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It’s the principle that matters: the antecedents and consequences of procedural justice in a consumer setting Ashworth, Laurence

Abstract

Much research on fairness in marketing has focused on the fairness of prices. This work has demonstrated that unfair prices lead to a variety of negative behaviours. However, much of this research has ignored the question of why consumers actually care about fairness. The focus on price fairness suggests that consumers are primarily concerned with their material well-being. However, research in other areas, in particular organizational psychology, suggests that consumers might also react to unfairness because it can convey a lack of respect. This work has been studied under the rubric of procedural justice. In its strictest sense, procedural justice refers to the fairness of the policies and procedures that are used to determine outcomes. However, one of the reasons procedures are considered important is because they can also convey important information relating to individuals' social standing. It is argued that consumers react to unfairness in exchange not just because it can influence their material outcomes, but also because it reflects perceptions of their social standing. It is further suggested that procedural unfairness stems from the violation of important social norms that reflect consumers' expectations for the way they should be treated. Study 1 showed that the violation of a norm of consistency led to perceptions of unfairness, even when the violation could not have affected consumers' material outcome. Study 2 demonstrated that consumers considered it unfair when openness was violated. In this case, openness was violated when consumers were not told of an upcoming sale. This was considered unfair even when the information could not have affected their material outcome. In both studies, the effect of norm violation on perceptions of fairness was mediated by procedural justice. The final study demonstrated that normative violations affected procedural justice because they lowered consumers' self-esteem, especially those consumers with high trait self-esteem. In contrast to much of the existing work in marketing, the present research indicates that fairness concerns have an important social component. Not only does unfairness undermine consumers' claims to allocations of material outcomes, but it can also have a detrimental effect on perceptions of their social standing and self evaluations.

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