Will consumerism as we know it become obsolete?

Retail, and consumerism itself, is built on the premise that companies design, manufacture and market their products to consumers who buy them, use them, and then buy more. This will be how things are for the foreseeable but it won’t be forever. Alternative models of consumerism will have to evolve to satisfy changing consumer habits as well as economic and environmental pressures. 

Rosie

Earlier this week, speaking at D&AD’s first White Pencil Laboratory event, Puma’s chief sustainability officer Justin DeKoszmovszky suggested in the future, Puma’s model will not be based on selling its shoes to people, but leasing them. 

It may sound like an alien concept but actually, it makes sense.

Puma has identified that the most costly element of its products, both financially and environmentally, is the raw materials. It wants to find a way that instead of those raw materials going to landfill when its customers no longer want the shoes, the materials come back to Puma and re-enter its manufacturing cycle. It requires a new way of designing and manufacturing the shoes in the first place, a new way of marketing them to customers and also a new way of valuing the product.

Puma has collection bins in stores already, asking shoppers to return their old Pumas when they buy new ones. Initiatives like M&S’s Shwopping scheme follow the same principle.

But DeKoszmovszky says, one way to encourage more people to return unwanted products to stores to extend their lifecycle, is if the consumer never owns the product in the first place. What if, for an annual membership fee a customer signs up to getting two pairs of new Pumas a year – but only if they return each pair.

Instead of the brand or retailer’s relationship with the consumer ending at the purchase of the product, it would become a continuing “looped” relationship that builds loyalty with the brand.

There is already a shift towards brands providing services alongside products and this will only accelerate. Last year at Cannes, Nike’s vice president of digital sport Stefan Olander talked about Fuelband’s role in shifting Nike from a consumer product manufacturer to a service provider. 

This new model of consumption is also something the automotive industry is latching on to. Both Peugeot and BMW have talked about the future of “mobility services” rather than selling individuals cars.

Peugeot’s Mu system which has been trialled in the UK and across Europe aims to offer a flexible mobility service for urban communities by allowing people to rent whatever kind of vehicle they happen to need, whenever they want it. The range includes bikes, scooters, cabriolet coupes, MPVs, vans and electric cars so that if you are running errands around the city you might want a scooter or a bike, whereas if you are going on a bigger trip you would probably want a bigger car and if you are moving house you might need a van. All these options would be open to you.

BMW launched its BMWi division in 2011 to redefine the brand’s role and develop services that use technology and mobile devices to keep the automotive brand relevant to consumers’ changing mobility needs.

In a future where the population will expand and cities will become more populated, it’s not always going to be practical for people to own one car. Their needs will be changeable and so there will be a demand for flexibility that ownership can’t offer. The same applies to other consumer goods.

Retailers are well placed to take advantage of the opportunity but it requires a significant reframing of what retail and consumerism are.

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