Recent studies in the fields of Business Ethics and Consumer Behaviour suggest that in the past few years, “Social Behaviour” within companies and, especially in well- known multinationals, has become more and more relevant for consumers. This greater degree of awareness within our society concerning the importance of taking actions in favour of corporate social responsibility and its impact on social well-being, has brought about the creation of NGOs, web pages and actions organized by consumers .
Marketing academics argue that consumers are more and more sophisticated when it comes to purchasing necessary goods and services. The reason for this is a consequence both of the greater degree of information that consumers now have access to, as well as a higher level of education and knowledge regarding their rights and the expected characteristics that products which are commercialized should provide. Despite this, the greater degree of sophistication does not guarantee that consumers take into account ethical aspects when they decide to purchase a product. A “socially responsible” consumer is one which is not only concerned with satisfying personal needs, but also considers social and environmental well-being while making purchase decisions. In this regard, it is worth distinguishing between responsible attitudes and responsible purchase decisions, because the fact that consumers value actions taken for CSR by businesses does not necessarily influence their purchase decisions.
According to researchers in this area, the majority of studies concerning responsible consumption show significant limitations in predicting to what extent the level of CRS perceived by consumers will affect their purchase decisions. This is due to the fact that the majority of conclusions made regarding CSR come from surveys in which the consumer is simply asked to evaluate on a scale, the degree of importance given to different aspects of actions taken in CSR. However, the fact that consumers value these actions does not imply that this will alter their purchase decisions. For this reason, studies aimed at determining the real impact of CSR actions taken by companies must focus on studying consumer purchase decisions.
Studies made on responsible consumption and CSR use a series of indicators that can be classified into three main dimensions. So the ethical behaviour that is perceived by consumers, is basically made up of the three areas of greatest relevance concerning CSR actions taken by companies: corporate business practices, treatment of staff, and environmental awareness. As we can see, the ethical dimensions that characterize responsible consumers are varied and therefore, within the category of ethical consumers, different profiles can be found which prioritize ethical aspects of products in different ways. Within the category of responsible consumers, those who value purchasing ecological products can be significantly different to those who purchase goods and services from companies who donate part of their profits to NGOs, or those who defend proper treatment of animals. Therefore, to make a CSR program effective, the company will have to adapt its actions to those ethical areas which directly affect their target audience.