Consumer awareness survey

Do labour conditions in developing countries affect our purchasing decisions?
Learn more
  • Updated:3 Jul 2008


Woman shoping

In brief

  • Consumers are most concerned about the performance, quality and price of products.
  • Almost half of those surveyed think the working conditions and human rights of the people who make the products are important.

What makes you choose one product over another? We wanted to know what makes consumers tick — and also if the environmental and human impacts of a product’s manufacture are a factor when we part with our dollars. So, in conjunction with Amnesty International, we asked 1000 Australians to reveal their buying attitudes.

Not surprisingly, consumers are most concerned about aspects of a product that directly affect them — and that’s performance, quality and price.

The environmental aspects of a product’s performance — specifically energy and water usage — also rated quite highly in this survey, no doubt in part because the more water or energy a product uses, the more expensive it is to run.

Our survey shows nearly half of consumers are also thinking about the working conditions of the product makers when they spend. However, most, though by no means all, consumers want a product to meet certain performance and quality criteria for a reasonable price — only if that’s ticked off will they look at the more ethical option.

Please note: this information was current as of July 2008 but is still a useful guide to today's market.

How we surveyed

In February, 1000 people across Australia were surveyed to find out how important various product characteristics, including aspects of their manufacture, are in the minds of consumers when buying them. We asked them to rate the importance of each aspect to them, and then to choose the top three most important attributes for each type of product.

The products we asked about were: household appliances (such as a washing machine or dishwasher),hi-tech products (such as a computer, digital camera or MP3 player), clothes and products for a baby or young child (such as a stroller, cot, toys).

A big thanks goes to market research consultancy Jones Donald Strategy Partners for their pro bono help with the survey.

CHOICE verdict

Our research shows that many consumers — for some product categories a majority — say they’re concerned about the human and environmental impact of their purchases. But there are several barriers to consumer purchasing leading to significant change: Ethical products aren’t always widely available, even at a price. Because of lax labelling practices, consumers can’t always tell an ethical product from an imposter (see Supermarket Green Watch), and they’re not always sure that a supposedly ethical choice will make a genuine difference.

Consumers want ethical products that work just as well as alternatives. For this we need manufacturer commitment and sometimes government intervention to build up the critical volumes required for production at an acceptable price. Many consumers would prefer government action to put the worst-offending products off the market, rather than add to consumers’ responsibilities when all they want to do is get the shopping done.



Sign up to our free

Receive FREE email updates of our latest tests, consumer news and CHOICE marketing promotions.