Shopping for a Cause: Altruism Sells this Season

Friday, December 4, 2015

The holidays bring many motivations to buy, buy, buy. Beyond the sale prices and must-have items is something greater for consumers to consider, says Saint Joseph’s University sociologist Keith Brown, Ph.D., the author of Buying into Fair Trade: Culture, Morality and Consumption (NYU Press, 2013).

“Many consumers sincerely want to make a difference in the world through shopping,” he says. “Consumers like to give gifts that have a story about where the product came from, who made it and how the producer benefitted by selling the object.”

Conversely, Brown says that the recipients often feel good, too. “It’s a double gift."

Brown points to a number of motivators for consumers who look for pink ribbon or sustainable products, but also notes that keeping up appearances can play a role.

“Maybe most importantly, consumers want to be viewed as socially conscious. Objects that clearly signify that a person has donated to charity help mark the consumer as altruistic,” he says.

So, in this season of giving, how big of a role will altruism play in holiday shopping?

“There has been a decidedly ‘ethical turn’ in the market for at least the last decade, and we continue to see an increasing number of companies that donate a portion of their proceeds to a charitable or ethical cause,” Brown explains.

And an increasing number of consumers from all socio-economic segments are looking to pay it forward, Brown says.

"They’re looking for ‘Made in America,’ ‘Fair Trade,’ or ‘Eco-friendly.’ They want to add a socially responsible dimension to their gift-giving,” he adds.

Media Contact

Brown can be reached by e-mail at, by phone at 610-660-1687, or by contacting the Office of University Communications at 610-660-3240.

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