VI Vitell's (2003) Recommendations for Future Consumer Ethics Research
Vitell (2003) recommended future research on consumer ethics to reflect undertaking the subsequent areas of research topics as shown in Table 2.1.
Table 2.1: Consumer ethics research: Recommendations for the future
Issue Suggested future research topics
ethics scale Additional cross-cultural studies should be conducted, especially in those developing regions such as Latin America and Africa where few prior studies have been done. Linking the consumer ethics scale to intentions and/or behaviour is also worthy of subsequent research.
Hunt-Vitell theory of
consumer ethics Any studies, whether cross-cultural or not, testing the validity of the relationships postulated in this theory in a consumer context are needed.
of ethical beliefs Constructs such as materialism, need for closure, the need to take risks, the needs for autonomy and aggression, political party preferences and ones attitude toward business, among others, should be tested as antecedents to consumer ethical beliefs. Further, variables such as gender, level of education and level of income are still in need of research. Finally, product involvement, store commitment, attitude toward brand / store, guilt proneness, generosity, loyalty proneness, shopping orientation (acquisition vs. recreation) and optimism / pessimism, among others, could be examined.
of ethical beliefs Further work on the level of stability vs. unrest in a marketing environment, and the role it plays in consumer ethical beliefs is warranted. The role of peer pressure on ethical beliefs is also worthy of consideration by researchers. Finally, a consumer's level of acculturation into a host society might be an interesting issue to tie to consumer ethical beliefs.
Consumer use of the
techniques of neutralisation Any studies expanding the knowledge base of this concept are needed, whether cross-cultural or not.
Source: Consumer Ethics Research: Review, Synthesis and Suggestions for the Future, Vitell (2003)
Vitell (2003) stated that there is the relatively reliable factor structure for the consumer ethics scale, even when used cross-culturally. Ethical judgments appear to be determined by (1) whether or not the consumer actively required an advantage or was principally passive, (2) whether or not the activity might be perceived as illegal and (3) the degree of perceived harm, if any, to the seller. The ‘actively benefiting from an illegal activity' items from theMuncy-Vitell scale are almost generally seen as being both illegal and unethical. Thus, the other dimensions may be better for discriminating among consumers from diverse cultures, mainly the ‘actively benefiting from a questionable action' or ‘no harm / no foul' measurements. Vitell (2003) recommended that further studies might be conducted using consumers from cultures not yet tested for example those from developing countries in Latin America or Africa, among others. He also stated that linking the scale to intentions and / or behaviour would be a useful research attempt.
The basic relationships of the Hunt-Vitell model are supported in some consumer researches. The achievement against failure of some actions has been related to ethical behaviour. The perceived consequences of several actions seem to define ethical judgments. Further, both the deontological and teleological assessments seem to be used in arriving at ones ethical judgments while the deontological assessment seems to carry more weight. Even so, according to Vitell (2003), only a few researches have tried to test this theory in a consumer setting and he requests on future researchers to conduct subsequent testing of the validity of the main connections of this model within a consumer ethics setting and in various cultures.
Vitell (2003) also demonstrated that several demographic or psychographic constructs appear to be connected to ethical decisions. Age seems to be connected to ethical decisions with older consumers being more ethical. Ethical decisions also seem to be directly connected to ones attitude toward business, on the whole. A general belief that man is essentially decent seems directly connected to ethical beliefs. Gender was related by more than one study to ethical beliefs, but the results are not conclusive. Likewise, materialism was associated to ethical beliefs in one study, but was a trivial factor of ethical intentions in another study. Both of these variables, gender and materialism, are in need of extra study. Furthermore, less Machiavellian, less relativistic and more idealistic consumers tend to be more ethical, and Vitell (2003) recommended that these three variables have been involved in various studies and may not need the same amount of supplementary testing as others. In one research, he found that a high need for closure was connected to a more ethical belief system whereas in another research a strong problem-solving coping style was connected to a more ethical belief system. In this latter research, a high tendency to take risks together with high needs for autonomy and aggression were connected to less ethical behaviour. Vitell (2003) recommended that these in addition to other personality variables should be included in following research studies along with additional demographic variables such as education level and income also still need research as outcomes using these are diverse.
Vitell (2003) investigation also revealed that political party preferences were related to ethical beliefs in one study with those on the extreme-left seeming to be less ethical and those on the extreme-right more ethical in their beliefs. He assumed that these outcomes could be country specific and there is a need of extra testing in other cultures. Other variables that have not been studied, but might prove productive; include product involvement, attitude towards the brand, store commitment, loyalty proneness, optimism / pessimism, kindness, guilt proneness and shopping orientation (acquisition versus. recreation).
The author also observed that environmental factors influence ethical judgments. An environment of civil disorder and even terrorism can cause lower consumer ethics. Similarly, a more disordered type of colonization (against a more stable one) can bring about a lower standard of consumer ethics. Peer pressure to involve in unethical behaviours was also a conclusive factor in at least one study. Lastly, whether or not immigrants wish to integrate into their host culture or stay separated may play a part in how they understand consumer ethics. Vitell (2003) also recommended that definitive reports regarding these ideas cannot be made yet and all of these features should be studied more in future research.
Lastly, Vitell (2003) also declared about the research of Strutton et al. (1994) that appears to show that normally ethical consumers can also easily justify unethical behaviours by appealing to the methods of neutralisation. Vitell (2003) restated that it would be useful to explore this in more depth particularly in cross-cultural contexts as the notion has the potential to explain much as to why otherwise ethical consumers occasionally behave unethically.
The present study will adopt some of the suggestions put forward by Vitell (2003) on the following areas:
Conduct more analysis on the validity of the major connections of the Hunt-Vitell model within a consumer ethics setting and in various cultures.
Ethical ideologies to be tested as antecedents to consumer ethical beliefs.
Variables such as gender, age and marital status to be further researched.
VII Conceptual Framework
The current research will adopt the Swaidan, Vitell &Rawwas (2003) model of consumer ethics as shown in the proposed conceptual framework in Figure 2.1.The current research will firstly investigate whether there is any significant difference between gender (male and female) and the four dimensions of consumer ethics. Secondly, the study will also explore if there is any significant difference between age with consumer ethics. Thirdly, the relationship between marital status and consumer ethics will be examined. Finally moral ideologies, that is idealism and relativism relation to consumer ethics will be investigated. Positivist approach, use of objective measures to obtain quantitative data from a large sample, and statistical inferential analysis to check the hypotheses will be adopted in this study (Cavana, Delahaye&Sekaran 2001; Tashakkori&Teddlie 1998). This will be reliable with the positivist approach used by Swaidan, Vitell &Rawwas (2003) in the analysis of their research.
Conceptual Framework of the study
Independent Variables Dependent Variables
Figure 2.1: Conceptual framework
VIII Dependent Variables: Consumer Ethics Scales
Base on the work of Wilkes (1978), Muncy and Vitell created the Consumer Ethics Scale which studies the degree to which consumers believe that some questionable consumer situations are either ethical or unethical (Muncy& Vitell, 1992; Vitell &Muncy, 1992).
Muncy and Vitell recognised a four factor structure of ethical beliefs or behaviorsshowing that consumers' ethical judgments are determined by (1) whether or not the consumer actively sought an advantage or was essentially passive, (2) whether or not the activity might be perceived as illegal, and (3) the degree of perceived harm, if any, to the seller.
The first dimension ‘actively benefiting from an illegal activity' involves actions that are instigated by the consumer and that are almost commonly observed as illegal (e.g. drinking a can of soda in a supermarket without paying for it). In the second category ‘passively benefiting at the expense of others' consumers do not start the action to receive the benefit, instead benefit from a seller's mistake (e.g. saying nothing when the waitress miscalculates the bill in your favour). Thirdly, ‘actively benefiting from a questionable behaviour' the consumer is involved in an action that may not essentially be observed as illegal (e.g. using a coupon for merchandise that you did not buy). In the fourth dimension, consumers see their actions as doing little or no harm ‘no harm/no foul' (e.g. taping a movie off the television).
The consumer ethics scale was revised in 2005 and a new category that represents consumers'‘do the right thing' or ‘recycle' was added. An example of this situation is purchasing something made of recycled materials even though it is more expensive. Figure 2.2 shows the Consumer Ethics Scale (Vitell &Muncy 2005).
The Consumer Ethics Scale has proved to be reliable and valid in several studies, even when used cross-culturally (e.g. Al-Khatib, Dobie & Vitell, 1995; Al-Khatib, Robertson & Lascu, 2004; Al-Khatib, Stanton &Rawwas, 2005; Al-Khatib, Vitell &Rawwas, 1997; Chan, Wong & Leung, 1998; Erffmeyer, Keillor&LeClair, 1999; Rawwas, 1996; Rawwas, Swaiden&Oyman, 2005; Rawwas, Vitell &Al-Khatib, 1994; Swaidan, Vitell &Rawwas, 2003; Swaidan, Vitell, Rose & Gilbert, 2006; Vitell, Lumpkin &Rawwas, 1991; Vitell &Paolillo, 2003; Vitell, Paolillo& Singh, 2006). For example, Al-Khatib et al. (2004) employed Muncy& Vitell's scale to investigate Romanian consumers. Rawwas et al. (2005) compared the ethical beliefs of American and Turkish consumers using the Consumer Ethics Scale. Swaidan et al. (2003) explored the ethical beliefs of African Americans. The present study will use the Consumer Ethics Scale to investigate the ethical behaviours of Mauritian consumers.
Consumers' ethical beliefs by Vitell and Muncy (2005)
Actively benefiting from an illegal activity (CE1)
• Changing price tags on merchandise in a retail store
• Drinking a can of soda in a supermarket without paying for it
• Reporting a lost item as ‘stolen' to an insurance company in order to collect the money
• Giving misleading price information to a clerk for an un-priced item
• Returning damaged merchandise when the damage is your own fault
Passively benefiting at the expense of others (CE2)
• Getting too much change and not saying anything
• Lying about a child's age in order to get a lower price
• Not saying anything when the waitress miscalculates the bill in your favour
Actively benefiting from deceptive but legal practices (CE3)
• Returning merchandise to a store by claiming that it was a gift when it was not
• Stretching the truth on an income tax return
• Using an expired coupon for merchandise
• Using a coupon for merchandise that you did not buy
• Not telling the truth when negotiating the price of a new automobile
No harm / no foul (CE4)
• Using computer software or games that you did not buy
• Recording an album instead of buying it
• Spending over two hours trying on different dresses and not purchasing any
• Taping a movie off the television
• Returning merchandise after trying it and not liking it
Recycling / doing good (CE5)
•Buying products labelled as ‘environmentally friendly' even if they don't work as well as competing products
• Purchasing something made of recycled materials even though it is more expensive
• Buying only from companies that have a strong record of protecting the environment
• Recycling materials such as cans, bottles, newspapers etc.
• Returning to the store and paying for something that the cashier mistakenly did not charge you for
• Correcting a bill that has been miscalculated in your favour
• Giving a larger than expected tip to a waiter or waitress
• Not purchasing products from companies that you believe do not treat their employees fairly
Degree of Unethicality
Figure 2.2 Consumers' ethical beliefs by Vitell and Muncy (2005)
IX Independent Variables / Antecedents of Consumer Ethics
This section will discuss the variables that affect consumer ethic that will be examined in this study. The predictors are idealism, relativism gender, age and marital status.
IX (a) Moral Ideologies or Values
Moral values essentially refers to the overall guiding ideology that individuals employ when determining whether a given situation is right or wrong. As stated by Forsyth (1980, 1992) moral values or ethical ideologies can be categorised into idealism and relativism.
Idealism refers to the degree to which a person believes that the right course of action always produces desirable results (versus some tolerable mix of desirable and undesirable outcomes). This is principally the deontological viewpoint that expresses concern for others' welfare (Hunt-Vitell model). Forsyth (1980, 1992) said that idealistic individuals stick to moral principles when making ethical judgments. They take the position that harming others is completely bad and should be avoided. Less idealistic persons think that harm is from time to time needed to produce well. They are more likely to take a utilitarian view recognising that an act is right if it produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people affected by the action, although it may be harmful to a certain group.
Relativism refers to the degree to which a person discards universal moral rules in favour of subjective or situational approaches (teleological view). Forsyth (1980, 1992) stated that relativistic individuals feel that what is moral depends on the nature of the situation, the prevailing culture and the individuals involved. They evaluate the circumstances instead of the ethical principles that were violated. Conversely, low relativists believe that standard rules can be applied irrespective of the problem at hand.
Based on the idealism and relativism constructs, Forsyth (1980) classified people into four different ethical types as shown in Figure 2.3.
Four ethical types by Forsyth
Figure 2.3 Four ethical types by Forsyth
Source: Forsyth D.R. (1980), A Taxonomy of Ethical Ideologies, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
Many experimental studies have used Forsyth's (1980, 1992) Ethics Position Questionnaire (EPQ) (see appendix A) to explore the ethics of different groups. Some of that research has used personal moral values to examine the ethical beliefs of consumers from within one country or culture (e.g. Al-Khatib, Dobie & Vitell, 1995; Erffmeyer, Keillor&LeClair, 1999; Van Kenhove, Vermeir&Verniers, 2001; Rawwas, 1996; Vitell, Lumpkin &Rawwas, 1991; Vitell &Paolillo, 2003); others applied the paradigms idealism and relativism to compare consumers' ethical beliefs between two or more countries (e.g. Al-Khatib, Stanton &Rawwas, 2005; Al-Khatib, Vitell &Rawwas, 1997; Lee &Sirgy, 1999; Rawwas, Vitell &Al-Khatib, 1994; Rawwas, Patzer&Klassen, 1995; Singhapakdi, Rawwas, Marta & Ahmed, 1999). These researches all established that idealism is linked with greater ethicality while relativism is related with lower ethicality. For example, Erffmeyer et al. (1999) found that Japanese consumers who were more idealistic were more likely to think that ethically questionable consumer circumstances were more wrong, whereas relativistic consumers were more likely to see these situations as less wrong. Likewise, Rawwas et al. (1995) found that Hong Kong consumers who score high on idealism were more prone to reject questionable practices compared to Northern Irish consumers who scored high on relativism. In another research, Singhapakdi et al. (1999) found that Malaysian consumers with a relativistic philosophy were more likely to have lower ethical sensitivities compared to U.S. consumers with an idealistic philosophy. Nevertheless, none of these past studies link these antecedents in the Mauritian setting.
Nevertheless, some recent researches failed to support the negative effect of relativism on consumers' ethical beliefs or behaviours (Al-Khatib, Roberston& Lascu, 2004; Rawwas, Swaidan&Oyman, 2005; Swaiden, Vitell &Rawwas, 2003; Vitell, Singhapakdi& Thomas, 2001). This corresponds to Davis, Andersen & Curtis (2001) study which extended the work of Forsyth (1980, 1992) by making a critical investigation of the Ethics Position Questionnaire (EPQ) intended to measure ethical ideology along the two dimensions idealism and relativism. Davis et al. (2001) determined that differences among individuals in their concern for the welfare of others (idealism) may be a mainly suitable personality variable for examining ethical judgments, while relativism seemed not to be related to consumers' ethical judgments.
According to the above discussion, the resulting hypotheses are formulated:
H1: Consumers who get low points on the idealism scale are more likely to discard questionable activities (e.g., illegal, passive, active/no harm and do the right thing) than their counterparts who score high on the same scale.
H_1a There is a significant relationship between idealism and actively benefiting from illegal activities (CE1)
H_1b There is a significant relationship between idealism and passively benefiting from others (CE2)
H_1c There is a significant relationship between idealism and actively benefiting from deceptive but legal practices and no harm activities (CE3)
H_1d There is a significant relationship between idealism and do the right thing (CE4)
H2: Consumers who get low points on the relativism scale are less likely to discard questionable activities (e.g., illegal, passive, active/no harm and do the right thing) than their counterparts who score high on the same scale.
H_2a There is a significant relationship between relativism and actively benefiting from illegal activities (CE1)
H_2b There is a significant relationship between relativism and passively benefiting from others (CE2)
H_2c There is a significant relationship between relativism and actively benefiting from deceptive but legal practices and no harm activities (CE3)
H_2d There is a significant relationship between relativism and do the right thing (CE4)
IX (b) Gender
Many researches show that ethics in a business or consumer setting is frequently influenced by gender (Chatzidakis&Mitussis 2007; Valentine &Rittenburg 2007; Vermeir&Kenhove 2008). Yet, although the growth of this research, outcomes are diverse and inconclusive with some research reporting considerable differences in men's and women's ethical reasoning (Lund 2008; Valentine &Rittenburg 2007) whereas other research reports meek or select differences or no differences at all (Pomeroy 2005; Roxas&Stoneback 2004). Some research even shows that men are more ethical than women (Haan 1975; Holstein 1976). Vitell (2003) called for additional research on demographic factors principally gender in future research, as earlier studies on gender differences were not conclusive.
In a research in 1989, Betz, O'Connell and Shephard investigated the relationship between gender and unethical behaviour. It was found that male scholars gave more importance to career advancement than developing and building relations or helping others. They also found that men were at least twice as likely to involve in unfair practices as were women. Additional research by Malinowski and Berger (1996) reinforced these results. When probed about marketing problems, undergraduate women took a more ethical attitude than their male colleagues.
Recently, Atakan, Burnaz and Topcu (2008) found that male have a lower need to behave ethically compared to female counterparts. Concerning beliefs and behaviours, a number of researches show that women are more concerned about duties and obligations and ethical intentions than men (Callen &Ownbey 2003; Cohen & Single 2001; Ruegger&King 1992). Oumli and Balloun (2009) also advanced that womenfolk have greater ethical feelings and intentions than menfolk because they are likely to be more caring. Men appear to be moreprone to be involved in an unethical action than women (Ameen, Guffey& McMillan 1996; Atakan, Burnaz&Topcu 2008). Rawwas (1996) stated that female consumers tend to view unquestionable consumer practices more severely than males.
According to the above discussion, the resulting hypotheses are formulated:
H3: Female consumers in Mauritius will be less tolerant of questionable consumer activities than the male consumers of the region.
H_3a There is a significant difference between male and female relative to actively benefiting from illegal activities (CE1)
H_3b There is a significant difference between male and female relative to passively benefiting from others (CE2)
H_3c There is a significant difference between male and female relative to actively benefiting from deceptive but legal practices and no harm activities (CE3)
H_3d There is a significant difference between male and female relative to do the right thing (CE4)
IX (c) Age
Age is recognised to have an optimistic result on consumers' ethical beliefs. Older people are more likely to reject questionable consumer practices compared to younger people. This is reinforced by many researches (e.g. Dubinsky, Nataraajan& Huang, 2005; Erffmeyer, Keillor&LeClair, 1999; Fullerton, Kerch & Dodge, 1996; Muncy& Vitell, 1992; Rawwas&Singhapakdi, 1998; Swaidan, Vitell &Rawwas, 2003; Vitell, Lumpkin &Rawwas, 1991).
In their theory of marketing ethics, Hunt and Vitell (1986) proposed that person personal distinctiveness affect ethical decisions. Thus, some demographic characteristics have been included in this study. Precedent investigation has shown that older persons are more ethical than younger ones.
According to the above discussion, the resulting hypotheses are formulated:
H4: Older Consumers will be less tolerant of questionable consumer activities than their younger counterparts in Mauritius.
H_4a There is a significant relationship between age and actively benefiting from illegal activities (CE1)
H_4b There is a significant relationship between age and passively benefiting from others (CE2)
H_4c There is a significant relationship between age and actively benefiting from deceptive but legal practices and no harm activities (CE3)
H_4d There is a significant relationship between age and do the right thing (CE4)
IX (d) Marital Status
Earlier research has stated irrelevant results in some studies and significant results in others regarding the result of marital status and ethics. Marital status has also failed to envisage psychologists' attitudes toward the ethicality of sexual contact gains (Collins, 1999). Erffmeyer, Keillor&LeClair (1999) concluded that married people tend to accept questionable practices more than single individuals; whereas Swaidan, Vitell &Rawwas (2003) found that married people are more expected to reject unethical behaviour than unmarried individuals. The current study will further the investigation about marital status as the demographic factor.
According to the above discussion, the resulting hypotheses are formulated:
H5: Consumers in Mauritius who are married will be less lenient of questionable consumer activities than their single counterparts.
H_5a There is a significant difference between married and single consumers relative to actively benefiting from illegal activities (CE1)
H_5b There is a significant difference between married and single consumers relative to passively benefiting from others (CE2)
H_5c There is a significant difference between married and single consumers relative to actively benefiting from deceptive but legal practices and no harm activities (CE3)
H_5d There is a significant difference between married and single consumers relative to do the right thing (CE4)
This chapter went through the relevant literature on the research subject with the main purposes of explaining the significance of the research problem and developing a theoretical framework for the research. The review began with a discussion on the consumers in the marketplace and Mauritian consumers so as to provide the background setting for the review. It then identified the main research subjects and the relevant theories related with the research. After that a research framework is developed followed by discussions of the dependent and independent variables. Later the discussion moves on to the development and design of the research hypotheses.
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