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Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Age of Responsible Consumerism

An interesting item from Matt Thornhill about: "Responsible Consumerism".

He makes a couple of point that I partly agree with (at an instinct level) but would feel happier if I had the research to back up my instincts.

Instinct 1. The reduction of consumption as people grow older.

Matt, qualifies this point by saying people purchase fewer material goods and more enriching experiences. The total consumption, measured in dollars might be the same or more but it shifts from ‘stuff’ to experiences.

Here are a few of the uncertainties. If we strip out the purchases needed to support the family, are older people spending less on themselves than they did before? We know that a lot of older people are helping fund their kids and grandchildren - how much of this is spent on material goods?

Is it possible to disentangle the effects of changing economic circumstances from what is due to some inherent change in behaviour ?

Is the nature of the material purchases changing (i.e. less white goods more electronics and high ticket items) but the dollar/pound level staying the same?

Instinct 2. Consumers of all ages are thinking more about the environmental impact of their purchase behaviour and consumption patterns. I have noted a couple of times that UK research suggests that the 50-plus think more about environmental impact than their kids.

My main uncertainty with this argument is the difference between 'intention' and 'action'. A comment left about Matt’s article explains the point:
“A recently-completed study of UK shoppers tracked both reported attitudes and actual behaviour and found that as few as one-third of consumers actually translate the responsible attitudes they profess into action. For the most part, value remains a far more effective driver of consumer behaviour than environmental or social concerns alone.
My bet is that there is a mega difference in attitudes between the professional socio-economic groups, who are grossly over-represented in the media, and the rest of population. Basically, I think that much of the commentary about the environment is the converted preaching to the likeminded. I wonder how much real change there has been in the behaviour of the rest of society?

Both points are worth musing for a few minutes since the repercussions could have a big impact on your marketing. Dick Stroud

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