In recent years, research interests on green marketing are increasing at a fast pace [1
]. Prior studies have defined the term “Green” as “recycling, purchasing and using environment friendly products that have minimal damage to the environment” [4
]. Based on the definition, green products are referred to those products that “are typically durable, non- toxic, made from recycled materials, or minimally packaged” [6
]. Because of the growing concern about green management and environmentally friendly products nowadays [7
], consumers are starting to consider purchasing green products [9
]. Such decisions include, for example, using kitchen appliances that would consume less power; driving hybrid cars that could emit less air pollution; using solar or wind power to produce electricity [10
]. As a matter of fact, recent research has indicated that more and more companies are joining in the green products market [11
], either out of their interest in environmental protection or a desire to market their green products in the environmental era. While making green purchase decisions, green consumers are giving importance to their role in protecting the environment [13
]. Therefore, in order to understand the growing green market, it is imperative for companies to understand the different facets of green consumption patterns [14
However, prior study has indicated that although, generally speaking, consumers are willing to purchase green products when being asked; the actual purchase rate was comparatively low [16
]. To this end, recent research on green marketing have begun to explore the casual relationship between green purchase intentions and its antecedents, such as green organizational identity [2
], green brand image [2
], green trust [13
], and green satisfaction [14
]. However, prior studies have indicated that these green constructs could only represent a subset of green consumers’ perceptions, and could have limited power to fully explain green consumers’ purchasing behaviors [20
To bridge the gap in the literature, this study aims to explain the green consumption phenomena by adopting the perspectives from the diffusion of innovation theory [22
]. The diffusion of innovation theory states that innovation adoption and diffusion is primarily a social process and the role of inter-personal communications should be a key role player in the process of adoption of new products. Following this vein, this study differentiates from other studies by interpreting the emergence of green consumption as a form of new product innovation. Through green viral communication, this study argued that the opinion leaders of green products could influence other consumers’ susceptibility to interpersonal influences, which could further influence their green purchase intentions.
Moreover, this study also suggested that green consumer’s conformity behaviors, or susceptibility to interpersonal influences could be another factor that should be put into consideration. While green consumption is becoming a more important topic in the field, none of the earlier studies have addressed how consumers’ susceptibility to interpersonal influences could affect consumers’ green purchase intentions. Originated from the Social Psychology discipline, Conformity theory is now widely applied in consumer research [23
]. The relationship between interpersonal influences and consumer purchase intentions is discussed in prior studies [27
]. Based on Conformity theory, this study thus proposes that green consumers’ conformity behaviors (i.e.
, perceived susceptibility to normative interpersonal influences and perceived susceptibility to informational interpersonal influence) are important mediators in the green viral communication-green purchase intention relationship.
Specifically, the goal of the present study was threefold: (1) to explain the effects that green viral communication might play from the diffusion of innovation theory perspective; (2) to examine the mediation effects that green consumers’ susceptibility to interpersonal influences may play in the green viral communication-green purchase intention relationship, from the conformity theory perspective; and (3) to integrate and examine a new framework of green purchase intentions in compliance with the two theories mentioned, thus helping green marketers to increase their green product sales. The rest of the article was structured as follows. A literature review is discussed in the next section. Several research hypotheses are developed based on the literature review. Then, the methodology employed in this study, data collection methods, and the measurements of the constructs are described. In addition, the descriptive statistics, factor analysis, reliability, validity, and the results of structural equation modeling (SEM) are reported in the following section. Last, the conclusions, implications, and future research directions are discussed at the end of this paper.
6. Conclusions and Implications
The starting point of this paper was the observation that opinion leaders of green consumer communities can spread their green product/brand purchase experience and the adoption of green consumption will become increasingly popular. Practical experience suggested that in a green context, opinion leaders or early adopters of green products are especially interested in writing and reading pleasant and unpleasant experiences. Consequently, the question arose of what effects green viral communication behavior from opinion leaders might have on response variables that are relevant in the green marketing field. Two sets of variables that played important roles in marketing research, but have not been considered in the green context yet, are the effects of viral communications behaviors from opinion leaders of green products and green consumer’s susceptibility to interpersonal influences. Therefore, it stood to reason to extend the existing body of research in the field of the Theory of Innovation Diffusion and Conformity Theory in the green context and examining possible casual relationships. This research builds on prior studies and explores the unique contributions of viral communication behavior and interpersonal influences on green purchase intentions.
The empirical results indicated that green viral communication behavior of opinion leaders has positive effects on green consumers’ susceptibility to informational interpersonal influences, and consumers’ susceptibility to normative interpersonal influences. The empirical results also indicated that green viral communication behavior of opinion leaders has a positive direct effect on consumers’ green purchase intentions. The relationship between viral communications behaviors and purchase intentions has been established by numerous studies prior this study, but none have examined it in the green context. In addition, the findings suggested that the impact of informational interpersonal influences is significant on purchase intention, while interestingly, the impact of normative interpersonal influences is on green purchase intentions was insignificant.
6.1. Theoretical Contributions
The primary insight derived from this study is about the significantly influence of green viral communications and interpersonal influences on green purchase intentions in a green marketing context. One of the important theoretical contributions of this study is incorporating the theory of innovation diffusion perspective into the green marketing literature. Prior studies have tried to interpret the green consumption from different perspectives, but none have explained the green consumption from the two perspectives. In addition, the interpersonal influence scale that Bearden et al.
] developed has been widely validated within the marketing and consumer behavior field, but its application to other context has been limited. This study provides added empirical support to the inter-discipline stability of the scale by testing the scale in a context of green consumption. This study also responds to the calls for additional research on green consumption [20
] and, is the first to empirically support the arguments regarding the impact of green viral communications, interpersonal influences, and green purchase intentions.
6.2. Managerial Implications
The findings generated from this study are worthy of attention in terms of their managerial implications. First, few companies marketed their green products by means of deceptive green claims and over-exaggerate the environmental performance of their green products/services [58
], which resulted in low green purchase intentions [70
]. The finding that green viral communication behavior from opinion leaders can lead to green purchase intentions is particularly important for green marketers. This study provides directions for green marketers to develop meaningful communication tools to make opinion leaders or early adopter of green products more knowledgeable about specific green product or brand characteristics and tries to change some of the negative associations that consumers have about the product/brand through green viral communication behaviors. Thus, it is important to say that green viral communication behaviors from opinion leaders play an important role in increasing consumers’ green purchase intentions.
Second, as companies spend a significant part of their revenues on enhancing green purchase intentions, the findings of this study indicate that such investment if directed towards on green consumers’ susceptibility to informational interpersonal influences would accompany increased product sales. The finding that informational interpersonal influences mediates the relationship between green viral communication and green purchase intentions could inspire green marketers to increase the amount of money on information spread, such as subsidizing or sponsoring opinion leaders’ blogs, or websites. These avenues of relevant objective information help consumers rely heavily on informational interpersonal influences, which could increase the flows on green blogs, green websites, or other green informational tools of opinion leaders, As a result, it could be expected that the amount of sales of green products will also be on the rise.
Third, this study further affirms the need for green marketers to understand green consumers’ differences with traditional consumers when marketing green products/brands. Green marketers should be aware that although the viral communication behavior from opinion leaders could stimulate green consumers’ desire to conform to the societal standards set by the green group they wish to belong, it would not help to increase the sales of green products. This could be explained as although green consumers wish to conform themselves into the green groups, their purchase decisions are rather independent from normative interpersonal influences. Other product attributes such as environmental attributes could place a more important role in green consumers’ purchase decisions.
Last, prior study reported that in the presence of other people, consumers make different behavioral choices from those they would have made by themselves [71
]. Ratner and Kahn (2002) explained the motive behind this behavior is rooted in the desire to impress other people [72
]. The findings of the insignificant relationship between normative interpersonal influences and green purchase intentions suggested that unlike their counterparts, green consumers might not want to impress others so much. Thus, green marketers could try to spend less marketing budget on the design of the green products packages since green consumers tend to not impress others.
7. Limitations and Directions for Future Research
As with any research, there were a number of limitations in this study. First, because only green detergent users in Taiwan responded to the survey, the findings have limited generalizability to other product categories. Second, since this study used a web-based survey, the responses about actual using or purchasing experiences could have some bias compared with conducting on-site surveys. The respondents had to depend on their memories of using experiences to respond to questions. Although this method is convenient and prevail in online surveys for consumer research, it might be somewhat difficult for respondents to respond to the questions based on their memory. Third, future efforts should use a variety of qualitative methodologies (e.g., interviews, qualitative methods) to triangulate the results. Since green viral communication, susceptibility to interpersonal influences and green purchase intentions are not necessarily static, longitudinal studies that examine how the impact of green viral communication and susceptibility to interpersonal influences evolves with respect to green purchase intentions would provide additional insights into the phenomenon. Finally, this study provides a general framework and sets the stage for future research that could explore the relevance of other external and internal factors to broaden the examination of green purchase intentions.