Our relationship to things has always been a defining trait of any culture and its evolution. The things we eat, the things we wear, the things we use everyday, the things we treasure, and, maybe most importantly, the things we put in our home. Marketers spend their lives analysing, classifying and understanding what type of things people want; but it sometimes seems like the question of how many things do people want is ignored, with the assumption always being ‘the more the merrier’.
“Retail Therapy” is one of those expressions that were in common parlance just a moment ago, that enjoyed the halo of zeitgeist and relevance, and slowly disappeared. And when we hear it again these days, it doesn’t just sound dated and out of touch, but – a little bit wrong. The phrase was a fixture of 90’s and early 00’s culture, to the point that a 2001 EU report concluded that 33% of those surveyed had “high level of addiction to rash or unnecessary consumption”.
Taking into account the 2008 financial crisis, an increasing focus on experiences, uncertainty about the future, it should come as no surprise that this trend eventually gets reversed. Many have announced that the new generation are not interested in things, and that ‘higher values’ are now in play.
Relying on our daily explorations in the homes and lives of people in cities, suburbs, and countrysides around the world, we can confidently say this is not the case. People still love owning things, and they still invest much of their identity into them.
There is however, a very definite shift in the way this is done, and this shift has everything to do with the quantity of things people see as ideal. What we are observing is a movement away from clutter, from undiscriminating consumerism, and from buyer’s remorse. We want better, longer-lasting, more significant products; we want to reclaim our identity and make sound emotional investments.
Throughout the next few weeks, we will zoom in on all the details, mechanisms, and implications at play in this ongoing phenomenon. Here are some key themes we’ll be touching upon.
Getting rid of stuff
First, we’ll be looking at the core of the movement: de-cluttering. Minimalism is becoming mainstream as a lifestyle, and consumers are making serious choices not only about what they buy, but also about what they keep.
Homes are getting re-thought and re-organised: Not just as vessels and receptacles but as living spaces. Efficiency, quality of life, meaningful personal associations are preferred to fashion, convenience and accumulation. This is of momentous importance to understand what new products will fail or thrive in the next few years, and what messages will be celebrated or rejected.
Stuff has to go somewhere
We will then consider what happens to the things that no longer fit in the new house. Today’s consumers are increasingly environmentally conscious, and they care more and more about the life of things after they leave their house.
This leads to varying approaches and strategies – from simple recycling to preferring more sustainable materials, and from stewardship to repurposing.
This is of particular interest for anyone trying to navigate the minefield that ‘sustainability’ is becoming. What does it actually mean to consumers? When do they care, and when don’t they? How is it best expressed, and when should it only be hinted at?
The fun of the trade
Among these strategies, a rising favourite is to sell products back. In particular, exchange network are getting ever more local and moving away from the faceless, value-driven marketplaces like eBay. The feeling of belonging to a community, and of individual products uniting consumers, rather than isolating them, is a powerful attractor for the younger generations.
This particular aspect of the new relationship to things is bound to impact all commercial exchanges sooner or later.
Online or in person, formal or promotional, individually tailored or mass-marketed, anyone designing retail environment, user experiences or customer service journeys should be aware of the coming world, where consumers expect to talk (and give) back.
The personal is the commercial
Lastly we’ll round up with a survey of implications for the traditional marketing model in general. As consumers demand more personal connection with their products, they increasingly invest themselves in the process.
Over the last decades, marketing has focused on brand and product. The industry has looked at consumers with a clinical eye, as abstract demographics.
As consumers change the meaning they associate with the products they purchase, the meaning of brands will have to change as well. Join us in the coming month to understand where it is headed, and how you can be there waiting when it arrives.
Next week we’ll be looking more deeply into the nature of quality over quantity. Watch this space and email firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to find out more.