Buying out?

Posted by Rob Walker on November 20, 2008
Posted Under: Consumer Behavior

A friend passes along this announcement from a trend-declaration firm with its predictions for 2009. At the top of the list:

Buying Out — Motivated by a trifecta of dire economic pressures, changing sustainability beliefs and a growing indie aesthetic, leading-edge consumers are redefining what it means to consume, from upcycling to victory gardening to the radical rethinking of household finances.

Hm. As the author of a book called Buying In, I’m not sure how to take that trend title.

But the truth is, one of the primary goals of Buying In is to educate consumers about both the commercial persuasion industry, and their own behavior, hopefully leaving the reader in a place where s/he can make better decisions — and, in fact, to redefine what it means to consume. So I’m interested to hear about newfound interest in things like upcycling and victory gardens (the latter being something I actually alluded to in this book-related essay).

I am not, however, particularly certain that such change is afoot, or at least not in a particularly widespread way.

I’m a little more convinced by Penelope Green’s take on how consumers are adjusting their spending in this article from today’s Times. Here’s an interesting bit of that:

When Best Buy announced its latest sales figures last month, the company reported “an unprecedented drop in consumer buying of items like flat-screen televisions,” said Ori Brafman, a business expert and an author, with his brother, Rom, of “Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior,” out since June from Doubleday Business. “But when Wal-Mart released its report last week, there was a surprise. Consumers had increased their flat-screen purchases. Somehow, because Wal-Mart feels like a bargain store, shoppers who have deprived themselves of luxury items elsewhere rationalized their purchases at Wal-Mart as ‘getting a good deal,’ ” Mr. Brafman continued. “Granted, flat-panel TV’s at Wal-Mart might run a little cheaper than elsewhere, but no financial adviser would include one on his or her list of Items to Buy During Tough Times.”

And another:

Kathy Peel, a Dallas-based family manager (that is, a life coach whose niche is training families to run their homes like businesses), said that incidences of feckless budgeting and bad math seem to be on the rise, at least judging from the reports of coaches trained in her system. Leslie McKee, a Peel-trained family manager in Pittsburgh, has noticed a pattern of “people signing up for discount stores that sell in bulk and over-purchasing ‘bargains’ that are so enormous they will not live long enough to use the item,” she said. “Then they call me and spend more money to help them organize it all into mini-malls inside their homes.”

Anyway, it’s worth reading the whole article. And of course if you have thoughts on what’s changing in our consumer habits — particularly what’s short-term and what’s likely to be more lasting — I’d love to hear them.

Are we, in fact, redefining what it means to consume? Or making short-term, reactive adjustments?

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

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