2.1. Purchasing Intention
The construct of purchasing intention has received great attention from both academics and practitioners. According to Wee and colleagues [36
], the intention is the cognitive representation of the will to adopt a certain behavior. Notably, Mirabi et al. [37
] pointed out that this construct can be defined as a situation in which consumers are more likely to buy some products depending on particular circumstances, and to repeat this purchase in the future, while resisting the switch to other brands [38
Several authors from different sectors, such as the automotive industry [39
] and social media advertising [40
], have analyzed this concept by adopting a behavioral approach and identified different variables aimed at measuring consumers’ willingness to purchase a specific good or service. The results of Jalivand and colleagues [39
], in particular, revealed that brand awareness, brand loyalty, and perceived quality of products have a significant impact on purchasing intention. More recently, Alalwan [40
] underlined the role of hedonic motivations, habits, and perceived relevance. The theory of reasoned action [41
] and the theory of planned behaviour [42
] also argued that several factors, including individuals’ attitudes and beliefs, can be regarded as predictors of purchasing intention.
Overall, the number and variety of these findings suggest that consumers’ decision-making processes are very complex in nature. Moreover, there is still an open and controversial debate on the relationship between intention and behavior. While some scholars [36
] argued that consumers’ intentions do not necessarily translate into purchasing behavior, others [44
] pointed out that the greater the intention is, the greater will be the likelihood that a consumer will buy a certain product. The second perspective has been widely accepted by managers, who tend to consider purchasing intention as one of the main indicators to assess the consumers’ response to products, especially when companies are planning to launch new ones [43
]. In this regard, a better understanding of consumers’ purchasing intention can be very helpful for companies to improve the comprehension of the market demand and, consequently, to affect the overall consumers’ buying processes.
Based on the above literature, purchasing intention has been considered, in this study, as a predictor of consumers’ buying behavior with the aim of investigating how design attributes of a furniture product can affect such behaviors.
The strategic role of design for companies’ innovation and competitiveness has gained increasing recognition among scientists and researchers over the last decades. Several scholars [2
] proved that investments in design have a positive impact on companies’ ability to innovate and, consequently, on their competitive performances. However, a common and accepted definition of design has not been identified yet [7
]. Some authors [49
] considered it as a human activity, which includes both the dimensions of creativity and technique. Additionally, design has been considered as a strategic tool that can improve the product’s functionality as well as its aesthetic characteristics [51
]. A further stream of research [52
] characterized design by simply focusing on one dimension at a time, while others [9
] considered it as a multi-dimensional construct, mainly including aesthetic, functional, and symbolic attributes. Over the years, the multi-dimensional construct of design has been increasingly adopted by researchers [10
], thus it has been accepted also in this study.
As for the relationship between design attributes and purchasing intention, past research [2
] demonstrated that a product design which is consistent with consumers’ needs and expectations can influence their behaviors. Notably, Hanzaee and Andervazh [4
] found a positive relationship between design attributes and purchasing intentions of cosmetics. Similar results were obtained in the luxury sector [3
] and the automotive industry [5
]. More generally, Arboleda and Alonso [11
] showed that design awareness, defined as the ability of consumers to recognize the attributes that have been incorporated into an object for instrumental and/or symbolic purposes, can be considered as a valid explanation of their purchasing intentions.
Concerning the specific dimensions of design early proposed by Homburg and colleagues [10
]—i.e., aesthetic, functional, and symbolic—their effects on consumers’ behaviors have been scarcely investigated by prior research. Hence, the authors’ study [10
] can be considered as a first step in this direction. More specifically, they found that the aesthetic features of design directly influence consumers’ evaluations and, consequently, their desire to own the product as well as their decision to buy it [12
]. Similarly, the functional attributes—regarded as “a reliable indicator of functional performance” [14
] (p. 346)—can also improve the likelihood of purchase. Finally, the symbolic dimension, intended as the set of meanings associated with the product, affect the consumers’ behavior, since individuals are highly aware of their social identity and, therefore, they may be more likely to buy design objects that allow them to elevate their social status and/or to maintain their self-concept.
Overall, the literature on this topic suggests the existence of a positive relationship between the perception of design attributes and the consumers’ purchasing intention, also with regard to the millennial generation. Chamorro et al. [55
], for example, demonstrated the important influence of design on young consumers’ choice in the wine industry, while other studies revealed the existence of a positive relationship between design and both satisfaction [56
] and perception [57
], which improve the willingness to buy design products. However, to the authors’ knowledge, no contributions have been found concerning the specific context of the furniture sector. Based on previous evidence, it is likely to suppose that a similar relationship may occur also in this setting, as proposed by the first hypothesis of this study:
Hypothesis 1 (H1).
The perception of design attributes positively influences the purchasing intention of design furniture products.
Notably, according to Homburg and colleagues [10
], it is likely to suppose that the effect of the symbolic dimension of design on purchasing intention could be greater than that of the functional and aesthetic ones, as furniture products enable consumers to express their self-identities. A prior study by Bumgardner and Bowe [19
], indeed, stressed the importance of product image and moving beyond a commodity mentality in the furniture industry. That is, consumers seem to ground their purchasing decision on the extent to which a furniture product communicates a sense of self-identity, based on its psychological meanings and emotional appeals [19
]. Therefore, the first hypothesis has been refined as follows:
Hypothesis 1a (H1a).
The symbolic dimension of a design furniture product positively influences the purchasing intention of consumers more than the aesthetic and functional dimensions do.
2.3. Consumer Environmental Responsibility
The growing consciousness about the negative effects of traditional production and consumption systems on our planet has improved the debate on corporate and consumers’ responsibility from all stakeholders (government, manufacturers, and consumers). The above awareness has also led to a social re-orientation, aimed at including sustainable practices into both companies’ activities and consumers’ practices. Companies, for their part, are becoming increasingly mindful about the adoption of sustainable practices aimed at minimizing their negative environmental and social impacts. Furthermore, legislation and society themselves are demanding that innovation in products, services, processes, and business models will be accompanied by a greater responsibility for a more sustainable development [59
]. As a consequence, a number of strategies related to circular economy and eco-design approaches have been gradually adopted by companies (e.g., LCA, MECO matrix, Design for X approach, etc.) in order to improve their overall performances [60
From a consumer’s perspective, concerns about environmental issues are constantly changing lifestyles, especially in terms of purchasing behaviors [61
]. Consumer environmental responsibility (CER) has been defined as “a state in which a person expresses the intention to take direct action to remedy environmental problems—acting not as an individual consumer with his or her own economic interests, but through a citizen-consumer concept of social and environmental well-being” [62
] (p. 601). Notably, Stone and Barnes [62
] assumed that the CER concept is made up of five dimensions, including: (1) concern for the environment; (2) knowledge and awareness of environmental issues; (3) adoption of ecologically responsible behaviors; (4) willingness to act; and (5) having adequate skills to act on environmental issues. This implies that consumers’ environmental responsibility covers all the consumption activities, which can produce some impact over the environment. As stated by Yue et al. [23
], CER derives from the norm activation model, which was originally proposed by social psychology while, later, it was applied in several disciplines, including consumer behavior, education, and environmental sociology [63
]. According to this model, the sense of responsibility can be considered as an individual state of mind, which can result in the adoption of altruistic behavior based on personal norms [64
]. That is, when an individual internalizes social norms into personal norms, his/her sense of responsibility will be activated. With respect to the environment, environmental responsibility is considered the fundamental psychological variable, as it encourages individuals to pay close attention to environmental issues. On these bases, Stern et al. [28
] demonstrated the existence of a positive relationship between environmental responsibility and proactive environmental behavior. Other researchers also demonstrated the positive effects of CER on purchasing intention. Costa Pinto et al. [31
] proved that when individuals are very attentive to their identity, there is a greater propensity for sustainable consumption, especially by women, due to substantial biological differences and social experiences. Similarly, Kaiser and Scheuthle [65
] found a positive relationship between the environmental responsibility of the Swiss population and its pro-environmental actions. Other studies [66
], specifically focused on the young market, additionally found a higher willingness to pay a premium price for sustainable products by millennials compared to other generational cohorts.
Despite the above evidence, very little attention has been devoted to the relationship between CER and consumers’ behavior towards design products, especially in the furniture setting. Based on previous studies [68
], it is likely to suppose that consumers’ consciousness towards environmental issues could positively affect their purchasing intention of eco-design products. For instance, Xu et al. [70
] demonstrated that individuals with a high sense of responsibility towards the environment are more likely to purchase environmentally friendly cars. Similar findings were found by Jin and Cui [71
], which focused on eco-design clothes. Nevertheless, the same relationship should still be demonstrated for eco-furniture products, and its generalization to the overall furniture design context should be even more questionable. Prior literature suggested that some design attributes could be a source of concern for those individuals that are environmentally involved, as they tend to be more focused on the quality of an object and the solution it provides rather than on its aesthetic and stylistic features [72
]. This concern particularly fits the furniture setting, where production processes require the use of large amounts of raw (e.g., wood, metals, etc.) and industrial (e.g., paint, plastic, solvents, etc.) materials with high environmental impact. In this context, environmentally responsible consumers could be more adverse towards design furniture products, showing a lower intention to purchase them. However, these suppositions require further observations and analyses based on empirical data.
Thus, a further hypothesis of this study has been proposed as follows:
Hypothesis 2 (H2).
Consumers’ environmental responsibility negatively affects the purchasing intention of design furniture products.
In addition, the consumers’ awareness about environmental issues could also affect the way through which design attributes influence consumers’ purchasing intentions. It has been previously supposed that the perception of design attributes directly influences consumers’ purchasing intention. Nevertheless, as earlier discussed, the design concept combines different dimensions concerning functionality, aesthetics, and symbolic features. In this respect, Arboleda and Alonso [11
] considered environmental features as a part of the symbolic dimension of an object, since environmental concerns strictly involve the relationship between the product and the individual himself [73
]. Based on this reasoning, it is likely to suppose that the greater the consumers are involved in environmental issues, the greater purchasing intention is affected by the symbolic attributes of design. Thus, consumers’ environmental responsibility positively moderates the relationship between design attributes and purchasing intention, especially between the symbolic dimension of design and purchasing intention, as proposed in the third hypothesis of this study:
Hypothesis 3 (H3).
Consumers’ environmental responsibility positively moderates the relationship between symbolic attributes of design and purchasing intention.
depicts the overall model under investigation along with the research hypotheses.