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Are Customers Rewarding Responsible Businesses? An Overview of the Theory and Research in the Field of CSR

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Many researchers consider corporate social responsibility (CSR) a key element in developing sustainable businesses today. The benefits for companies and communities are very diverse. From a company perspective, some benefits are non-financials while, on the other hand, many of them have a financial dimension. An important outcome considered in this context is the increase in sales. The present paper analyses the most reliable worldwide studies on how consumers are actually influenced by the social-responsible actions of com- panies. It aims to understand in what degree people are responsive to CSR actions and to see how much of the intended attitude towards responsible businesses is translated into actual behavior. Items considered are trust, purchase behavior, and loyalty in the case of responsible businesses and boycott in the case of irresponsible ones. The research developed worldwide in the last five years show that people are extremely concerned with CSR and they try to be responsible by rewarding companies that are responsible or by sanctioning the ones which are perceived as irresponsible. There is a difference between intentions and actual behavior, partly justified by the fact that people feel they are not sufficiently informed on the responsible companies. Nevertheless a larger part part of the respondents are actively recognizing and rewarding CSR contributions of companies. Research shows that country differences exist. The most responsive countries are the ones with emerging economies. Countries in Europe and North America are more reserved. Differences in reactions are to be registered also by taking into account the age of the respondents, as well as the domain in which companies get involved through their CSR strategies.
Management Dynamics in the Knowledge Economy
ISSN: 2286-2668 © College of Management (NUPSPA) & Tritonic Books
Volume 1 (2013) no. 3, pp. 367-385; www.managementdynamics.ro
Are Customers Rewarding Responsible Businesses?
An Overview of the Theory and Research in the Field of CSR
Alexandra ZBUCHEA
College of Management
National University of Political Studies and Public Administration
6 Povernei St., Sector 1, Bucharest, Romania, 010643
alexandra.zbuchea@facultateademanagement.ro
Abstract. Many researchers consider corporate social responsibility (CSR) a key element in
developing sustainable businesses today. e benets for companies and communities are
very diverse. From a company perspective, some benets are non-nancials while, on the
other hand, many of them have a nancial dimension. An important outcome considered in
this context is the increase in sales. e present paper analyses the most reliable worldwide
studies on how consumers are actually inuenced by the social-responsible actions of com-
panies. It aims to understand in what degree people are responsive to CSR actions and to see
how much of the intended attitude towards responsible businesses is translated into actual
behavior. Items considered are trust, purchase behavior, and loyalty in the case of responsible
businesses and boycott in the case of irresponsible ones. e research developed worldwide
in the last ve years show that people are extremely concerned with CSR and they try to be
responsible by rewarding companies that are responsible or by sanctioning the ones which
are perceived as irresponsible. ere is a dierence between intentions and actual behavior,
partly justied by the fact that people feel they are not suciently informed on the responsible
companies. Nevertheless a larger part part of the respondents are actively recognizing and
rewarding CSR contributions of companies. Research shows that country dierences exist.
e most responsive countries are the ones with emerging economies. Countries in Europe
and North America are more reserved. Dierences in reactions are to be registered also by
taking into account the age of the respondents, as well as the domain in which companies get
involved through their CSR strategies.
Keywords: corporate social responsibility, CSR, customer responsibility, purchasing behavior
Introduction
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is still a controversial topic, from a
practical perspective. e theory in the eld is relatively in agreement in rec-
ommending CSR as a modern and ethical management approach – compa-
nies are indebted to the society, therefore being responsible is not an option
but an obligation to the society (Crane, Matten & Moon, 2008; Crișan, 2013,
Are Customers Rewarding Responsible Businesses? An Overview of the Theory and Research in the Field of CSR
368 | Alexandra ZBUCHEA
pp.56-59; Freeman, 2010, p.43; Younkins, 2001). Even more, increasingly le-
gal regulations are encouraging or even imposing CSR in the wider societal
framework. Nevertheless, there are still many businesses that are adopting
and implementing ”CSR” campaigns as instruments to increase awareness or
to develop their image, since CSR could be an eective marketing or public
relations tool (Zbuchea, 2008; Borțun, 2011), or an instrument of competitive
advantage (Crișan, Reveiu & Andrușenco, 2011). is could be just a step in
a wider and more profound acceptance of CSR by the business world, since
Kotler and Lee (2005, pp.7-9) present the “traditional” model of CSR referring
to the practices before the 1990s: doing good to look good. e next step in the
development of CSR would be doing well and doing good, which emphasizes
the necessity to corroborate the benets of the society with those of the com-
panies.
We also stress that there is always the risk to society that companies do not
properly understand CSR, and they use it in order to appear ”social” and
green” (Gond & Herrbach, 2006, p.363; Bazillier & Vauday, 2010; Wang și
Anderson, 2008), which is also trendy (Pînzaru 2009, 113). Such practices are
risky both from a legal perspective, but also because society (represented by
NGOs) and customers tend to be critical and probably sanction such prac-
tices. Even more, Dodd and Supa (2011) argue that understanding the impact
of CSR on consumers would lead to a profound understanding of CSR as a
management strategic tool, not just a mere marketing instrument. Neverthe-
less, CSR plays nowadays an important part in the strategy of a company, due
to its various benets, but also outside constraints.
Not just the ”trends” and changing mentalities are part of the equation but also
the economic crises. On one hand, the economic crises, induced a deduction
of the budgets allocated to CSR, on the other hand it generated an additional
impulse to dierentiate convincingly and less constly from the competition.
e economic crises lead to various modications in the business environ-
ment, state regulations, as well as in the marketing strategies of companies
(Pînzaru, Galalae, & Zbuchea, 2010; Pînzaru, Anghel, & Dinu, 2013.)
The theoretical support for commercial benefits of CSR
e benets for a company developing and implementing CSR strategies are
both nancial (Gössling, 2012; Margolis et al., 2007) and nonnancial (Euro-
pean Alliance for CSR, 2006). Vogel (2005, p.2) shows that at the origin of ac-
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Management Dynamics in the Knowledge Economy | 369
tual CSR practices could be various reasons: strategic, defensive, or altruistic.
No matter the reason, the bottom-line seems to be positive from an economic
perspective (Kotler & Lee, 2005, pp.10-18). Nevertheless, some would argue
that the companies following CSR strategies are not necessary more protable
(Hansen et al., 2013; Vogel, 2005, p.13; Zadek, 2007, p.99). Still, a review of the
literature in the eld developed by DB Climate Change Advisors (2012) shows
that the large majority of academic studies considers that the impact of CSR
on cost of capital, corporate nancial performances and on market-based per-
formance is rather positive. We also mention that the positive impact of CSR
is not limited to the companies developing this practice. A series of important
benets could be registered for society, local communities, environment, and
various stakeholders (Henriques & Richardson, 2004, p.38). Nevertheless, the
literature is not optimistic in the ability of social-responsible companies to
actually solved the problems humankind actually is confronting with (Zadek,
2007, pp.99-100).
Since companies are nancially responsible to their shareholders and inves-
tors, CSR cannot be implemented in a company ignoring this aspect. At the
same time, in the contemporary society and economy, maximizing the prots
can not be obtained without considering the interests of various stakeholders
(Jamali, 2008, p.5; Maignan & Ferrell, 2004; Sen, Bhattacharya & Korschin,
2006). e pressure from media, various concerned and sometimes power-
ful nonprot organizations or large and inuential social groups (Frederick,
2006), as well as dierent stakeholders, put a lot of pressure on businesses.
Inevitably, not all stakeholders are to be considered, but just the most relevant
and inuential ones, respectively the ones with high cooperation potential
and those with high menace power (for a larger discussion see Crișan, 2013,
pp.94-97). CSR is to a compnay one of the leverage managerial tools it pos-
seses. e commercial benets it could generate are diverse. Even more, the
economic dimension of CSR could be considered an important trigger for the
development and implementation of CSR strategies.
Kotler and Lee (2005) specify the following benets of a company implement-
ing CSR: increased sales and market share, brand development, image expan-
sion, benets related to the employees, reduces operational costs and growth
in the appeal to the investors and partners. ese directions are validated by
the Grant ornton Research (2011, 3) which shows that the main factors
which make companies develop and implement a CSR strategy are econom-
ic: the attitude of the public / brand consolidation (56%), cost management
(56%) and hiring / retention of employees (56%). e following motives are:
Are Customers Rewarding Responsible Businesses? An Overview of the Theory and Research in the Field of CSR
370 | Alexandra ZBUCHEA
tax advantages (45%), legal pressures (40%), saving the planet (36%) and in-
vestor relations (35%).
Achieving the above-mentioned benets depends on the way CSR is commu-
nicated and reported. Since reporting is important in ensuring visibility to the
CSR eorts (Gond & Herrback, 2006), increasingly more attention is given to
this aspect. Nevertheless, the issue is complex in terms of aims, procedures,
degree of transparency, regulation and self-regulation and others (Henriques,
2007, pp.69-100).
Ogilvy (2010) shows that due to the various business implications of CSR,
disclosing it is not just a matter of transparency, but also a matter of being
business-wise in the context of the relationships of a company with consum-
ers, employees, partners, stakeholders and such. Since communicating and
reporting CSR is benecial, and the competition between companies is also
manifest in the eld of establishing good business practices, reporting CSR is
increasingly more done worldwide (KPMG, 2011, p.17). Even more, compa-
nies are more and more reporting quantitative and qualitative data on their
performances (KPMG Advisory, 2010, p.3). is could be related with the sig-
naled commercial benets, in the context of a larger acceptance of the image
that the company promotes (Ernst&Young, 2011, p.13).
Still, Vogel (2005, pp.30-33) shows that it is dicult to exactly trace the impact
of CSR on prots. is is related not only to the wide diversity of studies and da-
ta-sources that can not be compared due to their heterogeneity, but also to their
reliability in terms of selection of criteria or objectivity. We consider that such
situations are bound to appear because in most cases companies considered in
CSR samples are also dynamic companies, which could be considered models
in terms of investments and strategy of research and development, productivity
performance and such – elements which inuence the prots to a wide degree.
Not just stakeholders and customers are relevant for maximizing the CSR-
related eects for a company. An augmented consumer perspective could be
benecial in many ways: inuencing non-consumers generate side eects on
the brand perceptions, on actual consumer behavior, as well as on the image
of the corporation as a social responsible one. By increasing consumer eq-
uity, corporates can obtain long-term benets and extent social responsibility
(Lemon & Seiders, 2007). erefore, there is a complex set of factors to be
considered when designing CSR strategies, and consumers and their opinions
are at the core of the process.
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Management Dynamics in the Knowledge Economy | 371
is high impact of non-consumers could be related to the normative beliefs
identied by Dodd and Supa (2011). e consumers behavior in terms of
CSR related purchase is highly stimulated when their referents consider that
they should act as such. e above-mentioned study conrms that buying re-
sponsible – or at least the intention to do so – is also a social-desirable action.
It also shows that there is a positive relationship between perceived corporate
social responsibility and the consumer purchase behavior.
In the context of our overview to highlight that the public considers in a wide
degree (82%) that companies should be involved in social and environmental
matters is also relevant (Cone, 2013, p.8). Just 6% of the public considers that
business is not responsible for any social-, environment-, or society-related is-
sue and they just exist to make prots. Furthermore, the public appreciates
both the actual impact companies might have, as well as the force that consum-
ers could be in determining companies to be responsible. 22% of respondents
consider that companies have made signicant positive impact on social and
environmental issues (Cone, 2013, p.28). Of course, since the study is devel-
oped globally, signicant dierences between countries exist. For instance, the
most skeptical are the French (12%) and the British (9%), while the most ap-
preciative are the Chinese (38%) and the Indians (37%). e appreciative atti-
tude of consumers is validated by the Edelman GoodPurpose Study developed
in 2012, which shows that 28% of the consumers worldwide consider that com-
panies are performing well in addressing social issues (Edelman, 2012, p.16).
In this later study, again, the French are the most critical (13%), while the In-
dians the most enthusiastic (58%). ese variations could be related with the
specic focus of each research. e involvement of companies in social mat-
ters is increasingly more accepted since there is a reconciliation between social
values and the business system, an approach of the contemporary society that
gains increasingly more since the 1990s (Vogel, 2005, p.28).
Another signicant fact is that 27% consider that consumers themselves have
signicant positive impact through their purchasing decisions (Cone, 2013,
p.28). Again large variety of gures is to be observed worldwide from Brazil
(54%) to China (11%). Another variation is related with the characteristics
of the respondents. Some of them are highly inuenced by CSR attitudes and
have high CSR related expectations, while others are not so connected to CSR
issues (Cone, 2013, p.19).
e last general aspect related to consumers worldwide we mention is that the
public is not critical at all to companies that do good, and have a benet result-
Are Customers Rewarding Responsible Businesses? An Overview of the Theory and Research in the Field of CSR
372 | Alexandra ZBUCHEA
ed from this action. e Edelman GoodPurpose study in 2012 shows that, in
5 years, the percentage of consumers considering that ”it is OK for companies
to support a good cause and make money at the same timeincreased from
57% to 76% (Edelman, 2012, p.9).
CSR as a factor of buying decision - a worldwide radiography
Many theoretical studies present the commercial benets of CSR, therefore a
lot of attention has been given to investigating how much it actually inuences
the purchasing processes. e stakes are extremely important to a company,
but also to society. An overview of the studies developed worldwide in the last
years show a rather strong impact of CSR practices on customers. A relatively
large number of studies are relevant for better understanding this issue. We
present them in the following table, signalling the organization which devel-
oped it, the year when it was done, the countries considered in the survey, as
well as the reference necessary to retrieve the information by those interested
in more complex and detailed data.
Table 1. The worldwide studies on CSR
No. Organization Year Countries Reference
1 Edelman 2008
Canada, Brazil, the United States, the
United Kingdom, France, India, China,
Japan, Germany, Italy
Edelman (2008). GoodPurpose.
Mutually Beneficial Marketing, http://
edelmaneditions.com
2 Edelman 2009
Canada, Brazil, the United States, the
United Kingdom, France, India, China,
Japan, Germany, Italy
Edelman (2009). GoodPurpose. Mutually
Beneficial Marketing Takes Flight, http://
purpose.edelman.com/past-studies
3 Edelman 2010
Canada, Mexico, Brazil, the United
States, the United Kingdom, France,
India, China, Japan, UAE, Germany,
Italy, Malaysia
Edelman (2010). GoodPurpose. Citizens
Engage! http://purpose.edelman.com/
past-studies
4Cone Communi-
cations – Echo 2011
The United States, Canada, Brazil, the
United Kingdom, Germany, France,
Russia, China, India and Japan
Cone Communications – Echo (2011),
The Corporate Responsibility Op-
portunity Study, www.conecomm.com/
globalcrstudy
5 Nielsen 2012 56 countries Nielsen (2012). The Global Socially-
Conscious Consumer, w ww.nielsen.com
6 Edelman 2012
Canada, Brazil, the United States, the
United Kingdom, France, Belgium,
Singapore, India, China, Japan, UAE,
Germany, Italy, Indonesia, Malaysia
Edelman (2012). GoodPurpose. Global
Consumer Survey, http://purpose.
edelman.com
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Management Dynamics in the Knowledge Economy | 373
7Cone Communi-
cations – Echo 2013
The United States, Canada, Brazil, the
United Kingdom, Germany, France,
Russia, China, India and Japan
Cone Communications – Echo (2013).
Global CSR Study, www.conecomm.
com/global-CSR-study
8 Nielsen 2013 58 countries Nielsen (2013). Consumers Who Care,
www.nielsen.com
We mention that these are not the only worldwide studies on CSR. Some of the
studies were not considered because they refer only to the “greencomponent
of CSR (for instance TNS Global 2008, developed in 18 countries). Since the
research undergone indicate there is a dierent reaction of consumers consider-
ing the domain of involvement of a company (e.g. Cone Communication – Echo
2011, 2012 or Edelman 2009, 2010, 2012), it is dicult to compare these studies
focusing on environment related issues with more general ones. erefore we
selected only the research developed worldwide (in at least 10 countries varied
from the point of view of geographic location and economic development) by
established research organizations to ensure the relevance and accuracy of data.
e impact on buying decision can be evaluated considering several issues.
On one hand there is an impact on the image of the company that can gener-
ate trust. On the other hand there is a direct impact on the buying behaviour.
is can be manifest in increased sales and loyalty. Some research also consid-
er other issues, such as how much consumers want to engage with a company
beyond their purchases (e.g., donate their own money or volunteer with the
company), or advocate for and recommend a company, would like to work for
a company or would appreciate if a company operates in their neighbourhood
(Cone, 2011; Edelman, 2012).
Trust
Consumers are more likely to trust companies which are responsible, as il-
lustrates the following table.
Table 2. Trust in companies that are perceived as social-responsible
Impact of CSR on trust Research
65% Edelman (2009, p.25)
65% Edelman (2010, p.21)
49% trust companies focusing their CSR eorts on water
51% - economic development
52% - education
54% - poverty & hunger and health & disease
56% - human rights
57% - environment
Cone Communication – Echo (2011, p.11)
Are Customers Rewarding Responsible Businesses? An Overview of the Theory and Research in the Field of CSR
374 | Alexandra ZBUCHEA
66%-83% Edelman (2012, p.29)
94% Cone Communication – Echo (2013, p.19)
ere is just an apparent dierence between the results of Cone Communica-
tions – Echo study in 2011 and the one in 2013. In the rst case just data on
those who strongly agree that they trust a company more due to CSR is given,
while in the second study all those agreeing and strongly agreeing with the
item are presented.
Again, there seems to be a dierence between the Cone Communications –
Echo and Edelman GoodPurpose researches. We can not explain this dier-
ence based on the limited information available to us. e dierences could
be related to the sample of countries, for instance. e Cone Communication
– Echo studies were developed in 8 countries, while the Edelman research in
16 countries. Another important issue identied by all the studies, is that rela-
tively large dierences between countries exist. e Edelman GoodPurpose
study in 2012 demonstrates that the rapid growing economies (Brazil, China,
India, Indonesia, Malaysia and UAE called the bull markets) are more re-
sponsive to the CSR actions of companies compared with the developed econ-
omies (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, the United
Kingdom and the United States – called the bear markets). Figures show that
83% in the rst case trust ethical brands compared to 66% in the second group
of countries. e people in the rst group of countries want brands to do more
for them than provide a product in a larger degree than people in the second
group of countries (75% vs. 57%) (Edelman, 2012, p.29).
Increased sales
For a company, the economic aims of CSR are sales-related. erefore, it is
important that trust should lead to purchases. All the studies show such an
outcome.
Table 3. Purchase pattern related to CSR awareness
Intention to purchase Actual purchase Research
78% Edelman (2007)
66% Edelman (2010)
93% 65% Cone Communication – Echo (2011, p.21)
66% Nielsen (2012, p.3)
76% 66% Edelman (2012, p.12, 20, 32)
92% 67% Cone Communication – Echo (2013, p.25)
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Management Dynamics in the Knowledge Economy | 375
As in the case of the previous item – trust – the Cone Communication – Echo
research indicate higher values in tremens of intention to purchase. is dif-
ference could be related wither with what it is reported or with the way ques-
tions were formulated. No matter the situation, the gures for actual purchase
behaviour are in agreement, indicating that two-thirds of the population
worldwide has bought from companies because they consider them social-
responsible.
e Nielsen report stands out as an exception, but it is possible that it directly
presents the actual behaviour of the respondents. If it presents the intention
to buy, than the corresponding actual purchase gure would be a smaller one,
under the level indicated by the other studies. Since the Nielsen research is
the one developed in a larger number of countries all over the world, it could
more accurately present the global situation, indicating that it would be a sig-
nicance dierence between the developed and emerging countries selected
by Edelman and Cone Communication / Echo studies and the rest of the
world. erefore, more attention should be given to this issue.
We stress that there is a dierence between the intensions to reward compa-
nies that are socially responsible and the real actions on this direction (the
actual buy). e Edelman GoodPurpose Study in 2012 is more detailed from
a geographical perspective and it shows that the cause-related purchases of
people in bull markets buy more products related to social causes (according
to their declaration) than those in bear markets (84% vs. 57%).
e Nielsen report in the same year presents a dierent point of dierentia-
tion. It shows that there are large dierences from a geographic point of view
(which is also in part an economic dierentiation). ose who seem most
responsive to CSR activities of companies are from Latin America (77%), fol-
lowed by Middle East and Africa (75%), by Asia and Pacic (70%), by North
America (64%) and by Europe (55%) (Nielsen, 2012, p.3).
Studies (Bueble, 2008, p.10; Sen, Bhattacharya and Korschin, 2006) show that
the impact of CSR is less eective when connected with low awareness of CSR
actions or a lesser transparency of CSR actions. Another reason for the in-
creased intention compared to actual behaviour might be related to the sus-
picion of false statements on CSR involvement. e TNS Global study (2008,
pp.15-16) shows that people do not necessarily buy from companies which
promote themselves as green if they believe that these companies are not gen-
uinely interested in the environment.
Are Customers Rewarding Responsible Businesses? An Overview of the Theory and Research in the Field of CSR
376 | Alexandra ZBUCHEA
Another reason for cautiously considering the gures in the Table 3 is that
some studies present much lower gures (Vogel, 2005, p.48). In 2004, an Eu-
ropean survey shows that 75% would buy considering social and environmen-
tal reasons, but only 3% actually did this. In the United States gures reported
are a bit higher, of 10-12%. Not having access to the mentioned studies we can
not comment on the results, except drawing the attention on the increased
responsibility of people over time. It is likely that people are becoming more
responsible, including when they are consumers. In the same time, the dier-
ence between the gures provided by the research in 2004 presented by Vogel
and the later ones considered by us is to be primarily explained by the social-
desirability eect. People declare what they would like to be heard or what
they believe they are doing.
Not only might buyers be interested in purchasing from responsible compa-
nies, but they might accept to pay more for this.
Table 4. Willingness to pay higher prices for the products of social-responsible companies
Willingness to pay extra Research
70% Edelman (2007)
58% Edelman (2008, p.15)
41%-56%* Edelman (2010, p.24)
43% Edelman (2012, p.31)
46% Nielsen (2012, p.3)
50% Nielsen (2013, p.4)
* depending on the market segment
Not only do companies benet from increased sales due to their CSR activity,
but they could also gain more from each customer. Still, we do not have cor-
roborating data on the actual purchase in this context.
e decrease in values between 2007 and 2012 could be related to the world-
wide economic crisis. In the last 3 years, probably also related to the economic
stability and even development in various countries, it has increased. It is in
fact the indicator that has increased the most amongst the ones taken into ac-
count in our paper.
It also worth mentioning that the declared willingness to pay more varies
upon countries and the amount of extra-money given. For instance, the Edel-
man GoodPurpose Study in 2010 shows that 41% of the respondents would
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Management Dynamics in the Knowledge Economy | 377
pay an extra 10% for appliances, while 47% would pay 5% extra for them.
For clothing and beverages both gures are higher (Edelman 2010, p.24). e
Nielsen study in 2012 shows that even if the Latin Americans declare in the
largest degree that they would purchase from social-responsible companies,
they are not the most willing to pay extra for this. e hierarchy worldwide
from this perspective is as follows: Asia & Pacic – 55%, Middle East & Af-
rica (53%), Latin America (49%), North America (42%) and Europe (32%)
(Nielsen, 2012, p.3). e Nielsen study in 2013 also shows some dierences
in regard to age groups: the young respondents (up to 40 years old) are more
likely to spend more (Nielsen, 2013, p.4) than old ones (above 40 years old).
We observe that those declaring they would pay more are not necessary the
most auent people in the sample, coming either from less developed or
emergent economies, or being younger (therefore probably with a reduced
budget compared to the other segments). Maybe these groups declare they
would pay more either because they would like to do this (but they do not
necessary pay more because they do not possess the necessary funds) or be-
cause they are more eager to comply with the current social trends and expec-
tations. If the later reason for the gure is valid, then the 43% declaring that
they actually paid more for social-responsible products (Nielsen, 2013, p.8)
should be cautiously considered. erefore further studies focusing on the
actual behavior are recommended.
Another issue to be considered is not just the commercial advantage of com-
panies perceived as responsible, but also the negative impact of being per-
ceived irresponsible. Customers might just boycott those companies and turn
to competition when buying products and services they need.
Table 5. Degree in which consumer sanction irresponsible companies
Intention to boycott Actual action Research
37% Edelman (2010, p.28)
93% 56% Cone Communication – Echo (2011, p.21)
44% Edelman (2012, p.20)
90% 55% Cone Communication – Echo (2013, p.24)
Again, the Edelman research shows lower gures than the Cone Communica-
tion Echo research. Still, data clearly show a negative image generated by
irresponsible acts of companies that is highly risky from the perspective of
sales. is indicator is also subjective to social-desirability issues, and it could
Are Customers Rewarding Responsible Businesses? An Overview of the Theory and Research in the Field of CSR
378 | Alexandra ZBUCHEA
be possible that the actual gures are somewhat lower, but even if 1 out of 3/4
consumers would really sanction irresponsible companies, the importance of
being accountable is clear.
Still, it is important to mention that some other surveys, such as one devel-
oped in UK in 2004, show much lower gures, of just 2% (Vogel, 2005, p.48).
We draw attention to the fact that people consider that they are not very in-
formed regarding the CSR actions of companies. By inference they also con-
sider that they are not very informed about the irresponsible actions of a com-
pany as well and would not react promptly in such cases. e distance people
feel when relating with the business environment is not surprising, consider-
ing that Anghel (2013) argues that people are not knowledgeable enough in
terms of understanding economic processes and instruments. is, in addi-
tion to the multitude of external information and stimuli people have to cope
with, leads to the actual of perceived lack of information of the general public.
In some cases, the indignation related with the irresponsibility of companies
might be so great, that the scandals associated generate important changes
of the strategy of those companies and a lot of additional costs. Sometimes,
these implications are extremely deep and aect the company at global level.
It worth stressing that such situations aect more high-prole companies,
which sometimes are more virtuous than others (see, for instance, the Nike
case - Vogel, 2005, pp.80-81). Still, the long-term nancial impact of such ac-
tions seems to be low (Vogel, 2004, p.51; Zadek, 2007, pp.86-87).
Loyalty
e importance of loyalty is stressed in many economic studies. erefore,
understanding the degree to which social-responsible companies aect the
loyalty of consumers (either in the creation or maintenance of this loyalty) is
very important for actual CSR practices.
Table 6. Loyalty strength related to the social-responsible image of a company
Impact on trust Switch brands to one similar in
quality but responsible Study
67% Edelman (2009, p.27)
62% Edelman (2010, p.26)
44% are more loyal to companies
focusing their CSR eorts on water
45% - economic development
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Management Dynamics in the Knowledge Economy | 379
47% - education
48% - health & disease
49% - human rights
51% - environment
54% - poverty & hunger
Cone Communication – Echo (2011,
p.11)
73% Edelman (2012)
93% Cone Communication – Echo (2013,
p.19)
We stress again that the dierence between the data oered by the Cone Com-
munication – Echo studies is related to the way the report-items are select-
ed: just people strongly agreeing are presented in 2011, while those agreeing
and strongly agreeing are added in 2013. Still, it is interesting to observe that
in 2013 compared to 2011 a larger degree of respondents declared that they
would not switch brands with similar price and quality in the benet of one
associated with a good cause: 18% in 2013 and 12% in 2011 (Cone Commu-
nication – Echo, 2013, p.20). is might be related with a certain skepticism
regarding the actual impact of CSR strategies. e study also shows that since
competition” in the eld of CSR is also strong, oering an array of options to
consumers, people are pickier in choosing what to buy also considering the
involvement of a company in a relevant eld from the costumer’s perspective
2011 (Cone Communication – Echo, 2013, p.19).
Of high importance for companies should be the declaration of consumers
that 3 out of 4 would leave a brand and buy another that is social-responsible.
is declaration is supported by another fact, i.e. that the most important fac-
tor inuencing the selection of products to buy is the social-responsible image
(42% according to the Edelman research, 2010).
Conclusions and implications
Research developed worldwide supports the theories about the impact of CSR
on consumer behavior. Additionally, it shows not only that CSR truly inu-
ences consumers in terms of trust, loyalty, advocacy and purchasing behavior,
but also that this impact is rather high. Still, one must bear in mind that the
gures refer in many cases to intentions, hypothetical behavior not to actual
reaction. Also, the opinions expressed are object of social-desirability risks.
erefore, more attention should be given in future research to actual behav-
ior.
Are Customers Rewarding Responsible Businesses? An Overview of the Theory and Research in the Field of CSR
380 | Alexandra ZBUCHEA
Another issue that must be taken into consideration is that the respondents in
all the analyzed studies are, probably, not representative for the entire popula-
tion of the countries included in the sample. All the studies were conducted
online and in some countries the average citizen” does not necessary has a
regular Internet connection. We consider that gures identied are to be criti-
cally evaluated, and to be aware that the actual population in some countries
around the globe might not be so committed to social-responsibility when
part of that society is still struggling with basic needs and with gaining enough
for subsistence. Still, the surveys could be reliable especially for developed
countries and it indicated some relevant trends worldwide in the eld of CSR.
With these methodological notes in mind, it is clear that the studies consid-
ered show that people trust social-responsible companies to a wide degree.
An increased trust in the company from two thirds of the market gives that
organization an important competitive advantage because trust triggers pur-
chase. Still the reality at the “shelf” is not so optimistic, since consumers com-
plain that they feel they are not informed enough on the companies that are
truthfully social responsible (Nielsen, 2013). erefore the following scenario
is plausible: consumers trust social-responsible companies but they consider
they do not have relevant information on them when actually buying prod-
ucts. erefore, the real buying behavior could be inuenced more by other
factors (design and innovation 31%, brand loyalty 27% according to
Edelman, 2010, p.23), which are less relevant for customers than social pur-
pose (42%), but are easier to evaluate when buying. In this context, reporting
and making consumers and non-consumers, as well as various stakeholders
aware of the CSR strategies and activities of a company is a must.
As expected, the actual purchase related to social-responsibility is lower than
the intention to purchase. Still, the gures worldwide are high: 2 out of 3 peo-
ple declared that they have bought products because the companies produc-
ing them are social-responsible. Some signicant variations exist between
continents and economies. e more developed countries in Europe, as well
as the United States and Canada prove to be less inuenced, probably more
sceptical towards the genuine engagement of companies. At the opposite pole
are the emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil which declare
they are actively encouraging / rewarding the social-responsible actions of
companies. Even more, these countries are also the ones willing to pay more
for social-responsible products. e same polarization is noted in terms of
the age of respondents. Persons up to 40 years old declare they take into con-
sideration more CSR actions than older people. Another element inuencing
Volume 1 (2013) no. 3, pp. 367-385; www.managementdynamics.ro
Management Dynamics in the Knowledge Economy | 381
the actual attitude towards companies is the domains in which they are active.
e most appreciated involvements, which implies the highest commitment
seems to be environment, while some of the least appreciated elds seem to
be the involvement in arts.
In a relatively large degree (almost 1 out of 2 persons) declare they would
pay more for companies that are social-responsible. is item is one of those
that have increased signicantly in the last 3 years. e amount of additional
money they would give depends on the type of products considered (the more
expensive and technical, the less likely to pay more), but regional dierences
also exist. Since those declaring they would pay more are not the most auent
in the sample, we recommend a focused research on the actual buying behav-
ior and we draw special attention to the risks related with the social-desirable
answers in such contexts.
Respondents worldwide are also ready to boycott companies who prove irre-
sponsible in a large degree. One out of three persons declares s/he has stopped
buying a product in this context, but this answer is also under social-desira-
bility risks. e number of those switching brands to one similar in quality but
related to a good cause is twice as high.
ere is no doubt that people worldwide are interested in and are monitoring
issues related to corporate social responsibility. Furthermore, they are con-
sidering these aspects when buying and relating to companies. On the other
hand, there is a signicant dierence between the declared intensions / behav-
ior and the actual behavior. At least in part this dierence could be related to
the low prole of responsible / irresponsible actions of companies. We con-
sider that companies do not maximize the commercial benets related to the
CSR strategies they implement.
We also consider that the studies developed up to now are too much CSR-
centric. It would be relevant to investigate the response of consumers to CSR
in a more complex framework: psychological, social, and economic.
It is certain that there is a relationship between CSR and consumer loyalty and
favor. However when it comes to understanding the depth of this connection,
we are faced with insurmountable diculties. Since research has all to of-
ten lacked detail, and possible correcting factors (such as dierences between
intention and actual purchase, between types of economies involved, or be-
tween rich and developing countries) are of a strong enough nature as to aect
Are Customers Rewarding Responsible Businesses? An Overview of the Theory and Research in the Field of CSR
382 | Alexandra ZBUCHEA
the overall conclusions, it is wrong to attribute a general correlation between
CSR and consumer loyalty and favor. is correlation will dier depending on
each factors mentioned above. More detailed studies are necessary, which will
transform the generic relationship (between CSR and consumer loyalty and
preference) into a more meaning contextualized one.
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The latest studies show that corporate social responsibility (CSR) is profitable for businesses, especially on the long-run. CSR strategies lead to different types of benefits for companies, both for large companies and for SMEs. Despite increased interest in understanding CSR and increased pressure from the public for the companies to actively assume CSR approaches no matter their profile, only a few studies investigate CSR in start-ups. The present paper is aiming to add another piece to this puzzle. The interviews with Romanian start-up owner-managers confirmed some of the previous studies. In the case of most start-ups, if CSR actions exist, they are not strategic and depend on the owner, on the way s/he combines personal interests and values with business interests/expectations. The interviews show that internal CSR is an important concern for start-up owners, who consider themselves more responsible towards their employees than in relation to the society/enviroment. A more extensive approach is seen in relation with larger, more stable organizations.
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Acknowledgments: We are indebted to Desiree Schaan for her assistance with coding the articles. We also appreciate insightful comments by Christopher Marquis and Nitin Nohria, research assistance by Alyssa Bittner-Gibbs, and the collegiality of Janet Kiholm Smith and Daniel Turban for sharing additional information about their published studies.
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