Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is no longer an entirely voluntary option for retailers. Instead, retailers have been under increasing pressure from various stakeholders and extraneous parties (e.g., the government) to embrace it. The biggest challenge facing retailers today is not whether or not to implement CSR practices, but how.
Acknowledging research gaps and practical significance, this dissertation highlights how retailers can reap the benefits from their commitment to CSR within a spillover effect context. It proposes a conceptual framework based upon the Stimulus-Organism-Response framework (Mehrabian & Russell, 1974) and the Expectancy-Value theory (Fishbein & Ajzen 1975) to systematically demonstrate an underlying mechanism of spillover effects and an asymmetrical negativity bias created by CSR communication messages. Specifically, two essays examine: 1) whether or not (and to what extent) CSR communication messages influence consumers’ perceptions about a retailer, 2) whether or not the perceptions about the retailer are spilled over onto the evaluation of the retailers’ private brands (CSR-PBs, essay one) and loyalty programs (CSR-LPs, essay two) that convey the retailer’s CSR orientation, 3) whether or not the spillover effects differ depending on the valence of CSR communication messages, and finally 4) whether or not a consumer characteristic, ethical consumerism, creates differential effects on cognitive, affective, and behavioral responses to the retailers’ CSR-PBs and CSR-LPs.
To test the proposed model within CSR-PB and CSR-LP contexts, two web-based experiments were performed with university employees (essay one) and with general US consumers (essay two). The results supported that positive and negative information about a retailer’s CSR influenced consumers’ beliefs/attitudes toward the retailer, but the strength of the impact was greater among consumers who learned of the negative information. Next, the results showed that beliefs and attitudes at the retailer level were spilled over onto and influenced evaluations of the retailer’s products (CSR-PBs) and services (CSR-LPs). More importantly, an asymmetrical negativity bias was discovered in the patterns of spillover effects. Finally, a consumer trait, ethical consumerism, was found to create differential effects in consumers’ interpretations of CSR communication messages.
This dissertation contributes to the existing literature on corporate social responsibility, private brands, loyalty programs, and marketing communication. The proposed conceptual framework incorporates spillover effects and negativity effects and enriches our understanding of consumers’ responses to CSR communication messages. Also, by integrating the role of a consumer trait, this research offers more accurate insights into how individual differences affect consumers’ responses to communication messages and their evaluations of retailers’ CSR-PBs/CSR-LPs, extending the scope of consumer behavior research associated with retailer brand extension. Finally, this dissertation has managerial implications, specifically providing retailers with insight into how to embrace CSR effectively and reap the benefits from a commitment to CSR.