Your article on ethics (Make the most of your ethics, MW June 9) ran the risk of giving false hope to ethical brands. Ipsos’ claim that 63 per cent of consumers would pay a premium for an ethical product is a classic example of people saying what they think the researcher wants to hear. Communicator’s own research, conducted in association with the University of Hertfordshire, indicates that the true figure is substantially lower.
Factors such as quality, price and convenience are still the overwhelming influences on purchases, while “soft” issues such as ethics, the environment and even health benefits are less important to consumers. This is particularly true of low-ticket items such as packaged goods. For instance, 94 per cent of consumers think that quality is very important when buying food products, but only 17 per cent attach the same importance to the producer’s ethical credentials. The picture is slightly more positive when it comes to white goods or cars, possibly because of their longer lifespan.
We reinforced these quantitative findings through a series of focus groups where we asked respondents to group non-related products and give them classifications. They came up with many ways of sorting the products, from branded or own-label to male or female, and even classy or tacky, but not a single respondent suggested an ethical, health or environmental classification, confirming our conclusion that these issues are not a priority for the vast majority of consumers when considering everyday purchases.
Our conclusion is that, all other things being equal, a minority of consumers will make a purchase choice based on their perception of the product’s ethical credentials. However, if the price is higher or the quality inferior, only a very small, die-hard group of consumers will buy regardless.
Manufacturers clearly have a long way to go before the ethical market is anything more than a very niche segment.