Skip to main content

Package downsizing: is it ethical?

Abstract

Package downsizing is a practice where the package content is reduced without changing the package or the price of the product. In a market that is defined by ‘hyper-competition,’ package downsizing is often practiced by marketers to effect an invisible price increase for their products. Although marketers may maintain that providing, the legally required, quantity indication on the package is adequate for customers to make logical and informed choices, research indicates that consumers often do not consult quantity indications on packages but use alternative methods (e.g., visual impressions of the package size, total package price, or previous purchase experience) to judge product quantity and to calculate product value. As a subtle means, package downsizing therefore has the potential to mislead customers in the buying process due to an unfavorable balance of information within the dyad. This could give rise to serious moral and ethical consideration. In this paper, we examined various issues related to package downsizing, such as why sellers resort to this type of practice, consumer vulnerability to package downsizing, as well as the extent of protection offered to consumers by the existing laws and regulations with respect to product packaging. Finally, we examined the ethics of package downsizing using the existing legal, moral, and professional ethical standards as well as the principle of equivalence. Our analysis indicates that package downsizing, as it is practiced by the marketers and sellers today, is unethical as far as the consumers are concerned.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. Adams A, di Benedetto CA, Chandran R (1991) Can you reduce your package size without damaging sales? Long Range Plann 24:86–96

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Anonymous (2000) Product packaging empty promises? Consumer Policy Review, London

  3. Cole CA, Gaeth GJ (1990) Cognitive and age related differences in the ability to use nutritional information in a complex environment. J Mark Res 27:175–184

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. De Angeli T (1994) The information jungle. Grocer 216(7182):36–37

    Google Scholar 

  5. Department of Trade, Industry (1997) Misleading packaging: draft paper. DTI, London

    Google Scholar 

  6. Friedman M (1970) The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits. In: Donaldson T, Werhane PH (eds) The New York Times magazine, September 13, 1970, 4th edn. Reprinted with permission ethical issues in business: a philosophical approach, pp 249–255

  7. Gupta OK, Rominger AS (1996) Blind man’s bluff: the ethics of quantity surcharges. J Bus Ethics 15(12):1299–1312

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Jacoby J (1974) Consumer reaction to information displays. In: Divita SF (ed) Advertising and public interest. American Marketing Association, Chicago, pp 101–118

    Google Scholar 

  9. Kotler P (2003) Marketing management. 11th edn. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, p 497

    Google Scholar 

  10. Landsburg S (1995) Price theory and applications. 3rd edn. Dryden, Orlando

    Google Scholar 

  11. Laramie (1993) An empirical study of price thresholds and price sensitivity. J Appl Bus Res 9(2):43–50

    Google Scholar 

  12. Lennard D, Mitchell VW, McGoldrick P, Betts E (2001) Why consumers under-use food quantity indicators. Int Rev Retail Distrib Consum Res 11:177–199

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. March JG, Simon HA (1958) Organizations. Wiley, New York

    Google Scholar 

  14. Monroe KB, Petroshius SM (1981) Buyer’s perception of price: an update of the evidence. In: Kassarjiam HH, Robertson IS (eds) Perspectives in consumer behavior, vol II. Scott Foresman, Glenview, pp 43–55

  15. Monroe KB, Cox JL (2001) Pricing practices that endanger profits: how do buyers perceive and respond to pricing? MM, Sept./Oct:42–46

  16. MORI (1997) Indications of quantity on pre-packaged food: drained net weight. Department of Trade and Industry

  17. Muller T (1985) Structural information factors which stimulate the use of nutritional information: a field experiment. J Mark Res 22:143–157

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. O’Boyle EJ, Dawson LE (1992) The American Marketing Association Code of Ethics: instructions for marketers. J Bus Ethics 11(92):1–932

    Google Scholar 

  19. Olshavsky RW, Granbois DH (1979) Consumer decision making—fact or fiction. J Consum Res 6:93–100

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Padberg DI (1977) Non-use benefits of mandatory consumer information programs. J Consum Policy 10:5–17

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Pearce R (1999) Social responsibility in the marketplace: asymmetric information in food labeling. J Bus Ethics Eur Rev 8:1

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Rooney A (2003) A pound of coffee? A weekly commentary on CBS News

  23. Ruman J (1990) Justice and modern moral philosophy. Yale University Press, New Haven, pp 266–276, 302–305

  24. Sansolo M (1992) Is it really that bad? Progressive grocer 59th annual report, pp 8–9

  25. Sansolo M (1994) Battle of the brands. Progressive grocer, pp 65–66

  26. Schultz J (2003) Squeezed between profits and price (Editor’s comments in paperboard packaging)

  27. Wade C (1986) Deceptive packaging. Institute for Trading Standards Administration

  28. Werner SB (1992) The movement for reforming American business ethics: a twenty-year perspective. J Bus Ethics 11:61–70

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Omprakash K. Gupta.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Gupta, O.K., Tandon, S., Debnath, S. et al. Package downsizing: is it ethical?. AI & Soc 21, 239–250 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00146-006-0056-3

Download citation

Keywords

  • Package
  • Downsizing
  • Principle of equivalence
  • Ethical