The new Apple iPhone 11 series was released a few weeks ago and people are jumping at the bit to buy it (haha including me). From a marketing point of view, Apple has done a fabulous job of getting their consumers to want their latest products. However, this raises the question, what is driving this consumerism side to the way we live? Dave from Medium has a wonderful article that explains why people buy new products (you can read that here), but I want to explore how we’ve gotten here, where it’s going and the impact it has on us as humans. For this reason, it’s the perfect topic for this month’s #theressomethingweneedtotalkabout.
Let’s first define consumerism. Investopedia defines it as a “theory that states a country that consumes goods and services in large quantities will be better off economically”. So basically, the more we buy the better off the world will be. Here’s an interesting fact for you, WA households are spending on average $1,429 per week (more information on how much we spent and on what here), so consumerism is definitely alive and well.
Now, this consumerism side of life is certainly not a new concept, we obviously need products to survive but in my personal opinion, it has certainly escalated in the past few years. An example of this is special days, such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day which are no longer just about celebrating those you love, but what presents you can buy that prove your love. Marketers know this too, sending out messages like “buy this to show them how much you love them”. Now, having known the background behind this, marketers are just emphasising this human emotion, but we are confirming this behaviour by going out and buying these products.
However, I do believe there is a shift in society, moving away from products that simply give us pleasure to thinking about the impact these purchase decisions have on others and the environment. A prime example of this is the recent outrage from consumers towards Woolworths and Coles with their plastic collectables, in the form of the Ooshies and Little Shops. Consumers questioned why these supermarkets had banned plastic bags yet were handing out these little plastic things that really provided no purpose. The fact we now have to pay for plastic bags at the shops still baffles me (they may be helping the environment, but they’re also helping their hip pocket by getting us to pay for them), but the Woolworths marketing team were very clever, listening to consumers and releasing the new “Discovery Garden” collectables (which yes, I’m collecting!).
Another industry we have seen this shift away from commercialism is in the fashion industry. Here there is something called “fast fashion” where clothes move quickly from the catwalk to the shops but then also out of shops. Now, I’m probably not someone who should be preaching you in this area, as I love to have new outfits that reflect the latest trends, especially leading up to the spring/summer carnival, but it’s good to see that others are moving away from fast fashion. This is evident from the recent news of Forever 21, a fast fashion store, filing for bankruptcy, with other stores set to follow.
So, we’ve definitely acknowledged that society is changing for the better, but are these changes too late and is the habit of buying already embedded in us?
There’s no doubt that we need to buy things to keep the economy going but it’s also obvious that we’re now aware that items are no longer the sole source of our joy, as highlighted by the Marie Kondo movement. Consumerism also leads to new goods and services, more jobs and a high standard of living. So, while this is good, there’s definitely a darker side.
In the world, the top 20% of Americans consume 76% of goods. While this data is from 2005 and, therefore, slightly outdated, we can assume that this divide has continued and if not, gotten bigger. So it is, therefore, not what you need but what you can afford.
Consumerism is also affecting us as humans. One issue is that mental health is on the rise as we compare what we have to what others have, while the things we consume are also making us more isolated. Everything in our society is based on what material items we have. We’re also having to work harder and longer to pay for these material items which are affecting our work life balance which further contributes to mental health issues.
The biggest negative impact of consumerism is the rate that we’re using the world’s resources and the impact on the Earth. It’s stated that in the next 50-60 years we’ll run out of oil and natural gases, with coal not far behind and the threat of running out of freshwater a real possibility. With over 20 million tonnes of rubbish going into Australia’s landfills each year, that’s a whole lot of space too. I think the environment is the main reason people are considering what they are consuming and how, with very good reason.
So, is it too late to change? Well if recent trends are anything to go, I don’t think so. I’m also not saying that we should all just buy organic, environmentally friendly products if we really need them. I’m asking that next time you purchase something you ask yourself why you are.