SECTION 3 – CONTROL BELIEFS AND THE PERCEIVED LIKELIHOOD OF OCCURRENCE
Perceived behavioral control (PBC) about purchasing eco-friendly clothing stands for the problem of implementation, the missing ability to perform environmentally or socially friendly acts. The level of PBC depends on the positive perception of facilitating factors or the negative perception of obstacles and their likelihood of occurrence, no matter if the control beliefs are rational/true or not (Ajzen 1988). Perceived control over the behavior accounts for behavioral decisions that are not under complete volitional control. This means that in the context of sustainable, functional outerwear or any other type of consumer behavior regarding eco-friendly products there are several external factors, which prohibit green consumer behavior. Six key factors were used in my paper to account for the obstacles in this context. The set of questions covers some, not all, of the key marketing issues in the areas of product development, pricing, distribution and communication. They contribute to the intention-behavior gap. This gap exists because consumers with very pronounced environmental attitudes might display a strong intention to purchase eco-friendly products (see Section 1), but get obstructed by several obstacles when trying to put their intention into action.
Therefore, the following two sets of questions were asked (as in the previous blog about the effects of social influences on the development of positive or negative purchasing intentions, the results were multiplied):
Which of the following problems affect the amount of environmentally friendly outerwear that you purchase?
- higher price of eco-products
- availability (not enough shops)
- limited range (choice, cuts or colors)
- lower quality of eco-product
- confusing variety of eco-labels
- obtaining information regarding what products are environmentally friendly
‘always a problem’ (-3) to ‘never a problem’ (+3) // note: items are reverse coded
The second step was the consumer’s perceived control or ability to act:
Please indicate below whether or not you believe that these problems are likely to occur when shopping for environmentally friendly outerwear…
Very unlikely (+1) to very likely (+7)
Discussion of the results
It must be noted that the above results depend on the respondents’ level of experience and information. The results display the consumers’ assumptions or perceptions, whether they have never been in the situation or whether they have frequently purchased or tried to purchase eco-friendly textile products in the past (On a sidenote: There was no significant difference between respondents that did not put an emphasis on buying green in the past versus the group that cared about their consumption choices to a great or an extremely great extent before they answered this survey).
One of the most prominent and frequently discussed issues with green products is the price premium consumers are confronted with in the stores (-9,7). Not surprisingly, this obstacle proves to be the single biggest factor hindering the growth of green consumerism. But while innovative green products are not necessarily perceived as being “lower quality” (-3,2), two other important groups of obstacles can be identified. These two are under the control of companies communication and distribution departments. The lack of stores offering eco-friendly outerwear and the limited range seem to be a rather big negative influence on the purchasing intention. Apart from the availability problem, the problem of information plays another important role as well. Information about which products are “green” (-5,5) are missing and this lack of transparency can also not be reduced by a simple, understandable and trustworthy eco-label (-5,0).
Practical implications for marketeers
Pretty much all of these negative external influences are under the volitional control of the companies in the outdoor sports industry. There is a lot of room for improvement. Markets function by the law of supply and demand. Demand on the consumer side remains rather low because people are lacking information about and access to sustainable products. The magic word is: ENABLE!
Improving ACCESS to sustainable products
- High prices/limited range: Offer more sustainable products at lower price points with varying design and function, e.g. with certified material that ensures social and ecological quality this is already possible, while remaining profitable. Of course, the product portfolio should still contain “super-sustainable” products e.g. from certified and recycled material, fully recyclable, at somewhat premium prices.
- Availability: Develop specific distribution solutions specifically, but not exclusively for sustainable products. Work with specialised stores (e.g. Boarders Munich), including online platforms (e.g. 7Sky green room) and push non-specialised stores and chains to increase the percentage of sustainable outerwear. This can be done by giving these retailers an incentive by specific marketing activities, sales training and POS material that enables them to better market these products.
INFORM and ENABLE consumer to act
- Confusing variety of labels: Textile industry should discontinue the development of in-house labels or specific labels for certain product ranges. Those activities dilute the value of the “true” sustainability labels and confuse consumers – especially if they are not more sustainable in total. This also lowers the chance of being accused of “greenwashing”. Nevertheless, for sustainability standards that clearly exceed the common standard, there are two solutions to keep the comparative competitive advantage:
- Either first movers still keep developing their own campaigns. Obviously, these industry leaders should continue to improve their core competency and to communicate their innovative first-mover position.
- Or a second solution, which further reduces confusion on the consumer side, would be the development of an easy differentiation system (cp. green, orange, red “traffic light”-style labelling discussion from the food industry) by third-party certifiers, the providers of a respective label. This solution would reduce confusion and clearly help consumers distinguish how sustainable a product is (of course, with certain limits, which cannot be discussed here).
- Lack of information: Invest in cross industry joint marketing campaigns that raise the level of information and know-how on the consumer side. United efforts will certainly be more successful than the single-handed revolution attempt. Some first projects have been popping up over the past years (e.g. Quiksilver’s No Water Sucks) and the positive effects from the work of associations should also be noted (Note to self: should be posting more about these types of campaigns and actions in the future).
From my point of view, the combination consulting third-party certification companies and the respective sustainability labeling, possibly “traffic light style”, has one of the biggest potentials to overcome many of the above issues in the outdoor sports industry. I will talk more about two of the main obstacles, pricing and availability, in my next blog post launching tomorrow.
Stay with us and keep commenting! Enjoy your weekend! AJ
 Ajzen, Icek (1988), Attitudes, Personality and Behaviour (Mapping Social Psychology): Open University Press.