How does a consumer society work without consumption?

– There are signs that people are starting to appreciate durable consumer goods again. This requires products that are so robust and easy to repair that they can successfully survive second and third marketing, as well as platforms on which they can be exchanged. Children’s bike manufacturers such as Early Rider or Woom are already showing how it’s done: Their used bikes fetch almost new prices on Ebay.

– So far, we have been used to seeing the greatest loss in value when driving from the car dealer’s yard, for example – such devaluations in particular support the tendency to convert property to access. These trends are not yet reliable, as most of the business models of manufacturing companies or private equity-financed platforms have not yet passed a profitability test. With all subscription or sharing models, there is always the question of logistics, maintenance, idle times and thus the economic risk for the owner. The decisive factor will be whether customers are willing to pay honest prices for such offers.

– How crises accelerate the transition from physical to digital products has been well studied. The findings from the past epidemics in Asia: In China, with the swine flu in 2010, there was an increase in new online buyers of more than 50 percent. Digital shopping platforms like Taobao or JD.com flourished. In South Korea, the online shopping volume increased by up to 27 percent during the Mers infection in 2015 – and remained at a high level. During the Covid-19 pandemic in Germany, which had been digitally cautious up to then, there was an explosion in online orders, especially for food, by almost 100 percent, and contactless Girocard payments have since grown by 50 percent.

– The dominance of the digital is of particular interest for politics because platforms, retailers and software houses were and will remain the Corona winners – in the West, Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft. Currently, 34 percent of Germans shop online at least once a week, among Generation Y it is even 41 percent. Prime customers encouraged by Amazon order 61 times a year from a monopoly that receives 48 percent of all German online sales.

– Another change can be observed at the station kiosk based on the magazine and book bestsellers there: Even before Corona, they switched from material-luxury-demonstrative to sensual-luxury-demonstrative consumption. So the demonstrative remains, so do the subtle differences: The Danish hygge romance, the flow, mindfulness and yoga filter bubbles are growing.

– In the late 1990s, B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore described the trend away from the consumption of physical goods and towards memorable experiences in their book “Experience Economy”. Entrepreneurs like Jochen Schweizer had their awakening experience there; since 2004 he has been bringing customers out of their apparently uneventful existence with extraordinary experiences such as bungee jumping. In the meantime his company has been sold to Pro Sieben Sat 1, initially with good forecasts: after all, 2537 hours of leisure time have to be filled per year. In 2019, 188 billion euros, around eleven percent of the consumer budget, was spent on experiences in Germany. But the pandemic has stopped the trend, camping, cycling trips or the allotment garden self-sufficiency romance are the alternative to Oktoberfest, carnival parades, folk marathons, festival or stadium visits. Mass events will have to develop into individualized experiences – from yoga, nutrition, therapy or sports events to intellectually stimulating culture and science salons. In any case small, fine, discursive and with the highest possible presence – the purely digital event has not only exhausted school children.

– For a long time, an interesting finding from consumer research was that customers did not consume because the purchase process was too complicated. Insurers and other providers with complex terms and conditions know this. But the problem has not been solved: Many companies continue not to sell their services because the complexity keeps customers away. A sophisticated customer journey and user experience should show the customer the easy way to buy, but they are a problem in themselves. Instead, we will see a shift from complexity to convenience and pay for it. Products such as retirement provision, asset succession, relocation planning or even health are more important as meta-services than apps that want to motivate you to take out liability insurance in three clicks. Meta-Services solve complex problems in an elegant way: tailors can do more than fashion retailers, interior designers more than Ikea. This has long been the norm in business-to-business and will also come in the end customer area.

– Another change is a question of style: While the lifestyle in the form of clothing, cars, apartments and tourism has dominated since the 1980s, we are turning to body style – and this interestingly across all milieus. Tattoos have reached all generations, all (body) regions and all levels of education. Fitness and health services contribute to the erotic capital and show a development that drives partnership portals as well as German health insurance companies: In the age of digitalization, the body is becoming the fetish with the greatest potential for consumption. It’s still primarily about the physical, but cultural and human sciences shouldn’t despair: the brainstyle will come.

Janelle B. Smith

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