This study found that consumers care more about ethical production attributes (e.g. labor, sustainability) when products are made-to-order compared to when they are chosen from inventory.
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Paharia, Neeru (2020), “Who Receives Credit or Blame? The Effects of Made-to-Order Production on Responses to Unethical and Ethical Company Production Practices,” Journal of Marketing, 84(1), 88-104.
While past research has found that consumer-influenced production improves purchase intentions, we propose it can counterintuitively backfire. This work demonstrates that when consumers have some control over production (e.g., ordering products on demand, customization, preordering), they have lower purchase intentions for products made with unethical processes (e.g., pollution, underpaid labor) than if they had no role in production (i.e., buying what is already in inventory). This effect reverses, however, with positive ethical production (e.g., recycled materials). Because consumers have direct responsibility for whether a product is made, feelings of anticipated guilt or gratification result depending on the ethicality of the production process. This work also proposes a novel threefold conceptualization of responsibility that can be used as managerial levers: direct responsibility, diffusion of responsibility, and broad responsibility. Field studies using Facebook’s advertising platform demonstrate positioning strategies for fair-trade brands and advocacy groups.
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