What factors do you consider when shopping for items or services? Is it price? Brand recognition? References? When it comes to hiring a real estate agent, if you’re like most people, chances are your choice is not necessarily based on the agent’s adherence to ethical standards.
Of course, high integrity and ethical behavior is admirable. However, what may seem counter intuitive to an ethical society, a body of research indicates that consumer choices are not typically based on ethical criteria. Of the many research articles published in peer reviewed journals, here is a very select few that point to such a conclusion.
First, a 2005 study seeking to determine if consumers buying decisions were based on companies’ ethics was conducted by De Pelsmacker, Driesen, & Rayp. They indicated that although there are numerous attitude surveys that reveal consumers actually value ethics in the marketplace, consumer behavior is not consistent. The study examined consumer’s willingness to pay for fair trade coffee (considered to be the “ethical” choice), and found that although 50% of the study sample were considered fair trade “lovers” or “likers,” only 10% of the study sample were willing to pay the premium for the ethical choice (Do consumers care about ethics? willingness to pay for fair-trade coffee. The Journal of Consumer Affairs, 39(2), 363-363-385.).
Not convinced? A 2001 study investigated whether consumers actually care about ethical behavior as well as whether good/ bad ethical behavior affects consumer choice. Carrigan & Attalla concluded that although consumers are increasingly sophisticated, consumer behavior doesn’t favor ethical companies or avoids those that are unethical. Additionally, the study found that a consumer’s knowledge of a company’s unethical behavior didn’t change buying behaviors nor did it contribute to actions against the unethical company. In addition to being cynical about ethics differentiation; consumers consider price, quality, and value more important than ethical criteria in consumer purchase behavior (The myth of the ethical consumer – do ethics matter in purchase behaviour? The Journal of Consumer Marketing, 18(7), 560-560-577.).
Although ethical criteria may not be necessarily used in when choosing a real estate agent, Neale & Fullerton found that consumers do perceive unethical behaviors as unacceptable. In their 2010 study, consumers rated ten of fourteen scenarios of questionable behaviors as being unacceptable (The international search for ethics norms: Which consumer behaviors do consumers consider (un)acceptable? The Journal of Services Marketing, 24(6), 476-476-486.).
Even though unethical behaviors may be considered unacceptable, reporting such behavior is a different story. Curtis, in his 2006 study found that although the seriousness of a breach of ethics would prompt a report, the decision to report unethical behavior is highly correlated to negative mood (e.g., anger, pain, etc) (Are audit-related ethical decisions dependent upon mood? Journal of Business Ethics, 68(2), 191-191-209.).
Rutledge, concluded in a 1994 paper that ethical issues are not always clear. Additionally, responses to such situations depend on personal principles and standards (Conflicts of interest or ‘thou shalt not steal’ revisited. Real Estate Issues, 19(3), 15-15.).
The research might suggest that consumers are not entirely impressed by an adherence to high ethical standards. Furthermore, even when ethical standards are breached, the offenders are not always reported. The research may point to an increasingly pragmatic view that real world ethics is a complex matter that is often determined by a person’s perception.
by Dan Krell
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