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Could buycotting be the new boycotting?

Le buycott deviendrait-il le nouveau boycott des consommacteurs
Published on
22 October 2018

Consumers have a certain amount of power to change the behavior of companies. In particular, their purchasing power and how they spend their money has a direct impact on a company’s success. Boycotting is a well-known use of this power. However, new research suggests that buycotting (or buying products to reward a company’s good behavior) could be an underused, but effective tool for consumers.

Robert Mai, an associate professor of marketing at GEM, explains that: "Consumers can use their purchasing power in two manners to express their social or environmental concerns. First, they can boycott an 'irresponsible' company. Second, they can deliberately buy from a 'responsible' company (buycott)."

Boycotting, which is much more widely known, is a practice that relies on a consumer restricting his or her purchasing habits to punish a company. On the other hand, buycotting is a much less known practice that relies on rewarding a company for good behavior by buying its products. In their  research, Robert and his colleagues investigated the different motivational mechanisms that determine why consumers join boycotts or buycotts. .

Buycotting: encouraging change through action instead of restriction

"To create change in corporate behavior, boycotting asks customers to refrain from purchasing something they would normally buy, thereby creating a conflict between their consumption desires and their environmental or social values. Buycotts are the opposite as they're based on rewarding favorable corporate behavior. You can still buy a desired product and 'do good' at the same time," explains Robert. To understand their effectiveness, Robert goes on to explain that these practices can be even more powerful when considered in light of two consumer characteristics: first, hedonistic lifestyles (when pleasure is derived from shopping), and second, simplicity (lifestyles that refrain from consumerism).

"For a hedonistic consumer, a boycott imposes a restriction. But these same consumers responded very well to buycotts as a means to nudge companies in the right direction. For consumers who favor a simplistic lifestyle, boycotts are an acceptable option as they align with their lifestyle. This distinction offers an important insight into the power for change that could be harnessed through the use of the lesser known buycott."

The ups and downs of the buycott

In general, activists, policy makers, associations and other engaged players generally call upon boycotts to implement change. However, it could be beneficial to increase the use of buycotts. "Buycotts offer a 'positive cycle' to create change in the sense that they don't limit consumers, and at the same time, they reward companies. Of course, you also have to consider the downside: encouraging consumerism to reward a company can have a negative impact in terms of the environment. It's important to remember that this strategy shouldn't be used to simply buy products you'll end up throwing out or not using... Another interesting practical point is that we noticed buycotts were more popular with younger audiences, a fact that could help orient future strategies to implement them," concludes Robert.

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