THE CONSUMER DECISION-MAKING PROCESS

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Theoretical framework

In this chapter we will account for and discuss various theoretical concepts that, in our view, are needed to understand the green consumer profile. This includes basic concepts for consumer behaviour on a general level, as well as discussion regarding how to connect the same concepts to the marketing of sustainable foods. The overarching framework of this study is based on the established value-attitude-behaviour model by Homer and Kahle (1988). However, the three stages are elaborated upon by inviting revolving theories regarding values, attitudes and behaviour into the model. Through doing so, we aim to create a solid foundation for understanding the modern consumer and identifying relevant areas to target in the empirical section of the study.
The chapter is structured in the following manner: firstly, we will review the general process that consumers go through when a product is selected and consumed. Secondly, we will elaborate on the value-attitude-behaviour model by Homer and Kahle (1988) and explain its relevance for the study from a sustainability perspective. Thirdly, we will delve further into the various theoretical aspects of the main stages of Homer and Kahle’s model – values, attitudes, and behaviour. Finally, the introduced concepts will be discussed in a comprehensible way for the reader’s convenience, culminating in the presentation of an integrative model which acts as a foundation for this thesis.

The consumer decision-making process

The past century has seen a number of ways of describing the process a consumer goes through when selecting and consuming products. The aim of this section is not to examine all of these models in detail, but rather to provide a general understanding of the process by which a consumer makes consumption decisions. While not specifically central to the theoretical framework of this study, the following section will help the reader put the subsequently introduced theories into perspective and aid in understanding the importance of various concepts. For this end, we have chosen to present the five-step model of consumer decision-making, illustrated by us in Figure 2, The consumer-decision making process, inspired by Solomon (2019). The model was chosen due to that it is straightforward and simple to understand. As such, it is suitable as an introduction into the minds of consumers.
The model describes five general stages that a consumer goes through when selecting and consuming products. The first stage is problem recognition. In this step, the consumer becomes aware of a perceived significant difference between the current state of affairs and a desired state (Solomon, 2019). In terms of food products, the problem recognition can stem from several factors. Maybe the consumer has run out of food in the fridge and simply needs to refill it. Maybe he has become bored of his current diet and wishes to experience new flavours. Maybe he is concerned that his consumption choices are impacting the environment in a negative way and wishes to change this. In any case, the problem recognition sparks the desire to actively change the current state of affairs, leading to the next stage of the model.
The next stage is information search, in which the consumer scans the environment for information that can help him make a good decision (Solomon, 2019). This information can be obtained through actively searching for it, e.g. online, or by passively receiving messages through advertising, packaging etc. At this stage it is important to note that consumers tend to spend more time and effort on searching for information when the purchase is considered important, while less important decisions are often made through the use of mental shortcuts, which we call heuristics (Solomon, 2019). Heuristics and the implications of relying on them will be further elaborated on in chapter 2.5.1.
The third step in the process consists of evaluation of alternatives that were generated in the previous step. In this step, the consumer will evaluate the different attributes of the alternatives and compare them among each other, to facilitate the choosing of a winner (Solomon, 2019). At this stage, consumer values and attitudes toward certain attributes of a product, as well as the perception regarding to which extent a product possesses an attribute, become important. These attributes can incorporate just about anything depending on the product and, indeed, the consumer himself. In the case of sustainable foods, the most relevant attributes are likely to be price, taste, environmental impact, and availability (Moser, 2016, pp. 553-554). It is important to note that some consumers may perceive certain attributes to be important, while other consumers may have completely different opinions. We will delve deeper into these intricacies while discussing values and attitudes later in the thesis.
Once the consumer has evaluated the alternatives according to his own preferences, he will rank them and select (purchase) the highest-scoring option. This is done in stage four, product choice (Solomon, 2019). Mathematically, the ranking is based on weighting the identified product attributes according to perceived importance. The fact that consumers prioritize differently in terms of attribute weights forms the basis of segmentation strategies, whereby the producer tries to target a group of potential consumers who are most likely to prefer a specific product over the other alternatives on the market. Authors such as D’Souza et al. (2007, cited in Akehurst et al, 2012, p. 973) have pointed out the need to increase our understanding of the green consumer profile in order to help marketers more effectively promote sustainable products.
The final stage of the consumer decision-making model is post-purchase evaluation (Solomon, 2019). In this stage, the consumer will critically evaluate to which extent the product managed to fulfil his needs. If the product failed to fulfil the needs of the consumer, he will be looped back to stage 1 again: problem recognition (Solomon, 2019).
Although the model by Solomon (2019) may be accused of oversimplifying a complicated process, it works wonderfully as a base for understanding the relevance of concepts such as marketing strategies, values, attitudes, and heuristics. Next, we will start outlining the more specific components of the theoretical framework of this thesis.

The value-attitude-behaviour model

In order to understand the relationship between marketing and consumer values, it is useful to rely on the established value-attitude-behaviour model that was first introduced by Homer and Kahle (1988). Simply put, the authors describe the relationship between factors as a hierarchy, ranging from the most abstract (values) to the most specific (behaviour) (Homer & Kahle, 1988, p. 638). The logic of the model is that every individual has a set of values, which influence the individual’s attitudes toward different objects. These attitudes will then influence the behaviour of the individual (Homer & Kahle, 1988, p. 638). Williams (1979, cited in Homer & Kahle, 1988, p. 638) and Carman (1977, cited in Homer & Kahle, 1988, p. 638) had previously established a link between values and consumption behaviour, but Homer and Kahle (1988) expanded the model by adding attitudes as a mediating factor, thus improving the accuracy of the hierarchy. The model has successfully been used in many pieces of marketing research, e.g. Shin, Moon, Jung and Severt (2017), who used it as a starting point in their study of the effects of environmental values and attitudes on willingness to pay for organic food menus. The study once again found support for the model, showing a link between values, attitudes, and willingness to pay (which in this instance can be considered a proxy variable for behaviour). The finer points of the individual factors in the model will be elaborated upon in subsequent chapters. This model has been selected as the base of the theoretical framework of this thesis due to apparent academic acceptance of the model and its ability to explain the drivers of behaviour in a structured way, the latter being a quality that fits well with the purpose of this study. It can be viewed in Figure 3, The value-attitude-behaviour model A.
In terms of consumer behaviour, Homer and Kahle’s (1988) hierarchy can be illustrated by a simple example: Suppose that two consumers are walking down the aisle of a supermarket. Consumer A has a set of values that primarily emphasize the importance of protecting our environment. Consumer B has a set of values that primarily emphasize the importance of being financially frugal in order to look out for himself and his family. The consumers stop at a display of organically produced tomatoes, advertised by a sign that highlights the environmentally friendly methods that were used in the production of the tomatoes. After reading the sign, consumer A will have a positive attitude toward the tomatoes, because they embody a value that is important to him. Consumer B, however, will be left unphased by the environmentally friendly message and instead focus on the price tag, which shows that the organic tomatoes are more expensive than the standard alternatives. As such, his attitude toward the organic tomatoes will be more negative than that of consumer A. The difference in attitude will then lead to the consumers displaying different concrete behaviours, with consumer A choosing to purchase the more expensive, organic tomatoes and consumer B moving on in search of a more affordable alternative.
The model, in its simplest form, is general enough to facilitate being used as a base for understanding consumer behaviour within almost any context. However, the model was initially developed by the authors for use in a setting related to natural foods. As such, we consider it reasonable to assume that it will fit well with the purpose of this study, which is to increase our knowledge of the green consumer profile within a sustainable foods setting. Homer and Kahle (1988) tested the model by investigating the relationship between values, attitudes, and shopping behaviour of consumers of natural foods. The study found robust evidence for the proposed hypothesis and was able to establish a clear link between values, attitudes, and behaviour. Values that were used were abstract: sense of belonging, fun and enjoyment in life, warm relationships with others, self-fulfilment, being well-respected, excitement, sense of accomplishment, security, and self-respect (Homer & Kahle, 1988, p. 644). These values, which could be split into internal and external values, were then tested against the respondents’ attitudes toward nutrition. The results showed that respondents who placed more importance on internal values were more likely to care about nutrition and avoiding additives, which resulted in a more positive attitude toward natural foods (Homer & Kahle, 1988, p. 645). Finally, a firm link between nutritional attitudes and shopping behaviour was established, thus completing the logical chain of the hierarchy (Homer & Kahle, 1988, p. 645). While the model is useful as a base for our theoretical framework due to its clarity and acceptance within marketing academia, we recognize that it can be significantly expanded by accounting for other factors. From this point on in the theoretical framework, we will start introducing concepts that can be added to the basic value-attitude-behaviour model by Homer and Kahle (1988) in order to better explain consumption behaviour in terms of sustainable foods. In this way, we aim to create a framework that allows for increasing our understanding of the green consumer profile, which is the ultimate purpose of this study. The final framework is presented in chapter 2.7.
Other authors within the realm of sustainable advertising have also utilized similar logic as Homer and Kahle (1988) to develop linear models. An example of this is Huang et al., (2014), who investigated the relationship between green brand positioning (GBP), green brand knowledge (GBK), attitudes toward green brand (AGB), and green purchase intention (GPI) in Taiwan. At this point it is important to note that Huang et al. (2014) have incorporated the concept of knowledge into the model. While the authors in this case use a fairly concrete variable (green brand knowledge) for knowledge, a plethora of other researchers (e.g. Hines et al., 1987; Mostafa, 2007; Sheltzer et al., 1991) have previously argued for the existence of a link between environmental “awareness” and environmentally friendly behaviour. Huang et al. (2014, p. 263) found that GBP positively influences GBK and that both GBP and GBK influence AGB separately. Furthermore, AGB positively influences GPI. The construction of a model that includes knowledge as a driver of attitude was not pioneered by Huang et al. (2014), who in their study freely admit that the concept had been previously developed by a number of authors including Chan (1999), Fryxell and Lo (2003), Hines et al. (1987), and Mostafa (2007). However, Huang et al. (2014) are the most recent authors to find empirical support for the link between knowledge and attitude, which is why we are choosing to present their study in this thesis. The findings can be illustrated by the following model, Figure 4, Drivers of green purchase intention by Huang et al. (2014), where arrows denominate how the factors influence each other: Figure 4. Drivers of green purchase intention by Huang et al. (2014).
While the first level of Homer and Kahle’s (1988) hierarchy (i.e. values) in this instance has been substituted for green brand positioning and green brand knowledge, the findings of Huang et al. (2014) lend further support to at least the final two levels of the hierarchy proposed by Homer and Kahle (1988). The usefulness of the model for the purpose of this paper is threefold: Firstly, it provides further empirical support for the link between attitude and behaviour. Second, it showcases that concrete knowledge of an issue or brand affects consumers’ attitudes, as opposed to the model by Homer and Kahle (1988) that only lists values as an influencing factor of attitudes. This alternative perspective allows us to expand the basic value-attitude-behaviour model which serves as the foundation of our theoretical framework. Third, it shows a link between green brand positioning and green brand knowledge, which in a tangible way shows that marketers have the opportunity to affect the attitudes of consumers through communication. The relationship between the models by Homer and Kahle (1988) and Huang et al. (2014) will be further discussed in chapter 2.4.
The consistent findings presented above lend credibility to the notion that consumer values and attitudes are at the heart of marketers’ struggle to promote sustainable products on a larger scale. However, the presented literature fails to illustrate exactly how to exploit this hierarchy in the most effective way. Both pieces of research agree that attitudes directly influence the actual behaviour of consumers, but there seems to be multiple approaches to fostering positive attitudes. On the one hand, one may choose to play on consumer values. This could encompass either focusing on consumers who are already assumed to hold values that place importance on the environment, or focusing on promoting sustainability as a value on a more general level in the hope that this will cultivate a larger segment of enthusiastic pro-environmentalists. The other route would be to focus on increasing consumer knowledge of the environmental issues we are facing and how consuming green products can help mitigate these issues. While this may seem like a fairly straightforward issue, the problem is far from clear-cut. Next, we will elaborate on the factors in Homer and Kahle’s (1988) hierarchy – values, attitudes, and behaviour – in order to extend our theoretical framework and shed light on the intricacies surrounding the promotion of sustainable products.

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Values

In this section we will outline what values are, how they can help us understand the green consumer profile, and how they can be grouped into subcategories, or “value dimensions”, to better understand consumer behaviour within sustainable purchasing.
Homer and Kahle established that values are the most abstract component of their hierarchy (Homer & Kahle, 1988, p. 638), which can be interpreted as values being at the root of all behaviour. The authors relied on a definition by Rokeach (1973, cited in Homer
& Kahle, 1988, p. 638), explaining the concept in the following words: “a value is an enduring belief that a specific mode of conduct or end-state is personally preferable to its opposite. A value system is an enduring organization of beliefs concerning modes of conduct or end-states along an importance continuum. Basically, he conceived of personality as a system of values”. The definition underlines the complexity of values, by showing that values can also be looked at like systems. These values within a system have complex relationships that ultimately dictate what a person does or does not do. The same definition by Rokeach (1973) has also been used by other authors within sustainable marketing literature, such as Shin et al. (2017, p. 114). The Oxford Dictionary defines values in more simple manner, describing the concept as “principles or standards of behaviour; one’s judgement of what is important in life” (Oxford Dictionaries, 2019). The essence of both definitions is the same – values are what dictate how individuals prioritize as they go through life. While values are abstract and rarely relate to specific events, as opposed to attitudes, as discussed by Kahle (2013, cited in Shin et al., 2017, p. 114), they will have an impact on how individuals ultimately decide to feel about anything they encounter.
Taking into account Homer and Kahle’s (1988, p. 638) interpretation of value systems as the root of our personality, it is not surprising that values have been given much weight within marketing. Indeed, authors such as Chen and Lee (2015, p. 197) have emphasized that marketing strategies which target consumer values are more likely to yield an inimitable competitive advantage. This statement makes sense from a purely logical perspective, when considering the value-attitude-behaviour hierarchy by Homer and Kahle (1988). If a marketing strategy is built solely on tangible factors such as offering the best price or most high-quality product, any competitor who manages to replicate the production process is likely to have a chance of becoming a fierce competitor. If, however, marketing is built around consumer values, the situation changes. Value-based marketing relies on creating an emotional response in the consumer, meaning that this type of strategy is difficult to imitate. Thus, if we accept that values lie at the core of all decisions, it is difficult to ignore the urgency of marketers understanding consumer values and how to appeal to them. As such, we argue that in order to fulfil the purpose of this study (to increase our understanding of the green consumer profile), it is necessary to include values as a key concept in our theoretical framework.
As has been illustrated, values are a fairly broad and abstract concept. As such, it is useful for researchers and practitioners alike to divide the concept into subcategories in a meaningful way. This approach was used by Moser (2016, p. 554) and Shin et al. (2017, p. 114), who utilized a division developed by Stern, Dietz and Kalof (1993) to explain the motivations for purchasing organic foods. Stern et al. (1993) wrote a paper on environmental concern and split the concept of values into three “value dimensions” to outline the main categories of reasons for engaging in pro-environmental behaviour. These dimensions where egoistic, biospheric, and altruistic (Stern et al., 1993, p. 324). It should be noted that there may exist other meaningful divisions, depending on the context (Stern et al., 1993, p. 326). In this paper, we have chosen to use the division proposed by Stern et al. (1993) due to its previous use in studies related to sustainable consumption and its clarity. In the following sections, the proposed three value dimensions will be explained. In Figure 5, Value dimensions, the three value dimension along with examples of factors relating to them, are illustrated.

Table of contents :

1 INTRODUCTION
1.1 PROBLEM BACKGROUND
1.2 RESEARCH PURPOSE
1.3 DELIMITATIONS
1.4 DEFINITIONS
1.4.1 Defining sustainability
1.4.2 Defining sustainable food products
1.4.3 Defining sustainable purchasing behaviour
1.4.4 Defining the green consumer profile
1.5 THESIS DISPOSITION
2 THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK
2.1 THE CONSUMER DECISION-MAKING PROCESS
2.2 THE VALUE-ATTITUDE-BEHAVIOUR MODEL
2.3 VALUES
2.3.1 Egoistic values
2.3.2 Biospheric values
2.3.3 Altruistic values
2.4 ATTITUDES
2.5 BEHAVIOUR
2.5.1 Heuristics and bounded rationality
2.5.2 The attitude-behaviour gap
2.6 LITERATURE CRITICISM
2.7 THEORETICAL DISCUSSION AND INTEGRATIVE MODEL
3 METHODOLOGY
3.1 LITERATURE SEARCH
3.2 RESEARCH PHILOSOPHY
3.3 RESEARCH APPROACH
3.4 RESEARCH METHOD
3.5 RESEARCH DESIGN
3.6 DATA COLLECTION METHODS
3.7 SAMPLING METHODS
3.8 PRACTICAL METHODOLOGY
3.8.1 Operationalization
3.8.2 Interview guide
3.9 ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS
3.10 METHOD OF ANALYSIS
3.11 DATA QUALITY
3.12 METHODOLOGICAL SUMMARY
4 EMPIRICAL MATERIAL
4.1 CONVENIENCE SAMPLING IMPLEMENTATION AND IMPLICATIONS
4.2 FOCUS GROUP DESCRIPTION AND EMPIRICAL CONSIDERATIONS
4.3 EMPIRICAL SUMMARY
5 ANALYSIS
5.1 KNOWLEDGE
5.2 VALUES
5.3 ATTITUDES AND PERCEPTIONS
5.4 THE ATTITUDE-BEHAVIOUR GAP
5.5 HEURISTICS
5.6 BEHAVIOUR
5.7 MARKETING INSIGHTS
5.8 ANALYTICAL SUMMARY
6 CONCLUSIONS
6.1 PURPOSE AND RESEARCH QUESTIONS
6.2 DATA QUALITY, TRUTH CRITERIA AND ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS
6.3 PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS
6.4 SOCIETAL IMPLICATIONS
6.5 THEORETICAL IMPLICATIONS AND FUTURE RESEARCH
6.6 CONCLUDING REMARKS
REFERENCE LIST
APPENDICES
APPENDIX 1, INTERVIEW GUIDE

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