Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Personal Values and Your Consumer Behavior

How much do your values impact your own personal consumer behavior? Take the Supreme Court ruling on Hobby Lobby versus providing contraception to their employees as an example. Would you consider yourself more or less likely to shop at the place based on the business participation in this legal battle? Regardless of the specific side of the issue you find yourself on, the root question is more about whether, by participating in this legal battle over "values" issues affects your decision to engage in a relationship with the business.

Perhaps it's the circles that I run in, but my friends consumer activities have long been shaped by many of these issues. Back in the nineties, many of my friends used to avoid buying Exxon gas. These days, even as Chick-fil-A restaurants have began popping up all around the south bay, we haven't been to a single one. There are no Hobby Lobby stores here, but if there were, I guarantee you that I, for one, would not be a customer.

Back when I lived in the bible-belt south, I once worked for a music store that, essentially, has a religious test for employment. After I quit working there, they eventually got to a point where they held mandatory prayer meetings with their employees. The idea that, as an employee you might have to participate in a mandatory prayer meeting offended me to the core -- I didn't want to pray, I just wanted to be employed in the music business. For the owners, perhaps it was a moral issue, but for many of the people that worked there, it was more about them exerting their power over employees than it was about shared values. The acceptance of practices like that is one of the reasons why I left the region and found myself much happier here in California where that type of business behavior wasn't tolerated.

Our everyday choices are governed by our own values.

In all, the silent embargo against businesses who cross your moral threshold may not significantly impact their bottom line. But, as a consumer, you have a choice, and when businesses engage in polarizing public activities, they should expect to see a cost associated with that. When I don't buy Exxon gas or Chick-fil-A sandwiches, there is no analytic that measures that. There is no survey that says, I didn't come in because your business behavior and my political views don't match. But I represent a percentage of potential business that is lost because of that.

But this isn't completely a this-side-that-side kind of situation. There are business behaviors that are apolitically positive. Compare the Hobby Lobby case to Starbucks recent announcement that it would pay for college for all of it's employees. It's hard to imagine an opposition to their position. It's an example of a business doing something more for employees, versus fighting to do less. So which public activity makes you feel better about doing business with the company?

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