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Essay: Is there a correlation between companies using ethical practices and purchasing patterns of consumers? (dissertation proposal)

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  • Is there a correlation between companies using ethical practices and purchasing patterns of consumers? (dissertation proposal)
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At present, the fashion industry is facing negative responses by consumers regarding ethical issues, with this more than half of consumers agree that people should boycott companies that behave unethically (Mintel, 2015), which can show that company profits can be affected massively due to companies not being ethical (Worcester, 2007). It has been said by Mintel (2017) that 70% of 16-24 year olds believe that more fashion retailers should begin to embrace an eco-friendlier approach in terms of the products, showing younger consumers have knowledge upon this issue.

This proposal will be researching into consumer concerns, expectations and purchasing intentions surrounding ethical retailing practice, and whether consumers are willing to pay higher prices for sustainable fashion. From this, it will help to inform decisions on whether the company Primark should use ethical practices within the production of their clothing products.

The proposal is going to state how research will be conducted, including of a literature review on ethical purchasing and business ethics, qualitative and quantitative research techniques and methods, how the results from the research will be presented, the ethics and robustness behind the research and a Gantt chart portraying the timings of how long the research will take.

Literature Review

This literature review will be critically examining why clothing companies should adopt ethics, whether it affects consumers purchasing patterns and behaviours surrounding the decision making process. It will also include the limitations within the literature discussed, and identify if there is a gap within the topics.

To begin, the term ethics refers to a set of moral norms, principles or values that guide people’s behaviour (Brunk, 2010). More specifically, business ethics has a collection of definitions. The first definition being the study of what constitutes right and wrong, or good and bad, human conduct within a business (Shaw, 2017). It can however be argued that business ethics is not adequately defined, due to not everyone agrees on what is morally right or wrong, ethical or unethical (Lewis, 1985). This can show that there isn’t a set definition on the topic, which can result in the issue being extremely broad and wide spread.

Literature discusses a wide range of reasons as to why companies should adopt ethics. At present, it has been said that many consumers are uncertain about which companies follow ethical practices, and which do not (Oksanen and Uusitalo, 2004). The main reason as to why companies should adopt ethics is because it can link to having a good brand image and reputation (Popoli, 2011). A good brand image and reputation helps to give confidence to the consumer so they feel that the brand is clear and concise to working towards creating its best (Aaker, 1990). It also attracts consumers, as it shows them that the company is participating in ethical practices and caring for the world, building their brand reputation, which helps to improve profits and sales (Fan, 2005).

It is also discussed that companies should adopt ethics because it can help with the recruitment and selection of staff (Cable and Turban, 2003). This is because being ethical can help to attract individuals to applying for a job, as the companies are contributing to improving the world (Messick and Tenbrunsel, 1996). It can also be said that ethical businesses help to retain high quality staff, as it can help towards an increase in productivity and motivation (Giacalone and Jurkiewicz, 2004). This can result in labour turnover being decreased, meaning less staff leaving the companies (Mobley, 1977).

It can mean, that when companies adopt ethics it can improve many aspects of the business, and with links to the consumer, both profit and sales are grown. Alongside this, brand image and reputation are also increased, as companies are demonstrating good behaviour and helping the planet (Fisk, 2010). On the other side however, adopting ethics within a company can prove to be extremely expensive, as it is a practice that needs investment to ensure it is thorough and correct (Joyner and Payne, 2002).

Ethical consumption has started to become increasingly popular over the recent years, with it being defined as the activity of consumers purchasing ethical products (Bird and Hughes, 1997). It has been said that the growth in ethical consumption behaviour and an increase in the interest in sustainable fashion from a production point of view, provides a basis for the emergence of a new market for sustainable fashion (Davies and Lundblad, 2016).

Ethics has been said to affect consumers purchasing patterns, in a series of ways. Many consumers do expect companies to follow ethical practices by protecting the environment and behaving ethically when producing their products (Harris, Mohr and Webb, 2001). It has been suggested that consumers perceive the ethics of a company’s behaviour as a critical factor during the purchase decision process (Creyer, 1997), showing that when consumers can decide to boycott the company if finding out they aren’t ethical (Attalla and Carrigan, 2001).

According to Lundblad and Davies (2016) consumers stated that in order to be tempted to purchase ethical products, the quality, appearance and price are factors in the decision making process, this shows that consumers seek for good quality and good appearance in products. However, consumers are less tempted to buy sustainable pieces due to the prices being more expensive, than non-ethical products (Joergens, 2006). This can show that price is a contributing factor, and can often de-motivate consumers to be ethical and more sustainable within their fashion choices (Grand, 2011).

Overall, this can show that where companies are being ethical, it is affecting consumer purchasing patterns. This is due to the decisions surrounding whether consumers should shop with a company are heavily depending on if they follow ethical procedures linking to the production of the products. It is also showing that price is a key determinant to consumers when purchasing products.

In conclusion, limitations surrounding this research would be based upon the idea that despite the ethical intentions consumers may have, it is extremely rare that they actually make ethical purchases regularly (Auger et al, 2003). Therefore, this means there is a clear gap between the attitudes and behaviours within ethical purchasing (Lee and Nicholls, 2007). Socially desirable purchasing is the idea surrounding purchasing a product to fit with the social norms, and not thinking about the ethics behind the product (Kuokkanen, 2017). From this, researchers are still unsure on whether ethics is affecting purchasing patterns and consumer behaviours.

Research Question, Aim and Objectives

Research Question

• Is there a clear correlation between the companies using ethical practices within the production of their products and the purchasing patterns of consumers?

Research Aim

• The aim is to understand consumers purchasing patterns and whether they would pay higher prices for sustainable products.

Objective for Qualitative Data

1. To conduct focus groups to see whether consumers would support Primark introducing ethical practices.

Objective for Quantitative Data

1. To create a questionnaire that helps to identify if consumers consider ethical practices when purchasing products.



In order to conduct the research proposal, pragmatist research will be used. This is recognising that there are different techniques of interpreting the world and undertaking research, mainly being done through the research question, the predominant determinant feature and the research is driven through this (Lewis, Saunders and Thornhill, 2016). Pragmatist research has been chosen because it gives you diverse points of views in order to identify the complete picture of a distinct subject (Onwuegbuzie, 2002). It has also been chosen as it helps to use any methods and techniques corresponding with qualitative and quantitative research (Baskarada and Koronios, 2018).

Using Qualitative and Quantitative Research

The research will follow a sequential exploratory design, a two phase design where qualitative research is conducted first, followed by the collection and analysis of quantitative research (Brady, Byrne and Doyle, 2009).

Qualitative research will be used, it is a form of research in which the researcher collects and interprets data, this is making the researcher as part of the research process as the participants and the data gathered (Corbin and Strauss, 2015). Using qualitative research is beneficial as it helps to produce a detailed description of the participant’s beliefs, feelings and experiences, and interprets the meanings of their actions (Denzin, 1989).

Quantitative research is also being used to help gather data. It is a research method that is described as measuring the level of occurrences on the basis of numbers and calculations (Bell and Bryman, 2015). By using statistical methods, it can be deemed as more reliable due to controlled observations (Balsley, 1970).

Qualitative Methodology


Non-probability sampling will be used to gather research from consumers. This is where not all members of the population will participate within the study, a random selection will be chosen (Tansey, 2007). Snowball sampling will be conducted; this is where the investigator makes direct contact with people who will participate in the research (Acharya et al, 2013). There will not be a number, in terms of the sample size meaning research will be conducted until reaching saturation. This is the point of which no new data has formed to help enhance the research (Eccles et al, 2010). Participants will be recruited through vouchers given in store to consumers and as for incentives, a £5 voucher for Primark will be given out to every participant that takes part within the research. This is because people are more likely to take part if incentives are offered (Bonke and Fallesen, 2010).

Data Collection

When collecting the data for the qualitative research, focus groups will be formed and conducted. Focus groups are group interviews that are planned to identify what a specific group of people think and feel regarding a specific topic, in order to gain robust responses (Kitzinger, 1994). In this research, the topic will be surrounding ethical companies and awareness. This has been chosen as it helps to gain a wide range of perspectives revolving around the same topic and it is also believed that focus groups help to bring out the participant’s thoughts and feelings more clearly than a single interview would (Kreuger and Morgan, 1993). Focus groups have also been chosen as they can be seen as an inexpensive method of research, meaning for the results it can produce, it is a cost-effective technique (Fudge and MacDougall, 2001). Homogenous members will be selected, as the participants are more likely to feel at ease, less likely to be affected by unequal balances of power and they find it easier to voice opinions that differ from the majority (Bryman, 2008).

The focus group will follow a moderator’s guide, which will be created by the moderator leading the focus group. The guide a template of how the focus group will proceed, which will include the opening and objectives of the session, the time and place, an introduction, topics being discussed, a series of questions, activities that will take place and the closing section. Timings will also be included to ensure the group is on schedule (Folch-Lyon and Trost, 1981).

The opening of the focus group consists of telling the group what to except from the session and gaining an informed consent from each participant. It will then move onto introductions, where each participant will introduce themselves and this gives the moderator a chance to identify everyone. There will also be an icebreaker activity within the introduction. The next section includes of a series of opening and probing questions, then a projective technique activity to gain deeper knowledge and insight. Following on from this, more questions will be asked. The closing section will involve of the moderator asking if the participants have anything else to add, then thanks will be given to everyone and the incentives offered will be handed to everyone (Lewis, Saunders, Thornhill, 2015).

Projective techniques will be used within the focus group, they help to uncover feelings, beliefs, attitudes and motivation which consumers find difficult to articulate (Webb, 1992). They are also beneficial to include as they help to increase the accuracy of the data collected (Burns and Lennon, 1993). Word association will be used within the focus group, this is where respondents are presented with a list of words and are asked to respond to each with the first word that comes to mind. This helps to reveal the inner feelings of the respondents (Donoghue, 2000).

To help to minimise moderator bias, the moderator should be from a similar background to the participants as this can help towards putting the contributors mind at ease (Smithson, 2000). Also, it has been said that some respondents can be extremely verbal, which can influence a majority of the group responses, to avoid this the moderator will need to ensure that everyone’s voices are getting heard throughout (Hewstone, Rubin and Willis, 2002).

In order to be able to improve on any issued raised regarding the focus group, a pilot study will be conducted afterwards (Edwin and Hundley, 2002). Conducting a pilot study subsequent to the focus group helps to obtain comments on how the questions and activities came across to the respondents, and can help to revise the sessions structure. Another basis would be that it can help to discover the effectiveness of the moderator that did lead the session. Overall, it helps to see the key strengths and weaknesses of the session, and areas to improve (Breen, 2006).

Materials needed for Focus Group:
• Moderator Guide
• Voice Recorder
• Name tags
• Laptop
• Pens
• Paper
• Chairs
• Tables
• Word Association Cards

In terms of recording the data, in the focus group the moderator will be taking notes throughout the session, and will be noting down what is being discussed, this helps as they can go back and refer to it when presenting the data (Powell and Single, 1996). The moderator will also be recording the interview through a voice recorder. This is to ensure that the moderator hasn’t missed any vital pieces of information within the notes that they will take of the session, and is seen as reliable (Sim, 1998).

Data Presentation

In order to present the data gathered from the focus groups conducted, the notes and voice recording taken from the session will be needed to be made into a transcript, which is a written up version of what was said within the group interview (Flor and Soler, 2004). The transcript will then be uploaded onto a computer software called Nvivo, which helps to select and highlight the data, and separate into different topics by coding them (Bazeley and Jackson, 2013). The coding doesn’t take a long time, meaning it is not time consuming and there is also an option to auto code. It also allows sharing and transparency of analysis (Bryman and Bell, 2011). From this, the most prominent and representative quotes should be selected to present, as these will stand out the most to Primark (Anderson, 2010).

Quantitative Methodology


Probability sampling will be used to gather quantitative data from consumers. This is based on the fact that every member of a population has a known and equal chance of being selected (Goodman and Kish, 1950). Systematic random sampling will be used, this is randomly allocating numbers to the sampling frame, and has been chosen as it works well with both small or large sample numbers (Acharya et al, 2013). A sample size of 60 will be used, this is because this will result in a sampling distribution from the average that is closest to a normal distribution. According to Lewis, Saunders and Thornhill (2016), the closer the sample distribution is to the normal distribution, the more robust the research conducted will be. The participants will be recruited through an email list that will be purchased prior, with the incentive being a £5 voucher to spend in store.

Data Collection

The data collection for the quantitative research will consist of creating an online questionnaire. This incorporates a series of questions, with the purpose of gathering a series of information (Patten, 2016), and each participant is required to answer the same questions in a predetermined order (Lewis, Saunders and Thornhill, 2016). Questionnaires will be used because the responses can be highly structured and easy to code once all the responses have been gathered, making it straightforward to analyse (Jones and Rattray, 2007). It is also an affordable and economical way of gathering research, meaning it is cost-effective and very simple to create, which can show that they aren’t time consuming (Vazire, 2006).

The start of the questionnaire will show the participants a welcome screen. This will include a title, details on the purpose of the questionnaire, how long it will take to complete, explanation stating there is no right or wrong answer, the contact details of the investigator, emphasis on the fact that participation is voluntary and that all information and answers submitted are confidential, and a consent button. The last page of the questionnaire will consist of a message saying thank you for completing, and contact details in case of any participants wanting to contact the researcher (Lewis et al, 2016).

Within the questionnaire, there will be many different types of questions included. To guarantee the participants answer all the questions, it is needed to be ensured that questions are not ambiguous and long. They should also avoid double-barrelled and leading questions (Bell and Bryman, 2015).

Open-ended questions will be incorporated; these are used to encourage participants to answer in a full and meaningful way, and require more thought (Shilo, 2015). An example would be “how do you feel about companies not using ethical practices when producing their products?”

Closed-ended questions will also be used, these have a limited set of possible answers provided to the participants (Krosnick, 2018). A sample of a close-ended question would be “do you take ethics into account when shopping?”, with the answers displayed being yes or no.

Measurement scales will be included into the questionnaire; these are a series of ways to categorize the different types of variables (McDowell, 2006). Nominal scales are named data; it can be separated into categories that don’t overlap (Perreault and Leigh, 1989). A question using nominal scales would be “which clothing shops have you purchased from in the last year?” with the answers consisting of a list of clothing shops for the participants to tick.

Ordinal scales arrange variables to an ordered relationship (Adams et al, 2007), and an example question would be “when considering buying a product, please rank the importance of the following – price, ethics, quality, brand.”

Interval scales assume to have equal distance points between each scale element (Brown, 2011). For example, “how frequently do you shop for clothes? (using any companies)”, with the options “more than once a month, once a month, every 2-3 months” and so on.

Ratio scales ask the respondents to respond in a measureable way (Brown, 2011). An example question would be “how much do you spend on clothes a year?”, with a numerical answer needed to be displayed.

Materials needed for Questionnaires:
• Laptop/Desktops
• Laptop Charger
• Email List
• Database

According to Lewis, Saunders and Thornhill (2016), assessing the validity of the questionnaires will need to be conducted, internal validity will be checked. This means that checking whether the questions measure what is intended to be measured. Content validity will also be assessed; this is by ensuring the questions adequately cover the concepts that are being attempted to measure, and also evaluating the amount of questions relating to a specific concept. Criterion-related validity assesses whether the responses help towards making predictions and statistical analysis. Construct validity will also be assessed; looking at whether the questions measure the concept that is intended to be measured.

The reliability of the questionnaire will be assessed additionally, and there are 3 methods in order to do this. The first method being alternative form, which is where an individual is given 2 different versions of the same test at different times, the scores will then be compared to determine whether it is a reliable test. The second method of determining reliability is a test re-test, this is asking the same respondents to complete the questionnaire on a second occasion, and seeing whether they give the same answers. The last method is internal consistency, that is seeing whether participant’s responses to different questions correlate with one another (Lewis, Saunders and Thornhill, 2016).

Data Presentation

In terms of the data presentation from the questionnaires, the website Qualtrics will help to interpret the data into numerical codes to help analyse the results further. By coding, the data is being sectioned into a number of categories (Basit, 2003). The numbers from the coding will then be used to create graphs to assist and explore the data gathered further, exploratory data analysis. This helps to show what the data is showing and the meaning, and also can show any possible links from the literature read prior (Tukey, 1977).

Bar charts will be used to present the data, they are portraying how many participants answered a specific answer on each question, more specifically closed-ended questions and ordinal scales. Pie charts will additionally be used, showing the percentages of what all the respondents answered within the nominal scale and ratio scale questions (Fakas, Gillet and Nguyen, 2005).

Ethics, Limitations and Timings

Ethical Issues

Although both research methods are very beneficial, there are ethical issues surrounding both. According to Homan (1991), ethical considerations for focus groups are identical for other methods of social research. A prominent ethical issue from focus groups is surrounding participant confidentiality, and ensuring their identities aren’t released to Primark through the transcripts provided (Smith, 1995). In order to safeguard the participants, the names in the transcript will be changed to fictitious names, and the content will be thoroughly checked before being released to guarantee confidentiality (Molewijk, 2015).

In terms of questionnaires, an ethical issue is that participants must give their consent to the investigator prior to taking part in the study, this is to ensure that the participants definitely are okay with undertaking the questionnaire. Therefore, to ensure consent has been given, a brief form will be needed to be completed before the questionnaire will be completed (Bell and Miller, 2002).

Limitations of Research

Although there a many strengths to the research being conducted, there are limitations that can threaten robustness. A limitation of the focus group would be that there can be disagreements between the participants and irrelevant discussions could be formed throughout (Smithson, 2000). To avoid these from happening, the moderator will need to ensure they are the dominant character and control the group from both of these from occurring.

In terms of the questionnaires, a potential limitation is that if there a lot of questions included, they could be deemed as too long. This results in the respondents not answering the questions reliably, and they may not finish the questionnaire (Bradburn, Sudman and Wansink, 2004). The measures taken to reduce this would be to ensure that the questionnaire only contains at least 20-25 questions, to make certain that the participants respond to each question.

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