Practice or preach? The actual purchasing behavior of responsible consumers in mass market

Purpose of the paper: To measure the gap between the propensity towards responsible consumerism and the actual behavior of Italian consumers in real settings.

Methodology: We explored the responsible consumerism propensity-behavior gap, taking into consideration a sample of 5.098 Italian consumers and analyzing the most purchased products by the group of 766 consumers that declared a high propensity towards responsible consumerism in the initial part of the survey.

Findings: Results confirm the existence of a responsible propensity-behavior gap in real scenarios, since only 37,2% of mostly-purchased products by responsible consumers has a social or environmental label. The analysis of the rationale highlights that purchasing decisions are mainly based on environmental and health-related values, whereas strictly socially-oriented characteristics receive limited attention.

Research limits: The study collected data only on Italian consumers and therefore did not allow us to understand the impact of different national cultures on consumers.

Practical implications: Since products with pure social or environmental contents target only well-informed consumers, managers should increase consumers knowledge around the social and environmental contents of products. If managers want to target a larger share of market, they should develop products that exploit social/environmental characteristics to enhance performance related to traditional attributes.

Originality of the paper: The study is one of the first to consider both the propensity and actual behavior of consumers. Second, while previous researches had studied behaviors in experimental, hypothetical or ad-hoc setting, this one is the first that investigates behavior by using data on purchases in real settings regardless of the store.

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