CSR in Food Retailing: What's on Customers' Minds?

Topics: Corporate social responsibility, Retailing, Social responsibility Pages: 16 (5268 words) Published: August 11, 2013
csrCSR IN FOOD RETAILING: WHAT’S REALLY ON CUSTOMERS’ MINDS? Eva Lienbacher, WU Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria Christina Holweg, WU Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria Nicole Rychly, WU Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria Peter Schnedlitz, WU Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria ABSTRACT Even if corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities have the potential to create stronger relationships between retailers and their customers, current studies show that the impact of CSR on consumers’ behavior may be overrated. This study presents an exploratory approach to examine the awareness and relevance of CSR in food retailing. Compared with prior studies, the results show that CSR is of minor importance for consumers. INTRODUCTION The precise nature of companies’ social orientation has been strenuously debated by scholars (Devinney 2009; Friedman 1970; Oosterhout and Heugens 2008). In recent decades, the discussion has focused on the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR), and this paper builds on this concept. The motivation to engage in CSR differs from idealistic to strategic orientation (Bhattacharyya 2010; Hemingway and Maclagan 2004). When companies follow a strategic CSR approach, among others, they communicate their CSR activities to their stakeholders. Thus, it has to be kept in mind that CSR communication is delicate and could be seen as “green washing” (Dawkins 2004; Du, Bhattacharya and Sen 2010; Greer and Bruno 1996; Schmeltz 2012; Ziek 2009). Current studies show that the impact of CSR on consumers’ behavior may be overrated as consumers are either not aware of it or it does not influence their purchase decisions (Öberseder, Schlegelmilch, and Gruber 2011; Pomering and Dolnicar 2008). As retailers play an important role in the economy and society (Bauer and Hallier 1999; Deloitte 2011), this study presents an exploratory approach to investigate the awareness and importance of CSR activities in food retailing from the consumers’ perspective in a European country. LITERATURE REVIEW Regarding the concept of CSR, companies have to first develop their own strategy (Bhattacharyya 2010). As an example, proactive companies may focus on moral and social concerns early and thus establish first-mover advantages (Piacentini, MacFayden, and Eadie 2000). However, after defining the underlying CSR strategy, as a general rule CSR activities are afterwards communicated to the relevant stakeholders, such as consumers (Schmeltz 2012). At this point, the two central questions are as follows: (1) are consumers aware of CSR and (2) the importance of CSR in the buying process? Although many companies communicate their social activities via reports on their homepage, recent studies show that consumers are not aware of this information (Öberseder, Schlegelmilch, and Gruber 2011; Pomering and Dolnicar 2008). It seems that other message channels have a bigger impact, such as Word-of-Mouth (Bhattacharya and Sen 2004; Du, Bhattacharya, and Sen 2010). The literature on CSR communication is diverse and encompasses a plethora of theories and approaches (Ziek 2009). According to Schmeltz (2012), the following themes recur in consumer-oriented CSR communication studies: (a) CSR’s influence on buying behavior; (b) consumers’ response and attitude toward CSR; (c) the choice of rhetorical strategies; (d) credibility; and (e) the question of how to overcome skepticism. Du, Bhattacharya, and Sen (2010) developed a framework for CSR communications (Figure 1) that offers a relevant overview. They provided insights and specific characteristics of the message content and the message channel. According to Du, Bhattacharya, and Sen (2010), company’s characteristics influence the outcomes of CSR communication. Becker-Olsen, Cudmore, and Hill (2006) state that specific characteristics of different branches need further examination. At this time, few studies have investigated the...
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