Boycotts are among the most frequent forms of consumer expression against unethical or egregious acts by firms. Most current research explains consumers’ decisions to participate in a boycott using a universal cost-benefit model that mixes instrumental and expressive motives. To date, no conceptual framework accounts for the distinct behavioral motives for boycotting though. This article focuses on motivational heterogeneity among consumers. By distinguishing two stable behavioral models—a self-regarding type and a strongly reciprocal type—we introduce the notion of strong reciprocity to the boycott literature. We argue that the presence of strongly reciprocal consumers can enhance boycott success. First, in interactions with the target firm, strongly reciprocal consumers perceive higher levels of egregiousness and are more willing to engage in boycotting behavior, even in unfavorable strategic conditions, which provides a stable basis for boycotting. Second, in interactions with self-regarding consumers, strongly reciprocal consumers are willing to sanction those others, according to whether they participate in the boycott, which increases overall participation in and the likelihood of success of a consumer boycott. These findings have implications for further research, as well as for firms, nongovernmental organizations, and boycotters.
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In this context, it is important to distinguish strong reciprocity from weak reciprocity (sometimes also referred to as reciprocal altruism). Weak reciprocity ultimately reverts to self-regarding motives, because actors punish unfair behavior only as long as they expect future private benefits that outweigh the cost of punishing (Axelrod 1984; Bowles and Gintis 2000; Trivers 1971).
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We would like to thank the Section Editor, Scott Vitell, for his guidance throughout the revision process as well as two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and suggestions. We are also grateful to Flore Bridoux, Frank Figge, and Christophe Faugere as well as to the participants of the 3rd GRONEN Reading Group Session in Rotterdam, of the ISM Research Seminar at Amsterdam Business School and of the CSR Research Seminar at KEDGE Business School whose comments and suggestions have greatly helped to improve our work.
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Hahn, T., Albert, N. Strong Reciprocity in Consumer Boycotts. J Bus Ethics 145, 509–524 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-015-2870-3