To buy or not to buy: At what price do consumers consider the societal cost?

Elaine Ritch, Julie McColl

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Retail brand competition is increasing, global competition coupled with the economic crisis of 2008 has impacted on the UK high street and many well-known retailers have gone into administration. Other well-known retailer brands are streamlining efficiencies, such as John Lewis, M&S and Debenhams. The expansion of discount retailers may appeal to price sensitive consumers, but this has incurred allegations of exploiting producers. In the past, research has found that consumers consider that workers in developing countries cannot expect the same salaries and working conditions as western-workers but more recently there have been allegations that UK employees are exploited with low pay and poor working conditions. This has resulted in a new phenomenon of ‘working poor’ and food poverty households who struggle to provide for families. With discount retailers appearing to grow their market-share in this price sensitive climate, it seems that retailers who have attempted to install stronger brand identity through better quality products, superior customer service and stable employment are suffering from applying integrity to their business practice. Simultaneously, there also seems to be a backlash against businesses that focus on the ‘race to the bottom’ and the impact this has on society, particularly for the implications for the so called gig economy with reduced workers’ rights, working conditions and salaries. This research seeks to explore the tensions that exist between consumers focusing buying decisions on managing their household budget, and their perceptions around retail pricing, and how they view retailing as contributing to wider notions around societal well-being. Focus groups questioned perceptions of four retail brands: middlemarket retailers John Lewis and M&S that communicate customer service, product quality and enhanced employee conditions will be contrasted against Primark and Sports Direct, which both focus on low pricing. Early analysis indicates that such tensions exist and consumers construct creative narratives to appease their contribution to practice that is considered detrimental.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication11th Social Innovation: Local Solutions to Global Challenges
Publication statusPublished - 3 Sep 2019


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