The Swedish home furnishing brand; sustainaBilly? Understanding the consumers’ perception, of a big international company in terms of sustainability.
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With the acknowledged shift from government to governance there is more room for corporations to show that they contribute to achieving a more sustainable society. However these corporations need the support of consumers in order to achieve their goals in the field of sustainability. Therefore, many companies who invest in becoming more sustainable want to gain insight in if this is acknowledged by consumers and hence is translated into a more positive image of their company with regard to sustainability. So did IKEA the Netherlands. The elements from which a consumer’s perception regarding a corporation’s sustainability originates are various. Therefore different strands of literature have been studied and from these different strands of literature some factors that are argued to be influential in the process of shaping an image or perception, have been derived. Due to the large amount of factors some categorization was done in order to limit the amount of variables and merge overlapping variables. This led to six categories of independent variables; personal characteristics, worldview, definition of sustainability, sources of information, perceived features of products and services and perceived features of the company. In order to get insight in whether these categories can truly explain where a certain consumer perception with regard to a corporation’s sustainability comes from these categories were tested by means of a large scale questionnaire. Also the dependent categories of brand image and image of sustainability activities need to be measured and are therefore operationalized and included in the questionnaire. The category of “sources of information” needs some more elaboration since in literature the importance of information and communication is highlighted. However if we were to test this we should know what messages are out there about IKEA and sustainability, therefore prior to the questionnaire a content analysis has been conducted in which messages about IKEA and sustainability by IKEA, the general media and NGO’s have been analyzed on tone of content. The data obtained with the questionnaire are statistically tested on: if all variables are in the statistically right categories (factor analysis), if there are relations between the independent and dependent categories (correlation) and how much the independent categories contribute to explaining the dependent categories (multiple regression analysis). Eventually some categories had to be split as a result of the factor analysis and it became apparent that with regard to the “image of sustainability activities” of IKEA the categories (factors) that could explain most are (in order of magnitude); organizational competences, aspects of quality of products and services, purchase attitude regarding environmental friendly products, IKEA information through press releases, attitude towards multinational companies and “ever purchased IKEA products”. In this enumeration the “attitudes” are part of “personal categories” which cannot easily be changed by a company, therefore recommendations are mainly formulated on those categories that can relatively easily be adjusted by IKEA. In short the recommendations for the IKEA management are: • to be transparent about the IKEA business operations as this creates higher valuation of organizational competences resulting in a better “image of sustainability activities” • product quality improvement while ensuring low prices and modernity • expand services range with services that make the shopping experience at IKEA more sustainable (e.g. recycling of products) • more thorough use of IKEA press releases to convey sustainability messages • more research regarding the experience that consumers have with IKEA products and how this influences the “image of sustainability activities” • an evaluative study after implementation of the recommendations of this study, in order to see the effectiveness of the recommendations