The pursuit of sustainability and the preservation of natural resources in consumers’ product choice and –consumption is a worldwide concern. This research therefore focused on the relevance and inter relationship of various motivational factors in contributing to consumers’ pro-environmental intent to purchase eco-friendly appliances in the local context. Since pro-environmental intent does not inexorably lead to environmentally significant choice behaviour, the study also investigated consumers’ prioritization of environmentally related product features in the pre-purchase evaluation and selection of major household appliances. The perspective of those with increased spending power as well as access to a wide variety of products in major urban areas (e.g. Tshwane) was of specific interest. A store intercept method with a non-probability purposive sampling approach was used to recruit respondents in stores while they were in the process of acquiring appliances. A structured questionnaire was administered in face-to-face interviews. A total of 667 questionnaires were collected, of which 648 were used for structural equation modelling and conjoint analyses.
Based on the construct associations specified in a structural equation model, an awareness of environmental consequences related to product choice and consumption emerged as an indirect determinant of pro-environmental intent and represents an important precondition for the formation of subjective norms and moral attitudes. A strong and statistically significant relationship between subjective norms and moral attitudes underscore the importance of a social group’s standards in the formation of an individual’s own moral norms and attitudes. In relation to perceived behavioural control, subjective norms may fulfill an informative role when consumers are less confident in their own ability to comprehensively evaluate and select a washing machine with eco-friendly attributes. A combination of moral norms, attitudes and anticipated feelings of guilt significantly contributed to respondents’ pro-environmental intent, and even though they seemed somewhat less convinced about how easy it is to choose eco-friendly appliances, their intentions to buy such appliances consistently reflect a pro-environmental inclination.
Using Sawtooth conjoint software, trade-off tasks were compiled to determine the relative importance of environmentally related attributes in relation to other conventional features in consumers’ pre-purchase evaluation and selection of washing machines. Aggregate results reveal that consumers across various age, income and educational levels prioritise brand and price, despite the long-term financial and environmental repurcussions of product features that impact on the use of natural resources. Based on a cluster analysis, four consumer segments were identified that differ in terms of preference structures. Overall, respondents rely on price and brand associations to guide their decision-making due to their inability and inexperience to objectively assess the environmental attributes of a product, which then ultimately contradicts their observed pro-environmental intent.
From a practical point of view, the findings substantiate the development of tailored intervention strategies to facilitate informed decision-making and deliberation of consequences that extend beyond the initial selection of a particular product option. Strategies that emphasize the financial benefits of environmentally related features that span over the entire life cycle of the appliance might prove influential in promoting pro-environmental choices. From a theoretical perspective, the research expands an existing body of knowledge by establishing insight about consumers’ behaviour in a Third-World emerging context. In addition, it provides evidence regarding the application of existing theory and methods to explain the inconsistency between consumers’ assumed pro-environmental intent and their actual observed choices in the execution of a more complex, expensive and significant act of acquiring major household appliances.