internal (mental) process of decision making
(Fukukawa, 2003). For example, Rest’s (1979)
model of moral judgment and Hunt and Vitell’s
General Theory of Marketing Ethics (Hunt and
Vitell, 1986) [based on the foundations of Rest’s
(1979) model] were originally developed for a
business/managerial ethics context and have since
been applied to consumer ethics. These models have
been used to explain ‘un-ethical’ behaviour such as
shoplifting, as well as the purchase decision-making
process within ethical consumerism. In a similar vein
is Schwartz’s Norm Activation Theory, which was
developed to understand the altruistic behaviour of
individuals (Jackson, 2005).
141Why Ethical Consumers Don’t Walk Their Talk
The models most frequently applied and modified
to understand the purchase decision-making process
of the ethically minded, however, are the theoretical
frameworks of ‘reasoned action’ (Fishbein and
Ajzen, 1975) and ‘planned behaviour’ (Ajzen, 1991;
Chatzidakis et al., 2007; De Pelsmacker and Janssens,
2007; Vermeir and Verbeke, 2008). As such, the
majority of ethical consumer behaviour models are
built on a core cognitive progression: (1) beliefs
determine attitudes, (2) attitudes lead to intentions and
(3) intentions inform behaviour. In addition, social
norms and behavioural control moderate intentions
and behaviour (De Pelsmacker and Janssens, 2007).
Using this framework, there are two circumstances
that may contribute to the overall disparity between
attitude and behaviour a gap between consumer
attitude and purchase intent, and a gap between
purchase intent and actual purchase behaviour. The
majority of research within the ethical consumerism
field on the attitude–intention–behaviour gap has
focussed on the disparities and relationships between
attitudes and intentions of the ethically minded. In
contrast, this article is primarily concerned with the
gap between ethical purchase intentions and actual
buying behaviour.
In their modifications to the TPB, scholars within
the ethical consumerism field have sought to include
the influence of ethics, morals and values in this
attitude–intention–behaviour framework. For
example, Shaw and colleagues (Shaw and Clarke,
1999; Shaw and Shui, 2002) developed theoretical
models that include the influence of internal ethics
(personal values) on intentions, and did so within the
context of fair trade. In addition, Arvola et al. (2008)
included moral norms to predict purchase intentions
of organic food, and Vermier and Verbeke (2008)
integrated the role of personal values within the
purchase intentions of sustainable food. These
studies have tended to accept the theoretical assump-
tion that an individual’s intentions will directly
determine their actual behaviour (Fukukawa, 2003).
This assumption, however, has been widely criti-
cised as an oversimplification of the complex tran-
sition from intentions to action (Bagozzi, 2000;
Morwitz et al., 2007). Furthermore, empirical
studies in the field of consumer behaviour more
broadly suggest that purchase intentions do not
translate literally into purchase behaviour (Morwitz
et al., 2007; Young et al., 1998).
Current limitations
The intention–behaviour assumption and a number
of other significant limitations exist within the eth-
ical consumerism literature pertaining to the pur-
chase decision-making process and the associated
attitude–intention–behaviour gap. First, it is gener-
ally accepted within cognitive theoretical models of
purchase decision making that purchase intent is a
mediating element between attitude and behaviour
(Fishbein and Ajzen, 1975). As the studies within
ethical consumerism have focused on the attitude
intention relationship, they imply that an individual’s
intentions will directly determine their actual behav-
iour (Fukukawa, 2003). For example, in relation to
the application of the TPB, Ozcaglar-Toulouse et al.
(2006) suggest that ‘behaviour is deemed to be a
direct function of an individual’s intention to con-
duct the behaviour’ (Ozcaglar-Toulouse et al., 2006,
p. 504). Yet, as Ajzen et al. (2004) have warned,
‘investigations that rely on intention as a proxy for
actual behaviour must be interpreted with caution’
(Ajzen et al., 2004, p. 1119).
Secondly, attitude–intent–behaviour models of
consumer choice artificially isolate decision making,
ignoring the external effect of the environment/sit-
uation on purchase behaviour (Foxall, 1993;
Fukukawa, 2003). During the transition between
purchase intention and actual buying behaviour, the
individual interacts with a physical and social envi-
ronment (Phillips, 1993). This interaction with
environmental factors influences their decision
making. Cognitive approaches assume perfect and
constant conditions without consideration of envi-
ronmental or social settings, thus oversimplifying the
complex translation of purchase intentions into
actual buying behaviour (Fukukawa, 2003).
Thirdly, with the application of the TPB within
the ethical consumerism context, scant attention has
been given to the actual control the individuals have
over their personal behaviour at the point of pur-
chase and how this differs according to their own
perceptions of behavioural control when they were
formulating their purchase intentions. When adapt-
ing the Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA) into the
TPB, Ajzen (1985) specifically introduced the per-
ceived behavioural control (PBC) construct as an indi-
rect moderator between intention and behaviour to
account for variance. However, perceptions of
142 Michal J. Carrington et al.
control rarely reflect actual control (Ajzen, 1991).
The assumption broadly employed within both
ethical consumerism and social psychology fields that
PBC can be used as a proxy for actual behavioural
control (ABC) in the transition from purchase
intentions to actual buying behaviour is therefore
generally inaccurate (Sheeran et al., 2003).
Finally, the lack of ethical and general consumer
decision-making studies that measure and observe
actual buying behaviour, as opposed to stated
intentions or self-reported behaviour, is a significant
methodological limitation that leaves the extant re-
search open to the influence of social desirability bias
(Auger and Devinney, 2007). Social desirability bias
occurs when people feel social pressure to respond
with answers in research that they believe to be
socially acceptable. Social desirability bias is inher-
ent to research methods that employ self-reported
behaviour, and is pronounced in studies with
ethical considerations (Carrigan and Attalla, 2001;
Podsakoff and Organ, 1986).
Conceptual development
A holistic approach
In order to overcome the limitations inherent in the
cognitive frameworks of ethical consumer decision
making favoured by ethical consumerism researchers
(Fukukawa, 2003), this article proposes an integrated
holistic framework that further develops this cogni-
tive approach, but also recognises that decision
making of ethically minded consumers is complex
and does not occur in isolation from the world
outside their own cognitive processes. Relevant
elements of the external environment are integrated
within a cognitive framework, thereby ensuring that
the conceptual model reflects the complexity of
real-life purchase decision making.
The internal and environmental factors integrated
into the conceptual model are elements of what are
referred to as the ‘cognitive’ and ‘behaviourist’ tra-
ditions, respectively. Cognitive perspectives of
human behaviour are based on the mental (internal)
processes that have a determinate role in behaviour.
Such perspectives seek to understand the interaction
and correlation of cognitive constructs, such as
beliefs, attitudes and intentions (Hobson, 2006).
Behaviourist perspectives, in contrast, are based on
measurement of observable behaviour, where the
environment plays a determining role in this
behaviour (Norton, 2003).
There has been an increasing discourse within the
wider field of human behaviour regarding the inte-
gration of relevant elements of these perspectives to
better understand consumer behaviour and address
the shortcomings of either perspective (Bagozzi,
2000; Davies et al., 2002; Norton, 2003). For
example, Stern (2000) presents the holistic concep-
tual ‘Attitude–Behaviour–Constraint (ABC)’ model
of environmentally significant behaviour, which
suggests that behaviour (B) is a function of (internal)
attitudinal variables (A) and (external) contextual
factors (C). By means of developing ‘An action
theory model of consumption’, Bagozzi (2000)
integrates ‘Situational Forces’ into the cognitive
decision-making model as a contingent factor which
facilitates or inhibits the attainment of consumption
goals (Bagozzi, 2000). This stream of discourse and its
application are of particular interest to the explana-
tion of the intention–behaviour gap of ethically
minded consumers. Indeed, as Fukukawa (2003)
argues, ‘The lack of any holistic models to understand
consumer ethical decision-making remains signifi-
cant; their development is surely crucial to the
advance of theoretical knowledge in the area of
consumer ethics research’ (Fukukawa, 2003, p. 396).
Our conceptual model is based on the assumption
that contextual elements may assist to explain the gap
between purchase intentions and actual purchase
behaviour. Hence, these elements are integrated into
the cognitive intention–behaviour framework to
develop a holistic conceptual model of ethical con-
sumer behaviour, focusing specifically on the trans-
lation of purchase intentions into actual purchase
behaviour (Figure 1).
The proposed conceptual model seeks to address
the key shortcomings of the attitude–intention–
behaviour framework identified earlier by exploring
the mediating effect of implementation intentions and
integrating the moderating effects of ABC and SC.
The purpose of the model is to develop an under-
standing of why ethically minded consumers rarely
follow through with their ethical intentions at the
cash register.
143Why Ethical Consumers Don’t Walk Their Talk
Implementation intentions
It is a simple yet logical notion that the existence or
the absence of a mental implementation plan of how
to put one’s good intentions into action is a key
explanation, respectively, for the success or failure of
individuals to act on their intentions. This concept is
widely referred to within the action/social psy-
chology literature as implementation intentions or
implementation plans (Bagozzi and Dholakia, 1999;
Gollwitzer, 1993). While intentions specify a desired
end point and signal a commitment to achieving this
outcome, implementation intentions specify the plan to
bring this intention into fruition (Dholakia et al.,
2007). An implementation intention is an if/then plan
formed by the individual that outlines when, where
and how their intentions will be realised as actual
behaviour (Gollwitzer and Sheeran, 2006). This plan
is internally (cognitively) developed in advance of
the behaviour/purchase, and specifies the situational
cue to instigate the intended behaviour (‘When
situation X arises, I will respond with behaviour Y’)
(Gollwitzer, 1999). For example, an ethically
minded coffee consumer builds an intention to
purchase only Fair Trade coffee and develops an
implementation intention: ‘When I need more
coffee beans and I am at the supermarket, then I will
seek out the Fair Trade coffee products and buy
the Fair Trade coffee that looks most appealing’.
Empirical evidence suggests that when people
form implementation intentions, they substantially
increase the probability that they will successfully
translate their intentions into behaviour. In their
meta-analysis of 94 studies, Gollwitzer and Sheeran
(2006) found strong support (d = 0.65) for the
contention that implementation intention/planning
increases the likelihood of attaining one’s goals
(Gollwitzer and Sheeran, 2006).
Implementation intentions positively mediate the
relationship between intentions and behaviour be-
cause these simple plans help individuals to get started
in realising their intentions, shield their intentions from
unwanted influences and avoid conflict (Dholakia
et al., 2007; Gollwitzer and Sheeran, 2006). Making
if/then implementation plans also help individuals to
change their existing habits (which enable them to
shop on auto-pilot) and potentially make new ones
(Ajzen, 2002b; Gollwitzer and Sheeran, 2006).
Often people have problems getting started
towards realising an intention because they forget to
act accordingly, particularly when the intended
behaviour is unfamiliar or not part of their routine
(Gollwitzer and Sheeran, 2006). This forgetfulness is
relevant to the ethically minded individual, to whom
ethical products may be a relatively recent inclusion
in their purchasing repertoire. Individuals also have
problems getting started because they fail to seize
or detect an opportunity to enact the behaviours
required to translate their intentions into reality (e.g.
not recognising the relevant opportunities to inject a
counter-argument into a conversational debate until
after the discussion has ended and the moment has
passed) (Gollwitzer, 1999). Forming an implemen-
tation intention/plan places the individual in a state
of readiness, guiding their attention to available
opportunities and situations to enact their intended
behaviour (Dholakia et al., 2007
).
Mentally rehearsing a pre-determined implemen-
tation intention/plan assists the individual to shield
their intentions from unwanted and conflicting
influencing factors (Dholakia et al., 2007; Gollwitzer,
1999). Both the SC (e.g. visual temptation) and
factors internal to the individual (e.g. habits and
moods) provide the potential to block, derail, and
conflict with an individual’s intentions (Gollwitzer
and Sheeran, 2006). Implementation intentions/
plans protect and maintain intentions by enabling the
individual to pass control of their behaviour over to
the situational environment (Gollwitzer, 1993). By
mentally rehearsing the planned behaviour and
linking this behaviour to a specific context (e.g.
picking up the Fair Trade coffee in the supermarket
coffee aisle), individuals are able to switch from
conscious and deliberate control of their behaviour to
a state of ‘automaticity’ where their behaviour is
effortlessly guided by the situational cues (Bagozzi
and Dholakia, 1999; Gollwitzer, 1999). Automaticity
P1 +
P2 +
P3 +/-
Intentions
Implementation
Intentions
Actual
Behavioural
Control
Situational
Context
Behaviour
Figure 1. Intention–behaviour mediation and modera-
tion model of the ethically minded consumer.
144 Michal J. Carrington et al.
is a mental state where the relinquishing of conscious
behavioural control results in the individual switch-
ing behaviour from effortful to effortless, as it frees
the cognitive capacity of the individual (Gollwitzer,
1999; Webb and Sheeran, 2007). Being in a state of
automaticity helps the individual to avoid conflict
and tempting distractions within the shopping envi-
ronment, and enables them to ignore competing
goals and demands (e.g. price discounts on a
competing non-Fair Trade coffee) (Gollwitzer and
Sheeran, 2006). In the context of ethical consumer-
ism, where the ethical purchase intentions of the
‘ethically minded’ may often be competing against
long-term habitual non-ethical shopping behaviours,
the formation of implementation plans may be cru-
cial in setting up new and ethical shopping routines,
which then become automatic.
Gollwitzer (1999) suggests that there are two
underlying psychological processes in forming an
implementation intention: the identification of the
anticipated situation (the if-component of the plan),
and the linked behavioural response (the then-com-
ponent of the plan). The effect of an implementation
plan, however, is only as strong as the intention
informing the plan. Implementation intentions/plans
that are based on an intention that is weak or has
been abandoned will not be effective (Gollwitzer,
1999). In addition, the strength of commitment to
the formed implementation intention, and the
completeness/specificity of the plan are also an
important elements underlying its effectiveness
(Dholakia et al., 2007). Therefore, when measuring
implementation intentions, the following items need
to be taken into account: (a) the existence of
implementation plan (both if and then components);
(b) the strength of intentions; (c) the strength of
implementation plan; and (d) the completeness of
implementation plan. Bagozzi (1993) broadly con-
ceptualises that volitional processes mediate the
relationship between forming attitudes and enacting
behaviour (Newholm and Shaw, 2007), linking the
three consecutive concepts of desire, intention and
planning (Perugini and Conner, 2000). Considering
consumer decision making in the context of sweat-
shop manufactured goods, Shaw et al. (2007) found
that plan was a distinct construct and that there was a
direct relationship between intention and plan. While
the Shaw et al. (2007) study does not investigate the
impact of forming an execution plan on behaviour,
their notion of plan is conceptually aligned with
implementation intentions, empirically supporting the
relevance of forming implementation intentions/plans
to the ethical consumerism context.
Implementation intentions/plans help us to min-
imise the influence of moderating factors that we
will discuss below (i.e. behavioural control and situa-
tional context ), which form barriers to the translation
of intentions into behaviour. The formation of an
implementation intention/plan will assist the ethi-
cally minded individual to ignore these influences.
In contrast, the absence of an implementation plan
leaves the individual exposed to the moderating
effect of unwanted distractions on their ethical
intentions. Assisting ethically minded individuals to
evoke implementation intentions/plans may strongly
assist in bridging the gap between their ethical
purchase intentions and buying behaviour.
Therefore:
P1: The ethical consumerism intention–behaviour
gap will be positively mediated by implementation
intentions/plans.
Actual behavioural control
Our conceptual framework points to the role of
cognitive and environmental influencing factors
that act as barriers or facilitators to the translation
of ethical purchase intentions into ethical buying
behaviours. Accordingly, behavioural control and the
SC have been represented as a moderating influence
to the intention–behaviour relationship within
the literature and in our integrated conceptual
model. We now explore each of these in turn.
The TPB asserts that an individual mentally
develops their purchase intention before they enact
the corresponding buying behaviour. In this model,
the formation of purchase intentions is based on a
number of factors including: attitudes, social norms
and PBC. The PBC refers to an individual’s per-
ception of their capability to perform a given
behaviour i.e. the extent to which the perfor-
mance of this behaviour is perceived to be under
their (external) control and within their (internal)
abilities (Kidwell and Jewell, 2003; Sheeran et al.,
2003). In the TPB framework, PBC also has an
indirect impact on behaviour. While PBC is not a
145Why Ethical Consumers Don’t Walk Their Talk
new concept within the domain of modelling ethical
purchase decision making, researchers have tended
to limit the focus of PBC to its role in the formation
of purchase intentions (e.g. Shaw et al., 2000; Arvola
et al., 2008).
The PBC construct has always been controversial,
and this is partially due to the ambiguity of the
construct as initially conceptualised and presented
within the TPB (Trafimow et al., 2002). Attempting
to address this ambiguity, a number of studies (e.g.
Armitage and Conner, 1999; Trafimow et al., 2002)
suggest that PBC is a higher-order construct con-
sisting of two discrete base conceptual elements.
Ajzen (2002a) refers to these two lower-order con-
cepts/variables as: controllability and self-efficacy. Some
studies have found these two factors to be highly
correlated, whilst in others they are not (Trafimow
et al., 2002). Controllability refers to the extent to
which the performance of a particular behaviour is
up to the actor (Ajzen, 2002a). Factors such as
cooperation of others, finances, knowledge and
habits have a determinate role in perceived con-
trollability. Self-Efficacy refers to the ease or difficulty
of performing a behaviour, and is closely aligned
with Bandura’s (1997) conceptualisation and opera-
tionalisation of the concept. Bandura suggests that
perceived self-efficacy refers to ‘beliefs in one’s
capabilities to organise and execute the courses of
action required to produce given levels of attain-
ments’ (Bandura, 1998, p. 624). Factors that have
been found to determine self-efficacy include time,
will power, skills, and abilities.
The individuals’ ability to control their behaviour
through controllability and/or self-efficacy may be
influenced by factors that are internal or external to
the respective individual (Davies et al., 2002). For
example, in their exploratory study of consumer
purchase decision making in a Fair Trade context,
Shaw and Clarke (1999) identify price, availability,
convenience, information, ethical issues and time as
influences on the ethical consumer’s behavioural
control. In addition, McEachern et al. (2007) iden-
tify the common scenario in which the consumer is
not the shopper as an influencing factor in the
context of purchasing RSPCA products.
The controversy surrounding PBC has also been
fuelled by the questionable ability of PBC to accu-
rately reflect ABC (Kraft et al., 2005; Sheeran et al.,
2003). PBC is based on an imagined scenario of
what the situation will be like when and where the
behaviour occurs, and a perception of one’s capa-
bilities and resources (Ajzen, 1985). Yet, imagined
scenarios often differ from reality (Ajzen, 1991). In
addition, PBC is based on perceptions of control not
actual control, and these perceptions may be accu-
rate or inaccurate, stable or unstable over time
(Notani,
1998). Therefore, one’s intentions may not
be an accurate representation of one’s behaviour. It
follows that a gap between one’s PBC and ABC
may be a key driver in the gap between purchase
intentions and buying behaviour.
Recognising that individuals do not always have
complete voluntary control over their behaviour,
Ajzen and Madden (1986) introduced the concept of
PBC to extend the TPB model (Armitage and
Conner, 2001). In this framework, PBC directly
influences the formation of behavioural intentions
and indirectly impacts on behaviour. A key justifi-
cation for the inclusion of PBC in the TPB frame-
work was that PBC represents a proxy measure for
actual control. The TPB does not claim ‘a direct
causal effect for PBC’ (Ajzen and Madden, 1986,
p. 472) on behaviour, because ‘it is actual control not
PBC that is the causal determinant of behaviour’
(Sheeran et al., 2003, p. 394). Ajzen and Madden
(1986) outline two contingencies that determine the
validity of using PBC as a proxy for ABC: first,
the behaviour in question cannot be totally under
the wilful control of the individual; secondly, ‘per-
ceptions of behavioural control must reflect actual
control in the situation with some degree of accu-
racy’ (Ajzen and Madden, 1986, p. 460). Yet, per-
ceptions of control rarely reflect actual control
(Ajzen, 1991; Armitage and Conner, 2001), and
‘when PBC is inaccurate all kinds of possibilities
open up’ [Ajzen (1999) as quoted in Armitage and
Conner (2001, p. 474)].
Owing to the difficulty of operationalising ABC,
researchers have tended to use PBC as a proxy for
ABC (Sheeran et al., 2003). In an attempt to address
this operational difficulty, Sheeran et al. (2003)
developed a post-behavioural assessment of ABC,
known as the Proxy Measure of Actual Control
(PMAC). This enables ABC (not PBC) to be
included as a direct moderating influence within
the conceptual model. ABC encompasses the sub-
elements of controllability and self-efficacy, and is
consistent with the concept of action control presented
146 Michal J. Carrington et al.
within The General Theory of Marketing Ethics
(Hunt and Vitell, 1986). In this process model,
action control refers to the ‘extent to which an
individual actually exerts control in the enactment of
an intention in a particular situation’ (Hunt and
Vitell, 2006, p. 146). The influence of ABC/action
control on actual purchasing behaviour, however,
has been neglected both within the ethical con-
sumerism and broader social psychology fields, and is
yet to be thoroughly explored within the translation
of purchasing intentions into buying behaviours
(Sheeran et al., 2003; Vitell, 2003). Its role is,
therefore, still highly conceptual and abstract, with
little empirical work to ground its influence on
consumer behaviour. Nevertheless, we argue that
ABC will play a crucial role in the disparity between
purchase intention and actual behaviour.
Ajzen (2002a) suggests that there are two
approaches to the measurement of behavioural
control: belief based and direct. While asking direct
questions about performance capabilities is preferred
within the literature due to the ease of measurement,
belief-based observations provide additional insight
into the basis of an individual’s PBC (Ajzen, 2002a).
In belief-based studies of behavioural control, pilot
studies are initially conducted to identify the salient
control beliefs within the research context. A survey
questionnaire is then constructed using this list of
factors (internal or external) that the pilot respon-
dents believed would facilitate or inhibit their ability
to perform the behaviour. In contrast, direct mea-
sures of PBC aggregate the limiting or facilitating
influence of all accessible control factors, for example
‘I feel completely in control’. As the measurement of
ABC is post-behavioural, measurement of this
construct would need to reflect this present/past
temporal order.
It is the ABC an individual has over the perfor-
mance of the behaviour that will moderate the
translation of purchase intentions into buying
behaviour (Sheeran et al., 2003). Thus, we suggest
that the gap between PBC and ABC is a key factor
underpinning the intention–behaviour gap. In par-
ticular, an individual’s perception is likely to be
farther away from ‘reality’ when imagining a new
situation or one in which the individual has little
experience (Ajzen, 1991; Morwitz et al., 2007;
Notani, 1998). Hence, the discrepancy between
PBC and ABC is specifically relevant to the
purchasing of products with ethical credentials,
which will often be relatively new to an individual’s
purchasing consciousness and repertoire. In this sit-
uation, with little or no prior experience to draw on,
the individual’s perception of the ease or difficulty
associated with purchasing an ethical product may
hold little resemblance to the actual scenario.
Therefore, ethical purchase intentions may also hold
little resemblance to the actual buying behaviour.
P2: The ethical consumerism intention–behaviour
gap will be positively moderated by actual behav-
ioural control (ABC).
Situational context
The intention–behaviour gap, however, is not solely
determined by the cognitive evaluation processes of
ethically minded consumers. Such consumers
encounter an environment outside of their minds
which has ‘a demonstrable effect upon current
behaviour’ (Belk, 1975, p. 158). In the translation of
purchase intentions into buying behaviour, the
ethically minded consumer enters into, and interacts
with, a physical and social environment the
shopping environment. Bagozzi (2000) suggests:
‘Theories of consumption must incorporate causal
factors beyond or in addition to the control that a
consumer has over his/her behaviour’ (Bagozzi,
2000, p. 102). Accordingly, the situational context
(SC) (Belk, 1975) needs to be considered.
In the context of consumer behaviour, situations
represent ‘momentary encounters with those ele-
ments of the total environment which are available
to the individual at a particular time’ (Belk, 1975,
p. 157). Our model introduces the SC construct to
represent the momentary contingent factors within
the shopping environment that may act to block or
facilitate the translation of ethical purchase intentions
into ethical buying behaviour.
According to Belk (1975), there are two types of
environmental stimulus that influence consumer
behaviour: situation and object. The situation refers to a
single point in time and space, and these situational
characteristics are momentary, such as a price pro-
motion or being accompanied by a child on this
shopping occasion (Belk, 1975). These situational
factors are relevant to the conceptual SC construct.
147Why Ethical Consumers Don’t Walk Their Talk
In contrast, the object factors refer to the character-
istics of the product/environment that are lasting and
a general feature of the brand (or retailer) such as
ongoing recommended retail price or standard
packaging graphics (Belk, 1975). Given the chronic
nature of the object stimulus, we suggest that these
factors are more conceptually relevant to the PBC/
ABC construct.
Attempting to provide an encompassing frame-
work for situational research, Belk (1975) suggests a
taxonomy of five overarching situational factors
which define the situational context. This taxonomy
is based on prior research in the field of consumer
behaviour, and prescribes a combination of situa-
tional factors that are internal and external to the
individual.
1. Physical Surroundings: readily identified physi-
cal features of the marketing environment,
such as product placement and visibility,
proximity of competing products and accessi-
bility of price comparison.
2. Social Surroundings: consideration of whether
other people are present, their roles and the
interpersonal interactions that occur.
3. Temporal Perspective: all time-related aspects of
the situation, such as time of day, time
restrictions, time since last purchase.
4. Task Definition: the purpose of the individual
within the situation. For example, consider-
ation of whether the individual is intending
to select, buy or gather information about a
purchase. Also, the task may consider
whether the buyer is also the end-user.
5. Antecedent States: momentary states that the
individual brings with them (antecedent) to
the situation, and include momentary mood
(such as anxiety, hostility, excitation) and
momentary constraints (such as cash on hand,
tiredness, illness).
Belk (1975) suggests that there are two dimen-
sions to the measurement and observation of situa-
tional factors: psychological and objective. The
psychological measurement of the SC considers how
these situational factors are perceived/construed by
the individual. This approach is favoured within the
literature due to the ease of measurement by ques-
tionnaire methods. However, many situational
factors are unconscious to the individual (such as
subtle lighting cues), yet they have an effect on
consumer behaviour. Indeed, Zaltman (2003) sug-
gests that tangible attributes have less influence on
behaviour than subconscious attributes. In order to
capture salient subconscious situational factors,
objective measurement refers to the features of the
situational environment that existed prior to the
individual’s interpretation (Belk, 1975). Examples of
possible subconscious factors include subtle fra-
grances, the presence of other shoppers in the nearby
vicinity, and store lighting effects. Belk (1975)
concludes that ‘situational research must utilise both
types of measurement’ (p. 161). Later research (e.g.
Pullman and Gross, 2004) also measures the
endogenous and exogenous emotional experiences
elicited by situational environments.
In his meta-analysis of studies employing the
TPB, Stephen Sutton (1998) contends that ‘more
attention [] needs to be paid to situational factors’
(Sutton, 1998
, p. 1335). Our conceptual model
addresses this deficiency through the addition of
situational context; reconnecting ethically minded
individuals and their behaviour with the actual/
external environment at the point of purchase.
P3: The ethical consumerism intention–behaviour
gap will be positively and negatively moderated by
the Situational Context (SC).
Integration and interaction
The concepts of implementation intentions, ABC and
SC are integrated within our model to function as an
‘integrated whole’ rather than three disparate
insights. It is important, therefore, to outline the
integrated influence that these factors have on
the translation of intentions into behaviour, and the
potential interaction between these factors.
Before doing so, however, we must firstly define
the construct boundaries. Creswell (2003) suggests
that constructs can be defined as discrete variables
using two characteristics: temporal attributes and
how they are measured (Creswell, 2003). Accord-
ingly, using time-based attributes it is possible to
identify the distinguishing features and interplay
between the constructs integrated in the conceptual
148 Michal J. Carrington et al.
model. Temporally, an individual forms an imple-
mentation intention or plan before they are influenced
by elements of ABC and SC. This distinction in
temporal order enables implementation intentions to
be clearly differentiated from the SC and ABC
constructs. The temporal order between SC and
ABC is less discriminating, however, as the sequence
in which these factors influence one’s behaviour is
interchangeable and potentially could occur simul-
taneously. For example, an ethically minded con-
sumer visits a sporting equipment store intending to
purchase a sweatshop-free soccer ball. He/she has
formed his/her intention based on the perception
that the store will stock a range of sweatshop-free
soccer balls at a price that he/she can afford. On
arrival at the store and standing in front of the soccer
ball display, he/she finds that the sweatshop-free
balls are temporarily out of stock [SC] and priced
significantly higher than he/she had expected
[ABC]. A salesperson approaches him/her in the
store [SC] and provides him/her with the technical
details of a competing range of non sweatshop-free
soccer balls [ABC], which are also on a temporary
price reduction [SC]. Despite his/her ethical inten-
tions, the ethically minded consumer walks out of
the sports store with an unethical ball in his/her
shopping bag, having found that the actual decision
was out of his/her control and influenced by the
situation in store. This example also highlights the
potential for interaction between one’s behavioural
control and the situational context.
Distinctions between ABC and SC can be made,
however, by considering how, when, and where
these constructs moderate the translation of inten-
tions into behaviour. The moderating influence of
ABC occurs because the actual control that the
individual has over their purchasing behaviour is
different to their initial PBC. So, due to factors
affecting ABC, the individual is more or less in
control of their behaviour than they imagined they
would be, making it easier or more difficult to
actually execute their intentions. In contrast, when
the consumer is influenced by the SC, their behav-
ioural control has not necessarily changed, it’s just
that they have changed their mind or been distracted
because of stimulus in the environment. The dif-
ferences between the ABC and SC constructs can be
further understood by considering the temporal and
spatial boundaries of their influence. Temporally, SC
is a momentary state, a situation at a single point in
time and space (Belk, 1975). The SC is the short-
lived scenario when and where the actual shopping/
purchase decision occurs, and includes both tem-
porary external factors (e.g. presence of a shopping
companion) and temporary internal factors (e.g.
current mood of the shopper). In contrast, ABC is
not bound within a momentary situation and can be
influenced by internal and external factors that may
temporally extend before, during and beyond the
momentary point of purchase, such as cooperation
of others, ongoing product price and affordability,
habits, and a lack of knowledge. A similar distinction
can be made in terms of the location of influence.
The influence of the SC occurs at the very location
of the purchase decision (i.e. inside the store),
whereas the influence of ABC spans both inside and
outside the point of purchase.
Having distinguished the constructs, we now
integrate these insights to form a holistic model.
Intention is a singular notion that incorporates
multiple influences such as attitudes, social norms
and PBC. When the consumer is confronted with an
ABC and situational environment (SC) different to
that perceived, their previously singular intention
unravels and the multiple influences reform into a
singular behavioural decision to fit the ABC and SC.
The TPB suggests that salient factors such as belief in
the relative value for money, ethicality or pleasant-
ness of the behaviour in question, ethical and moral
concerns, and the expectations of significant others,
are all internally evaluated by the individual in the
process of forming their purchasing intention. In
other words, when a consumer has formed an
intention to purchase an ethical product, this ethical
intention has been based upon the consumer’s
internal assessment and weighing up of multiple and
sometimes competing salient beliefs (e.g. value for
money versus ethical concerns). In this case, the
singular notion of ‘intention’ subsumes all of these
influencing factors. We contend, however, that
salient influencing factors may return to block or
disrupt the translation of purchase intentions into
buying behaviour, creating an intention–behaviour
gap. Captured within ABC and SC constructs, these
salient influencing factors may include elements such
as: extenuated time commitments and competing
ethical demands (ABC), and proximity of competing
products and accessible price comparison (SC).
149Why Ethical Consumers Don’t Walk Their Talk
Assuming that ethically minded consumers do
have legitimate ethical purchase intentions, we
suggest that there are three instances which influence
and interrupt the translation of these ethical inten-
tions into behaviour: they get distracted, shop on
auto-pilot, or simply forget (implementation inten-
tions); the actual purchasing scenario is different to
what they had imagined (ABC versus PBC); the
stimulus around them at the moment of truth derails
their ethical intentions (situational context). The
conceptual model developed within this article
combines these mediating and moderating influences
as an integrated explanation for the intention–
behaviour gap of the ethically minded consumer. In
the social psychology literature and in our integrated
conceptual model, implementation intentions are rep-
resented as a positive mediating influence between
one’s intentions and actual behaviour. Mentally
rehearsing a pre-determined implementation plan
assists the individual to shield their intentions from
conflicting influencing factors that could potentially
block or derail these intentions (Dholakia et al.,
2007; Gollwitzer and Sheeran, 2006). Situational
influences and behavioural control are such influenc-
ing elements that act as ‘unwanted distractions’
(Gollwitzer and Sheeran, 2006), barriers or facilita-
tors to the translation of intentions into buying
behaviour. Consequently, the SC and ABC have
been represented as moderating influences to the
intention–behaviour relationship within the litera-
ture and within our integrated conceptual model.
While it is possible to conceptually delineate the
three constructs integrated within the conceptual
framework, significant interaction occurs between
the constructs. In particular, momentary elements of
the SC may interact with one’s ABC. As in the
previous example, while standing at the soccer ball
display contemplating the affordability of the out-
of-stock sweatshop-free ball, the ethically minded
consumer is approached by a salesperson. This
momentary social contact is part of the environment
and situational context. The salesperson informs the
ethically minded consumer of the technical details of
a competing (non sweatshop-free) soccer ball, pro-
viding him with an in-depth knowledge of the
competing ball well over and above the limited
knowledge he has of the sweatshop-free ball. This
lasting product knowledge is relevant to the con-
sumer’s ABC, and yet was dependent upon the SC
(interaction with salesperson). This interplay be-
tween the moderating influences of the SC and one’s
ABC illustrates the integrated nature of the con-
ceptual model.
Operationalisation
While the individual concepts of implementation
intentions, behavioural control and SC have relatively
well developed measurement and testing traditions,
they are yet to be integrated and operationalised
within a single model. The integration of contextual
factors within a cognitive framework poses opera-
tional challenges and offers significant rewards. In
this section, we discuss the measurement and testing
of the individual constructs and then the opera-
tionalisation of the integrated conceptual model as a
whole.
Measuring implementation intentions
The implementation intentions construct is sourced
from within the field of Social Psychology, which
favours experimental methodologies. In particular,
experiments with undergraduate students in labora-
tory or field conditions. These experiments tend
to be longitudinal in nature, as the participants
are surveyed/observed at two time points: initially
when they are forming their implementation inten-
tion, and secondly once the goal has/hasn’t been
achieved.
Much of the experimental social psychology lit-
erature limits measurement and observation of
implementation intentions to single binary items
measuring whether or not the participant has an
implementation intention to achieve the desired goal
(yes or no). However, Dholakia et al. (2007) extend
this limited measurement to include the following:
(a) intention strength: ‘The strength of my actual
intention to pursuit the goal ……can best be
expressed as (6 point scale)’; (b) implementation
intentions strength: ‘The strength of my actual inten-
tion to perform the actions (execute the plan) nee-
ded to achieve……can best be expressed as (6
point scale)’; (c) existence and completeness of imple-
mentation intentions: ‘I have a plan of action to carry
out my decision/intention (7 point scale)’ and ‘The
150 Michal J. Carrington et al.
plan I have made to carry out my decision/intention
can be considered to be complete (5 point scale)’.
It is a key limitation of laboratory experimental
methodologies that implementation plans are often
artificially enforced and survey response relies on
respondent’s own interpretation of the completeness
of their plan. Relatively few studies are conducted
out of the laboratory and in the real world of
consumers. This gap provides an opportunity for
significant contribution (Gollwitzer and Sheeran,
2006).
Measuring actual behavioural control
There are two approaches to measuring behavioural
control, belief based or direct (Ajzen, 2002). In belief-
based studies of behavioural control, salient control
beliefs that facilitate or inhibit the ability to perform
the behaviour are identified by pilot study respon-
dents within the research context. These salient
control beliefs are then used to construct a survey
questionnaire. In contrast, direct measures of PBC
capture the facilitating or limiting influence of an
aggregate of all accessible control factors. Examples
of direct measures of PBC include survey questions
such as: (a) ‘I feel completely in control’ (perceived
controllability); and (b) ‘I believe I have the ability
to (perceived self-efficacy). In contrast, assuming
that family-related time demands (self-efficacy) is a
possible control factor relating to the purchasing
behaviour of ethically minded consumers, examples
of belief-based measures of PBC obtained from a
pilot study might include: (a) Control belief strength (c):
‘I anticipate that my family commitments will be
placing high demands on my time in the near future
(strongly disagree strongly agree)’; (b) control belief
power (p): ‘My family placing high time demands on
me would make it (much more difficult much
easier) to purchase products with ethical credentials’
(Ajzen, 2006). Ajzen (2006) suggests that it is pos-
sible to formulate a composite control belief using
the formula: PBC a
P
c
i
p
i
. Similarly, we suggest the
use of belief based measures derived from a pilot
study to measure the ABC construct. As the study
would be observing actual rather than PBC, how-
ever, the questionnaire measures would need to
reflect the present/past tense. Using the above
example, a belief-based measure of ABC might
include: (a) Control belief strength (c): ‘My family
commitments are currently placing high demands on
my time (strongly disagree strongly agree)’; (b)
control belief power (p): ‘My family placing high time
demands on me is currently making it (much more
difficult much easier) to purchase products with
ethical credentials’. In the case that ABC is being
measured in a post-purchase questionnaire, the sec-
ond survey question could be further altered to: ‘My
family placing high time demands on me made it
(much more difficult much easier) to purchase
products with ethical credentials on my last visit to
the store’.
Measuring the situational context
The effects of situational factors have been measured
and observed using experimental, semi-structured
interview and survey research methods. In experi-
mentation research (both laboratory and field), single
situational factors are modified (whilst others are
controlled) and the consumer response to these
manipulations are observed. These observations are
made either by eliciting responses within the lab
environment or by observing consumer behaviour
in a field environment. The most common depen-
dent variables measured in field experiments study-
ing the effect of the physical situational factors are
sales/purchase behaviour, time in the environment,
and approach–avoidance behaviour (Turley and
Milliman, 2000). In contrast, semi-structured inter-
view and survey response methods have also been
employed to observe the impact of SC, in particular
the emotional responses to situational factors. The
five categories of the SC developed by Belk (1975)
are mapped against research methods used to mea-
sure and observe these environmental factors in
Table I to illustrate possible methods to opera-
tionalise the SC (Pullman and Gross, 2004; Turley
and Milliman, 2000).
Pre-testing in pilot stages of research may be
valuable to discover the salient psychological situa-
tional factors and appropriate emotional responses to
further develop the specific questionnaire items, and
to identify relevant objective situational factors for
experimental manipulation.
151Why Ethical Consumers Don’t Walk Their Talk
Operationalisation of the integrated conceptual model
The translation of ethical intentions into actual
buying behaviour is a highly complex process for
ethically minded consumers, as competing ethical
and traditional concerns are combined, contrasted
and traded-off (De Pelsmacker et al., 2005;
Freestone and McGoldrick, 2008; Shaw et al.,
2006). The experimental and survey response
methodologies traditionally favoured by researchers
TABLE I
Measurement of the situational context
Situational factor Situational element Experimental
measurement
Sample questionnaire items
Physical surroundings (a) General store interior and
exterior variables
(e.g. audio & visual)
(b) Store location & mer-
chandising
(c) In-store information
(d) Price displays
(e) Temporary pricing
Unit sales, interactions
with products, time spent
in the aisle and at the shelf,
browsing activity, repeat
purchase
Exogenous response: e.g. con-
venience, visibility, availabil-
ity, ambience, information
(e.g. poor-outstanding)
Endogenous response: e.g. com-
fortable, exciting, sophisti-
cated, relaxed, hip/cool (e.g.
pleasure-displeasure)
Social surroundings (a) Interaction between sta ff &
customers
(b) Lone versus accompanied
shoppers
(c) Crowding in-store
Unit sales, interactions
with products, time spent
in the aisle and at the shelf,
browsing activity
(a) Exogenous response: e.g.
interaction, knowledge trans-
fer. Endogenous response: e.g.
valued, avoidance, interesting,
inconvenience
(b) Exogenous response: e.g.
shopping habits. Endogenous
response: e.g. focused, dis-
tracted, fun
(c) Exogenous response: e.g.
accessibility, shopability.
Endogenous response: e.g. stres-
sed, avoidance
Temporal perspective (a) Time of day
(b) Time constraints
(a) Unit sales, interactions
with products, time spent
in aisle and at the shelf
(b) Exogenous response: e.g.
physical time restrictions.
Endogenous response: e.g. ru-
shed, hurried, distracted and
relaxed
Task definition (a) For whom the shopper is
buying
(b) The purpose of the prod-
uct to be purchased
and consumed (e.g. special
event versus everyday)
(a) Exogenous respons e: e.g. self,
family, friend. Endogenous re-
sponse: e.g. constrained,
responsible and pampered
(b) Exogenous response: e.g.
purpose. Endogenous response:
e.g. focused, image conscious
Antecedent States Momentary moods and
conditions
Exogenous response: temporary
functional conditions e.g.
illness, financial. Endogenous
response: e.g. happy,
antagonistic, distracted
and suspicious
152 Michal J. Carrington et al.
to empirically measure and observe the concepts
presented within the conceptual model may not
have the capacity to represent this complexity or to
build an understanding of why or how these con-
structs underpin the intention–behaviour gap of the
ethically minded consumer (Belk et al., 2005). In
their cross-cultural study of consumer ethics, Belk
et al. (2005) used qualitative research methods, which
they augmented with an interpretive approach to the
data analysis. Similarly, we also suggest a break with
tradition to operationalise the holistic conceptual
model presented in this article.
The constructs integrated within our conceptual
model have been drawn from separate research tra-
ditions (cognitive and contextual), and have been
observed and measured using different methods.
Consequently, the conceptual model integrates new
and established constructs within the context of
ethical consumerism, proposing unexplored theo-
retical relationships and suggesting an intermediate
state of prior research (Edmondson and McManus,
2007). Edmondson and McManus ( 2007) posit that
the best methodological fit within an intermediate
field of theory development is that of a hybrid
(mixed) method research strategy. Taking a blended
methodological approach to testing these provisional
relationships may help provide both emergent
insight about the constructs, their dimensions and
relationships within the context; and validity/rigour
through triangulation (Edmondson and McManus,
2007). In addition, Auger and Devinney (2007)
suggest that to produce valid research about ethical
consumer behaviour that minimises the effect of
social desirability bias: ‘it would be prudent to utilise
a combination of methods instead of relying exclu-
sively on a single method’ (Auger and Devinney,
2007, p. 378). For these reasons, we advocate mixed
methods research strategies to operationalise the
conceptual model, integrating qualitative, pilot and
empirical field studies. The combination of these
mixed research methods within a single overarching
study, not only leads to a greater depth of under-
standing, but also works to produce robust research
results through triangulation methods.
First, a substantial qualitative study would assist to
further delineate, refine and understand implementa-
tion intentions, ABC and SC from the perspective of
ethically minded consumers. The overarching aims
of this qualitative study would be to gain a deep
understanding and elaborate the underlying
mechanisms and interrelations of these conceptual
constructs within this context, promote openness to
emergent insights through an interpretive approach
to data analysis, and to triangulate the data
(Edmondson and McManus, 2007).
Secondly, pilot studies could be employed to
bring further depth and rigour to the operationali-
sation of the conceptual model. Ajzen (2006) sug-
gests that the use of direct measures in questionnaires
that are arbitrary or have simply been adapted from
items used in prior research, can lead to measures of
low reliability. While asking direct questions to
measure ABC is methodologically easier, additional
insight can be gained using belief-based measures to
observe an individual’s perceived and ABC (Ajzen,
2002). Salient control beliefs are identified by con-
ducting pilot studies. These pilot studies could serve
several purposes by identifying: (a) salient control
beliefs (ABC); (b) salient situational factors (SC);
and (c) relevant items for the measure of purchase
intentions to ensure high internal consistency
(Ajzen, 2006).
Finally, in-store empirical field experiments and
questionnaires offer relevant and rewarding research
methods to empirically test our conceptual model,
after qualitative and pilot studies have been com-
pleted. Empirical field study within the store envi-
ronment is a relatively innovative research approach
to test the concepts of implementation intentions
and behavioural control. In order to overcome the
social desirability bias limitations of self-reported
survey research, Auger and Devinney (2007) argue
that research strategies as close to natural shopping
behaviour as possible should be employed within the
ethical consumerism context. This element of real-
ism is an inherent asset of in-store field research.
According to McGrath’s ‘Strategy Circumplex’,
however, increasing one feature (generalisability,
precision or realism) in a single research methodol-
ogy will inevitably lead to a decrease in the other
two the ‘three-horned dilemma’ (McGrath, 1994).
The pursuit of realism (and to some extent precision)
in this empirical field research strategy, therefore, is
at the cost of generalisability. Indeed, from an
empirical perspective, observing behaviour in a
single context, on a single occasion may be of little
practical significance (Ajzen, 2006). The ability to
generalise research findings can be increased,
153Why Ethical Consumers Don’t Walk Their Talk
however, by conducting research and observing
behaviour in multiple relevant contexts (Ajzen,
2006). The research can observe multiple products
within product categories and across multiple
product categories (e.g. Morwitz et al., 1993).
Behaviour can be observed and research conducted
across a range of relevant field locations, at multiple
times of day and week (Ajzen, 2006; Morwitz et al.,
1993). In addition, in order to empirically test the
model for mediation and moderation effects, pur-
chase intentions would need to be measured and
observed with sufficient variance. This requires a
random sample from the field population of partic-
ipants whose measured ethical purchase intentions
range from high to low on a scale of intention
strength. This in turn will improve generalisation
from the research results.
Discussion and conclusion
Regardless of their ethical intentions, ethically
minded consumers rarely place ethical products in
their shopping baskets (De Pelsmacker et al., 2005).
Despite its pivotal nature, this phenomenon is poorly
understood within the ethical consumerism context
(Auger et al., 2003; Belk et al., 2005; De Pelsmacker
et al., 2005; Shaw and Connolly, 2006). When
addressing the overall gap between ethically minded
consumers’ ethical attitudes and their often non-
ethical buying behaviour, ethical consumerism
researchers have generally failed to consider that
intentions are not a reliable proxy for actual
behaviour with few exceptions (e.g. Newholm,
2005; Shaw et al., 2007). Thus research has been
focused on understanding the relationships and dis-
parities between the attitudes and intentions of
ethically minded consumers, yet minimal attention
has been paid to the critical gap between the ethical
purchase intentions and buying behaviours of these
consumers. Our aim has been to push the under-
standing of ethical consumerism forward by drawing
on what is known about the intention–behaviour
gap from consumer behaviour and social psychology
literatures and applying these insights to ethical
consumerism. We have integrated three insights into
a conceptual framework on which this critical
understanding can be built implementation inten-
tions, ABC and SC. This holistic conceptual model
addresses significant limitations within the ethical
consumerism literature, carrying the understanding
of ethical consumer behaviour forward. Further, the
operationalisation of this model offers potent insight
and strategic direction for marketing managers
attempting to bridge the intention–behaviour gap of
the ethically minded.
Understanding the role of implementation intentions
in the intention–behaviour gap of ethically minded
consumers offers a rich marketing platform on which
to build effective strategy. An implementation intention
is an ‘if/then’ plan internally formed by the indi-
vidual, specifying when, where and how they will
translate their intention into actual behaviour.
Assisting ethically minded consumers to formulate
these simple implementation plans may have a strong
positive effect in bridging the gap. This could be
done by aiding ethically minded consumers to
visualise the situation and corresponding behaviour
that will allow them to activate their ethical inten-
tions in the aisle and at the cash register. For
example, using a combination of out-of-store and
in-store visual media to remind consumers and
shoppers of their ethical intentions (‘remember to
buy the recycled toilet paper this time, go on, you
really wanted to’) may help them to snap out of their
shopping automaticity, remember their intentions
and change their shopping habits.
Similarly, understanding the impact of ABC in
the intention–behaviour gap of the ethically minded
provides fertile ground for marketing strategy and
activation. As we explained, ABC refers to the
capability of an individual to perform a given
behaviour the extent to which this behaviour is
under their control and within their (internal) abil-
ities. A gap between the consumer’s perceptions of
control (PBC) and their actual control (ABC) when
making the purchase decision underpins the inten-
tion–behaviour gap. Marketing strategies for ethical
products that increase the consumers ABC or help
the consumer paint an accurate PBC in the first
place may assist in closing the intention–behaviour
gap. Based upon an understanding of ABC, effective
marketing tactics could include: influencing others
within the household to ensure cooperation in
ethical purchasing goals, and providing these con-
sumers with accurate information and the knowl-
edge to make informed decisions in-store. For
example, to assist consumers to form accurate price
154 Michal J. Carrington et al.
perceptions when marketing ethically produced
soccer balls, communication could include the
message: ‘Yes, our ethical soccer balls are a little
more expensive, but that little bit extra is worth a
great deal to the people who make them’.
Finally, considering the role of the SC in the
intention–behaviour gap may enable marketing
managers to harness this influence to facilitate (ra-
ther than derail) the realisation of ethical intentions
into ethical buying behaviour. Tactics such as
providing staff in the aisle to interact with the
ethically minded consumer in-store, merchandising
the product to ensure stand-out visibility relative to
competitive offers, tactical price promotions to gain
product trial, and using clear visuals to symbolically
and effectively communicate the ethical credentials
of the product are all possible marketing implica-
tions of the SC.
Until empirically tested, however, our model re-
mains purely conceptual, and the insights remain
potential. Therefore, we anticipate and encourage
research to challenge, strengthen and expand the
integrated conceptual model presented in this article.
Mixed methods research combining qualitative, pilot
and empirical field testing research strategies may
be employed to overcome the operationalisation
challenges of integrating cognitive and contextual
concepts within a single model. Future research may
also seek to test the conceptual model in other con-
sumer-behaviour domains, outside of the ethical
consumerism context, to increase its generalisability
and provide a broader contribution to the literature.
A limitation of the integrated holistic framework
presented in this article is that the conceptualisation
of ABC is currently underdeveloped. Pioneering
study by Sheeran et al. (2003) shaped this concept
and used the Proxy Measurement of Actual Control
(PMAC) to empirically measure and verify its
moderating effect on the relationship between
intentions and behaviour. To date, this concept has
yet to be further developed or refined. In addition,
the transition between PBC and ABC (i.e. when and
how one’s PBC is transformed into one’s ABC in a
given situation) is not currently understood.
Therefore, we see the infancy of ABC within the
literature as a limitation of the conceptual model,
and encourage further conceptual research regarding
this construct. We have discussed the potential for
the SC to interact with one’s ABC, yet the interplay
between these two constructs is highly conceptual
and also yet to be empirically explored.
The key contribution of our conceptual frame-
work is two-fold: it is integrated and holistic. In
bringing together the insights of implementation
intentions, actual behavioural control and situational
context to understand the intention–behaviour gap of
ethically minded consumers, we combine powerful
insights from separate literature fields that function as
an ‘integrated whole’. In addition, the integration of
environment factors at the point of purchase within a
cognitive framework results in a holistic model that
reflects the complex real-life purchase decision
making of ethically minded consumers.
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158 Michal J. Carrington et al.
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Demand-side mitigation solutions such as changing peoples' consumption behaviors can substantially help limit climate change (IPCC, 2022). Labelling schemes are a promising tool to promote more sustainable consumption behavior by reliably informing the consumers about the performance of a product regarding a range of environmental, ethical, or social aspects. However, labelling has been conceptualized in different ways, approached from various disciplinary backgrounds, examined through diverse research designs, and tested across manifold product categories and contexts. The present research synthesizes the dispersed empirical evidence on the effects of visual sustainability labels on consumer perception and behavior by systematically reviewing the literature. In a two-step screening process, a set of predetermined criteria was used to ultimately identify 26 eligible studies. We narratively and quantitatively synthesized the empirical findings. Our aggregated findings suggest that labels do have positive effects on psychological and behavioral outcome variables. In addition, we identify a number of important moderating variables that can be categorized as individual factors of the consumers, as context factors in the purchase situation, and as factors inherent in the label itself. However, the reviewed body of literature reveals deficiencies in studying interactions of labels and external factors and in studying actual behavior change in field settings. Based on these insights gained from the systematic review, we propose avenues for advancements in the field of research and highlight implications for promoting sustainable consumer behavior.
... Unlike the aforementioned factors, situational factors represent a person's unique situation and derive from the various circumstances in which individuals find themselves temporally and spatially [79,80]. Furthermore, situational effects may influence other variables such as perceived control in the TPB model [81]. ...
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Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as private business since business activities have widespread and sometimes far-reaching impacts on the community. The side-effects of entrepreneurial decision making - increasing unemployment, for instance, or pollution - increasingly expose corporations to the public gaze, with management in the limelight. Facing Public Interest opens up new vistas on business policy and corporate communications facing public interest. The relationship between private enterprise and public interest is subjected to an ethical examination, highlighting the role of the general public as a locus of morality for business and the guiding concept of a corporate dialogue between management and the concerned public. Instructive case studies are also presented. The volume not only proposes corporate dialogue: it puts into practice. Business leaders, representatives of citizens' groups, public affairs consultants, and academics discuss the topics thoroughly and thoughtfully in the best contributions to the seventh conference on the European Business Ethics Network, held at the University of St. Gallen in September 1994.