Why art thou resisting? Consumer resistance to the ‘citizen argument’ of retailers

Chiraz Aouina Mejri

ESG Management School

Dhruv Bhatli and Mouna Benhallam

University of Paris Est

Introduction

Mass retail today shows more and more interest in the concept of sustainable development (Capron & Quairel-Lanoizelée 2004).1 In assuming the role of responsible mega-companies, retailers must meet the growing social and ecological sensitivity of consumers. Hence, organic and fair trade products, even from private labels, are all out there on the shelves of supermarkets. These practices respond to the alternative form of consumption, also known as socially responsible consumption (Francois-Lecompte & Valette-Florence 2004).2 Earlier academic studies demonstrate numerous benefits for retailers to engage in socially responsible practices (Pava & Krause 1996; MacGuire et al. 1998; Stanwick & Stanwick 1998; Levy 1999; Lamine & Dubuisson-Quellier 2003). However, very few studies have tried to understand the ambiguous and complex nature of consumer reaction, and even fewer have explored consumer resistance to the socially responsible practices or ‘citizen argument’ put forth by retailers. Can a ‘no response’/‘negative response’ scenario exist towards the ‘citizen argument’ of the retailers? Little is known about the consumers in this context. Does the consumer resist, boycott or ignore the citizen argument of the retailers? Or does he continue consuming the brand? If he does resist, how does the resistance manifest itself? Many questions in this context remain unanswered. As mass retailers intend to integrate the ‘citizen argument’ in their marketing strategies (mix), they undoubtedly have an augmented need to better understand their consumers’ reactions and motivations in this regard. This paper is an answer to this need of retailers to understand the ambiguous and complex nature of consumer reaction and comprehend the manifestation of consumer resistance to retailers’ ‘citizen argument’. It hence examines the opposite behaviour of consumers, especially their unfavourable reaction to the citizen argument and the ways in which consumers manifest their resistance to the same. According to this objective, the article is organised in four main sections. The first outlines the theoretical background of this study and puts forth the relevant literature encompassing two major themes – consumer reaction to CSR practices and consumers’ resistant behaviour. The next section explains the adopted methodology, followed by the research findings. Towards the end, the implications of the research are presented in the discussion section, which also elucidates the limitations of this study and opens up avenues for future research studies on the same topic.