More consumers weigh companies’ social responsibility when making purchase decisions

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

More consumers weigh CSR when making purchase decisions

Related tags Social responsibility Corporate social responsibility

Acting responsibly and creating a positive social impact is no longer optional for companies – it is now a basic requirement for success based on the increasing weight consumers place on corporations' ethical and moral actions when making their purchasing decisions, according to two recent public opinion polls.

The percentage of people who deem a company’s social consciousness as a “very important”​ factor in choosing where to shop and what to buy has spiked dramatically since the November election, according to poll results published earlier this month by consumer research firm CivicScience.

It found 36% of consumers currently say that a company’s social consciousness is a “very important”​ influencer in their purchasing decisions, compared to 29% in October 2016.

A CivicScience analyst attributes the upswing in part to the contentious current political climate, which has made many shoppers “hyper-sensitive”​ in their brand affinity and shopping behaviors.

As a result of consumers’ awakening, companies can no longer succeed by remaining neutral on current issues – rather they must take a stand, “one way or another,"​ the analyst notes.

What CSR factors do consumers weigh most heavily?

But what exactly do consumers mean when they talk about corporate social responsibility? According to the Harris Poll Reputation Quotient published this month, 39% of more than 23,000 consumers surveyed said how employees are treated is a the most important corporate social responsibility issue.

This was followed closely by ethics, which was listed by 38% of respondents, and respectful treatment of customers, which was listed by 35% of respondents. Providing affordable and accessible products also ranked as the most important by 29% and 28% cited safety, according to the Harris Poll.

But companies that simply check off these attributes as a way to get ahead likely will not see the results that they want, the Harris Poll results suggest.

It found that only 45% of consumers agree that companies develop corporate social responsibility programs because it is the right thing to do. Conversely, 40% say companies develop CSR codes for to bolster their image.

The take away from these figures is that companies must be authentic in their CSR or else risk a negative backlash, a Harris Poll analyst suggests.

CSR winners and losers

The Harris Poll found few companies excel in social responsibility in consumers’ eyes, with only eight out of 100 companies measured achieving “excellent”​ CSR ratings. But of those that are at the top – three are supermarkets.

Both Publix Super Markets’ and Wegmans’ won “excellent”​ CSR ratings taking the first and second slots the poll’s social responsibility rankings. Whole Foods Market didn’t quiet achieve the excellent status, but it came in the 10th​ spot.

At the very bottom of the list of 100 companies rated for social responsibility was Monsanto – likely a result in part from the ongoing debate about genetically modified organisms.

Who cares about CSR

Younger consumers are more likely to be influenced by corporate social responsibility, but the proportion of consumers who care most about it is rising across all generations, according to both polls.

CivicScience found an increase in social concern across all generations, but saw the most prominent shift from Millennials and Gen Xers.

The Harris Poll also found that Millennials are more likely to influence family and friends’ perceptions about companies based on the social responsibility than other generations with 41% saying they do this now compared to 37% in 2016.

In addition, Millennials (46%) are more likely to make purchase decisions based on what companies will do with their personal information than baby boomers (36%), according to the Harris Poll. 

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