Shopping for a Cause: Altruism Sells this Season

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The holidays bring many motivations to buy, buy, buy. Beyond the sale prices and must-have items is something greater for consumers to consider, says Saint Joseph’s University sociologist Keith Brown, Ph.D.

“Many consumers sincerely want to make a difference in the world through shopping,” he says. “Consumers like to give gifts that have a story about where the product came from, who made it and how the producer benefitted by selling the object.”

Conversely, Brown says that the recipients often feel good, too. “It’s a double gift."

Brown points to a number of motivators for consumers who look for pink ribbon or earth-friendly products, but also notes that keeping up appearances can play a role.

“Maybe most importantly, consumers want to be viewed as socially conscious. Objects that clearly signify that a person has donated to charity help mark the consumer as altruistic.”

So, this season, with America in recession, how big of a role will altruism play in holiday shopping?

“The current recession coincided with an ‘ethical turn’ in the markets,” Brown explains. “More and more products are being sold that donate a portion of their proceeds to a charitable or ethical cause.”

And an increasing number of consumers from all socio-economic segments are looking to pay it forward, Brown says, but especially those who have been only minimally impacted by the recession.

They’re looking for ‘Made in America,’ ‘Fair Trade,’ or ‘Eco-friendly.’ They want to add a socially responsible dimension to their gift-giving.”

Contact Information

Brown can be reached by e-mail at kbrown01@sju.edu, by phone at 610-660-1687, or by contacting the Office of University Communications at 610-660-1222.



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