Using big data to understand consumer behaviour on ethical issues

Phani Kumar Chintakayala  and C. William Young in the Journal of Consumer Ethics: “The Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC) was established by the UK Economic and Social Research Council and launched its data services in 2015. Te project is led by the University of Leeds and UCL, with partners at the Universities of Liverpool and Oxford. It is working with consumer-related organisations and businesses to open up their data resources to trusted researchers, enabling them to carry out important social and economic research….

Over the last few years there has been much talk about how so-called “big data” is the future and if you are not exploiting it, you are losing your competitive advantage. So what is there in the latest wave of enthusiasm on big data to help organisations, researchers and ethical consumers?…

Examples of the types of research being piloted using data from the food sector by CDRC include the consumption of milk and egg products. Te results clearly indicate that not all the sustainable  products are considered the same by consumers, and consumption behaviour varies across sustainable product categories. i) A linked data analysis was carried out by combining sales data of organic milk and free range eggs from a retailer with over 300 stores across the UK, green and ethical atitude data from CDRC’s data partner, and socio-demographic and deprivation data from open sources. Te analysis revealed that, in general, the consumers with deeper green and ethical atitudes are the most likely consumers of sustainable products. Deprivation has a negative efect on the consumption of sustainable products. Price, as expected, has a negative efect but the impact varies across products. Convenience stores have signifcant negative efect on the consumption of sustainable products. Te infuences of socio-demographic characteristics such as gender, age, ethnicity etc. seem to vary by product categories….

Big data can help organisations, researchers and ethical consumers understand the ethics around consumer behaviour and products. Te opportunities to link diferent types of data is exciting but must be research-question-led to avoid digging for non-existent causal links. Te methods and access to data is still a barrier but open access is key to solving this. Big data will probably only help in flling in the details of our knowledge on ethical consumption and on products, but this can only help our decision making…(More)”.